Parashat Vayishlach: Coming Home

  • Rav Yair Kahn

 

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Please daven for a refua sheleima for YHE alumnus
Rav Daniel ben Miriam Chaya Rut
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Dedicated In memory of my Father
Shmuel Binyamin ben Ben Zion HaLevi Lowinger z”l
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This shiur is dedicated in memory of
Tovah Bodek Rosenfeld z"l
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1. Yisrael Shall Be Your Name

And God appeared unto Yaakov again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And God said unto him, “Your name is Yaakov - your name shall no longer be called Yaakov, but Yisrael shall be your name;” and He called his name Yisrael. And God said unto him, “I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; and the land which I gave unto Avraham and Yitzchak, to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land.” And God went up from him in the place where He spoke with him. And Yaakov set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil on it. And Yaakov called the name of the place where God spoke with him Bet-El (Bereishit 35:9-15).

The renaming of Yaakov at this point is strange. After all, Yaakov’s name was already changed after wrestling throughout the night with some mysterious being. In dealing with this question, the Ramban comments:

Your name is Yaakov – means that now you are still called Yaakov, even though the [heavenly] minister of Esav changed your name, since he wasn’t sent to you to change your name. However, from now on, your name will not be called Yaakov, but rather Yisrael will be your name.

There is an additional, but similar, difficulty that must also be addressed. “And Yaakov set up a pillar in the place where He spoke with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink-offering thereon, and poured oil on it. And Yaakov called the name of the place where God spoke with him Bet-El.” Isn’t this redundant as well? Didn’t Yaakov already erect a pillar in Bet-El after the ladder dream? Hadn’t he already renamed Luz as Bet-El when running away from Esav? Why was it necessary to name the location Bet-El a second time? It’s not possible that the name was forgotten during the years Yaakov was in Padan Aram. After all, the name Bet-El is used in the previous section, right before Hashem appears to Yaakov and blesses him - “And Yaakov came to Luz, that is in the land of Canaan, which is Bet-El” (verse 6). The Ramban deals with this difficulty as well and comments: “He called it that time and time again, to notify that it is true and correct, that this is a house of God, and the Shekhina always resides there.”

The Ramban offers local solutions to deal with each of the difficulties. But since the two problems are similar, insofar as both deal with a redundancy, we should at least consider the possibility of a broader solution that takes both repetitions into account.

In fact, if we broaden our focus, we will notice that repetition is quite common in the Yaakov story. In fact, it is so full of repetition that we would almost be surprised if Yaakov were named Yisrael only once. Let’s consider some examples. The Torah records Yaakov going to Lavan twice:

And Yitzchak sent Yaakov away and he went to Padan Aram to Lavan, son of Betuel the Aramean. (28:5).

And Yaakov went out from Beer-sheva, and went towards Haran. (28:10)

Yaakov receives two divine messages calling upon him to return to his homeland:

And Hashem said to Yaakov, “Return unto the land of your fathers, and to the land of your nativity and I will be with you.” (31:3)

“And the angel of God said to me in the dream… ‘I am the God of Bet-El … Now arise, leave this land and return unto the land of your nativity.’” (31:11-13).

The account of Yaakov running away from Lavan is repeated:

And Yaakov rose up, and set his sons and his wives upon the camels and he carried away all his cattle and all his property which he had acquired … to go to Yitzchak his father to the land of Canaan. (31:17-18)

And he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead. (31:21)

Of course, one can relate to each of the above repetitions independently as well by suggesting a separate solution to each alleged case of repetition. If successful, this would add up to the conclusion that there is no tendency towards repetition in the Yaakov story. On the other hand, we may concede that there is a trend. If so, we should search for a global solution that could explain the entire trend. In this week’s shiur, we will travel upon the second path.

2. Two Independent Missions

The dualism that we noticed throughout the Yaakov story seems to be rooted in a section found at the conclusion of Parashat Toldot. In the aftershock of the berakha episode, Esav plans on killing Yaakov. These plans become known to Rivka, who sends Yaakov to the house of her brother Lavan. In order to explain to Yitzchak why Yaakov must leave, Rivka claims to be upset about the Canaanite wives of Esav. An unassuming Yitzchak calls Yaakov in and sends him to the house of Lavan in search of a bride. Based on this reading, the primary reason Yaakov goes to Lavan, is to run away from Esav; the search for a bride is merely camouflage.

We may suggest an alternative reading, however. Perhaps the search for a bride is not only camouflage. Maybe there are two independent purposes for Yaakov’s journey - Yaakov is sent both to escape Esav and also to find an appropriate wife. In fact, the Torah has different descriptions of the destination for the two. Rivka instructs Yaakov to flee “to my brother, to Haran” (27:43), while Yitzchak sends him to “Padan Aram, to the house of Betuel, your mother's father” (28:2). Of course, Haran is a city in Padan Aram, and both Rivka and Yitzchak are referring to the same destination. Nevertheless, this distinction may be a method of giving independence to each purpose of Yaakov’s journey.

This would explain why the Torah records Yaakov’s departure twice. The first account has Yaakov traveling to Padan Aram and corresponds to the quest for an appropriate bride:

And Yitzchak sent Yaakov away and he went to Padan Aram to Lavan, son of Betuel the Aramean, the brother of Rivka, Yaakov's and Esav's mother. (28:5).

The ensuing verses, which record Esav’s reaction to this quest, consistently refer to the destination as Padan Aram:

Now Esav saw that Yitzchak had blessed Yaakov and sent him away to Padan Aram to take him a wife from there, and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying, “Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan;” and that Yaakov listened to his father and his mother, and went to Padan Aram. And Esav saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Yitzchak his father; so Esav went to Yishmael, and added to the wives that he had Mahalat the daughter of Yishmael, Avraham's son, the sister of Nevayot, to be his wife. (28:6-9).

The second account describes Yaakov as traveling to Haran: “And Yaakov left Beer-sheva and went toward Haran” (28:10). By repeating the departure of Yaakov, the Torah is stressing the dual nature of his journey. The destination of Haran is a clear-cut reference to refuge for the fleeing Yaakov.

The ensuing verses describe the first Bet-El encounter. They record the dream of the ladder and contain a divine promise. It is a promise addressed to a fugitive, vulnerable and alone. God will be with Yaakov to protect him throughout the journey and eventually God will bring Yaakov back to the promised land. Notably, not a word is mentioned about a wife or children. At this point, Yaakov erects a pillar, anoints it with oil, and renames Luz Bet-El.

Let’s sharpen the difference between the two purposes of Yaakov’s journey. The necessity to flee Esav is a direct result of the berakha episode. Esav is thirsty for revenge because Yaakov stole his blessing, and Yaakov is forced to run away. Might this be punishment for fooling his father and taking advantage of his vision impaired by age? Isn’t Yaakov made to pay for his actions when Rachel, the younger daughter, is switched by Leah, the elder daughter? In a broader sense, we may consider the flight of Yaakov as paradigmatic of exile, based on the dictum “ma’aseh avot siman la-banim” – the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.

In contrast, the need for a wife and the inappropriateness of a Canaanite spouse is totally independent of the berakha episode or any possible wrongdoing on Yaakov’s part. Just like Yitzchak before him, Yaakov must find a bride in Aram.

These two themes continue in the house of Lavan. On the one hand, it is there that Yaakov marries and raises his children. On the other hand, it is a time of tension and struggle with Lavan, who tries to exploit him. Moreover, in last week’s shiur, we tried to show that threat of Lavan was one of assimilation, one of the classic threats facing the Jew in exile.

The message delivered by the angel demanding that Yaakov return to Canaan makes reference to the pillar Yaakov anointed in Bet-El and the vow he made there.

And the angel of God said to me in the dream … I am the God of Bet-El, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow. Now arise, leave this land and return unto the land of your nativity. (31:11-13)

The mention of Bet-El is a clear reference to Yaakov the fugitive; the time is ripe for Yaakov’s exile to end. Perhaps the other divine message calling upon Yaakov to return relates to other purpose of Yaakov’s journey - to find a wife and build a family.

And Hashem said to Yaakov: “Return unto the land of your fathers, and to the land of your nativity and I will be with you.” (31:3)

The first account of Yaakov leaving the house of Lavan makes reference to Yaakov’s wives and children. It refers to Padan Aram and the return to Yitzchak:

And Yaakov rose up and set his sons and his wives upon the camels, and he carried away all his cattle and all his property which he had acquired in Padan Aram to go to Yitzchak his father to the land of Canaan. (31:17-18)

It clearly refers to the mission on which his father had sent him. In these verses, there is no hint of fear or flight. Yaakov takes his family and possessions and simply heads back home. The second account is totally different.

And he fled with all that he had; and he rose up, and passed over the River, and set his face toward the mountain of Gilead. (31:21)

Yaakov is fleeing once again; he is trying to escape Lavan. He manages to escape only by virtue of divine intervention.

3. Completing The Journey

When Yaakov parts with Lavan, he meets angels - malakhim. In the very next verse he sends messengers - malakhim - to Esav. The malakhim sent to Esav are certainly connected to the theme of flight and return. Does the reference to his meeting malakhim come to again show the dualistic theme of the journey?

The nocturnal struggle with the mysterious being, identified by our Sages as the heavenly minister of Esav, is also connected to the theme of fleeing Yaakov. He wrestles till the break of dawn and although he suffers injury, he survives. He is given the name Yisrael, "for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed" (32:29). Likewise, he survives his encounter with Esav himself. However, this aspect of his journey is not over until he withstands the episode of Dina and Shekhem.

Finally, his long weary exile is over. He must fulfill the vow taken at Bet-El and then he can return to his mother:

And God said to Yaakov, “Arise, go up to Bet-El, and dwell there; and make there an altar unto God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esav your brother.” (35:1)

They purify themselves of all the alien influences of their exile and travel to Bet-El, where Yaakov builds an altar. Then they mourn the passing of Devora, the nurse of Rivka. The Pseudo Yonatan comments that they were informed that Rivka herself had passed away. Although the story ends on a somber note, the long journey of exile and coming home, of flight and return, is finally over. Yaakov has completed the Rivka part of the journey.

The time is ripe to complete the Yitzchak aspect of the journey.

And God appeared to Yaakov again, when he came from Padan Aram, and blessed him. And God said to him, “Your name is Yaakov: your name shall no longer be called Yaakov but Yisrael shall be your name,” and He called his name Yisrael. (35:9-10).

Yaakov is once again called Yisrael, but his time within the context of the journey to and from Padan Aram, the purpose of which was to raise a family that would continue the tradition. He is blessed:

“Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of you, and kings shall come out of your loins; and the land which I gave to Avraham and Yitzchak to you I will give it, and to your seed after you will I give the land." (35:12-13)

He is named Yisrael again. Once more he erects a pillar and anoints it with oil. He names the house of God Bet-El anew. However, the context is totally different. The first time he was renamed, it was within the framework of Yaakov's flight from his brother; it came as a promise for support and protection. This time, it is from the perspective of the journey to build a family. It comes after Yaakov's return home, when most of Yaakov's children have already been born.

Yaakov does not actually return to Yitzchak until Binyamin is born. Only when the Torah announces, "Now the sons of Yaakov were twelve … these are the sons of Yaakov that were born to him in Padan Aram" (35:22-26) - only then is the Yitzchak aspect of the journey complete and Yaakov can finally return to his father.