Parsha

For the week ending 16 November 2013 / 13 Kislev 5774

Parshat Vayishlach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

Returning home, Yaakov sends angelic messengers to appease his brother Eisav. The messengers return, telling Yaakov that Eisav is approaching with an army of 400. Yaakov takes the strategic precautions of dividing the camps, praying for assistance, and sending tribute to mollify Eisav. That night, Yaakov is left alone and wrestles with the Angel of Eisav. Yaakov emerges victorious but is left with an injured sinew in his thigh (which is the reason that it is forbidden to eat the sciatic nerve of a kosher animal). The angel tells him that his name in the future will be Yisrael, signifying that he has prevailed against man (Lavan) and the supernatural (the angel). Yaakov and Eisav meet and are reconciled, but Yaakov, still fearful of his brother, rejects Eisavs offer that they should dwell together. Shechem, a Caananite prince, abducts and violates Dina, Yaakovs daughter. In return for Dinas hand in marriage, the prince and his father suggest that Yaakov and his family intermarry and enjoy the fruits of Caananite prosperity. Yaakovs sons trick Shechem and his father by feigning agreement; however, they stipulate that all the males of the city must undergo brit mila. Shimon and Levi, two of Dinas brothers, enter the town and execute all the males who were weakened by the circumcision. This action is justified by the citys tacit complicity in the abduction of their sister. G-d commands Yaakov to go to Beit-El and build an altar. His mother Rivkas nurse, Devorah, dies and is buried below Beit-El. G-d appears again to Yaakov, blesses him and changes his name to Yisrael. While traveling, Rachel goes into labor and gives birth to Binyamin, the twelfth of the tribes of Israel. She dies in childbirth and is buried on the Beit Lechem Road. Yaakov builds a monument to her. Yitzchak passes away at the age of 180 and is buried by his sons. The Parsha concludes by listing Eisavs descendants.

Insights

Dynasty

“Now these are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom…” (36:31)

Why do Jews believe that there is a G‑d?

The famous English physicist Sir Isaac Newton had a colleague who was a staunch atheist. Newton would frequently cross swords with his colleague on this subject.

One day, when the atheist came to visit Newton in his library, his eyes fell upon a most beautiful sight. Sitting on Newton’s desk, basking in the rays of the afternoon sun, was an exquisite astrolabe — a brass machine that depicted the solar system in three dimensions.

“How beautiful!”, remarked the atheist.

“You haven’t seen anything yet,” said Newton. “Do you see the small lever on the base? Move it towards you.”

As the atheist moved the lever, the entire engine slowly came to life. At its center the orb of the sun started to revolve. Further out, turning on brass cogs, the earth and the planets began their revolutions around the sun; each planet accompanied by its own moons, all moving in wonderful precision.

“This is amazing!” remarked the atheist. “Who made it?”

“No one” replied Newton, deadpan.

“What do you mean ‘No one’?”

“No one. It just sort of fell together, you know.”

“No, I don’t know! I insist you tell me who the maker of this priceless object is. I refuse to believe that this object merely ‘fell together’.”

“This...” said Newton, pointing to the astrolabe, “This you insist has to have a maker. But this...” Newton spread his arms wide, indicating the Creation, “how infinitely more beautiful and complex! This you insist has no Maker?”

You don’t have to be able to invent the First Law of Motion to read the world like a book.

Just as the book testifies to the existence of its writer, so too the world testifies to the existence of a Divine Author.

Yet, however compelling is the evidence of design in the Creation, this is not the reason that the Jewish People believe in G‑d.

We believe in G‑d because the entire Jewish People had a first-hand experience of the Divine during the Exodus from Egypt, at Sinai and the forty years of daily miracles that followed. Ah, you will say, that was them — what about me? What connects my belief in G‑d to the experience of people I never met a couple of thousand years ago?

The answer is that parents don’t lie to their children about essential life information. If indeed G‑d did speak to the Jewish People at Sinai and miraculously guided us through the desert, if He indeed gave us a Torah which tells us how to live our lives, then this certainly qualifies as information that our forbears would deem essential to pass on to us.

“Tradition” is infinitely more than the rhapsody of a Russian-Jewish milkman named Tevye. “Tradition”, the passing over from parent to child of that encounter at Sinai is the lifeblood of Judaism.

One of the ways we express that link is by referring to ourselves as the son/daughter of so-and-so. For example, my Hebrew name is Yaakov Asher ben Dovid. Yaakov Asher the son of David. My father’s name is Dovid ben Shmuel, and his father’s name is Shmuel ben Tanchum Yitzchak. An so on.

My name — who I am — is inextricably linked with from where I come. I am a link in a chain that spans the millennia. My very name says that.

At the end of this week’s Torah portion, there is a list of the kings of Edom. If you look at this list you’ll notice that not one of these kings was hereditary. Every one of them founded and finished his own dynasty.

Edomis descended from Esav. Esav despised the birthright and sold it to Yaakov. Esav viewed heredity as disposable, insignificant. He was prepared to sell it for a bowl of lentils. Esav’s worldview is that of unmitigated meritocracy. Nothing else counts. This is his view to this day.

Meritocracy has much to recommend it. However, when you are building a belief system which will rely on a chain of transmission spanning millennia, to despise dynasty is to disqualify yourself from the job at hand – the eternal witnessing of G‑d’s interaction and interest in Mankind.

  • Thanks to Rabbi Mordechai Perlman

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