וישׁלח - "And He Sent"
Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
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The Hebrew Word
The name of this week's parashah, וישׁלח (vayishlach), means "and he sent". It is a third-person conjugation of the Hebrew verb shalach (Strong's #7971) which is a root word that means "to send out" or "to send forth". The word is used 995 times in 790 verses in the Tanakh.
We see in Scripture G-d "sending" Adam out of Gan Eden (Genesis 3:23), Noach "sending" a raven (Genesis 8:7) and a dove (Genesis 8:8) out of the ark, and G-d "sending" the angels to destroy Sodom (Genesis 19:13).
The noun form of the word (shelach) means "spear" or "missile"... something that is "sent forth" as an attack.
Another form of the word (shiluach) means "a dismissal" especially in terms of a divorce.
First use in Scripture
The first time shalach is used in Scripture is in Genesis 3:22.
Then the LORD G-d said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"--
Last use in Scripture
The last time shalach is used in Scripture is in Malachi 4:5.
"Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse."
- Ya'akov prepares to meet Esav - Genesis 32:7
- Ya'akov wrestles with G-d and is renamed Israel - Genesis 32:24
- Ya'akov faces Esav - Genesis 33:1
- Ya'akov settles in Shechem - Genesis 33:18
- Rape of Dinah and slaughter of Shechem - Genesis 34:1
- Ya'akov settles in Beit-El and is again named Israel - Genesis 35:1,9
- Binyamin is born and Rachel dies - Genesis 35:16
- Sons of Israel enumerated - Genesis 35:22
- Esav moves and settles in Se'ir Genesis 36:8
- Sons of Esav enumerated Genesis 36:10
Portraits of Messiah
Verse by Verse Notes
In verse 5 we see that Ya'akov lists out his assets as if to tell Esav that he can pay a handsome price for peace between them. He does not, however, list the camels which are noted in verse 7 as part of his assets. Why? Was he holding something in reserve for additional insurance?
This is uncertain.
Model for prayer
Verses 9-12 provide what appears to be the model for many of the prayers found in siddurim (prayer books) around the world:
- Identification of G-d as the G-d of my father Avraham and Yitzchak
- Additional identification of G-d ("who said to me...")
- Expression of unworthiness and dependence upon Him ("I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness...")
- Petition ("Deliver me, I pray...")
- Calling upon G-d's promises ("For You said...")
Grace and Mercy
In verse 20 Ya'akov approaches Esav with appeasement similar to how pagans might approach their god and finds that the only true way to reconciliation is through grace and mercy (33:4-9).
Verse 24 tells us that Ya'akov wrestled with "a man" (Hebrew ish) yet in verse 28 we are told that Ya'akov has striven with "G-d" (Hebrew elohim) and man.
In verse 30 Ya'akov says that he has seen " G-d" (Hebrew elohim) face to face and names the place Peni'el (Face of G-d).
In Hosea 12:4 it is written that Ya'akov "wrestled with the angel" (Hebrew malak).
It is entirely possible that Ya'akov wrestled with "the angel of the Lord" in the form of man.
In verses 1-2 Ya'akov puts Rachel and Yosef (those who he loves most) last at the back of the camp to give them the best chance to escape if Esav attacks. This is reminiscient of the words of the Master:
"But many who are first will be last; and the last, first."
The Hebrew phrase used in verse 3 (vayishtachu aretzah) states that Ya'akov "bowed to the ground" seven times. This phrase indicates a full prostration to the ground. To do so once would have been a sign of great respect and humility (as a person might have before a king) but Ya'akov did so seven times. Each time he did so he was putting himself in a completely submissive posture that made him tremendously vulnerable.
In verse 1 we see that Dinah, the daughter of Ya'akov "went out to see the daughters of the land". Scripture does not explicity state whether she went out escorted or not but her subsequent rape would tend to indicate that she was not chaperoned. From this we can learn to safeguard our daughters from situations where they could be harmed. To what degree we guard our daughters is up to us.
A Gentle Answer
The name of this parashah is "and he sent". In the parashah Ya'akov sends messengers to his brother Esav. He sends them with words of kindness, humility, and supplication. As the son who had the right of the firstborn and the blessing of the firstborn Ya'akov might have tried to "stand up for his rights" but instead took a position of humility. As it is written:
A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.
In parashah Vayishlach we find the first mention of machanayim (Strong's #4266) which means "double camp":
Jacob said when he saw them, "This is G-d's camp." So he named that place Mahanaim.
Those who are sent
In almost every example we see of shalach in Scripture we find that the one being sent is leaving the protection of the sender in order to perform a specific purpose.
- G-d sends Adam and Chavah out of the safety of the garden (Genesis 3:23).
- Noach sends a raven (Genesis 8:7) and a dove (Genesis 8:8) out of the safety of the ark.
- Messiah sends the talmidim away from Him to minister to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:5-42).