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Fear of Attack

Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

The Torah relates that upon hearing that Eisav was coming toward him with 400 men, Yaakov became very frightened and it distressed him (Gen. 32:7). Rashi explains that the double expression regarding Yaakov's fear teaches that he was afraid both that he may be killed and that he may kill others should Eisav attack him. It is natural to understand why Yaakov would be afraid of being killed. However, as the law is (Sanhedrin 72a) that one may kill a pursuer in self-defense, why was he afraid of killing others?

The Maharil Diskin answers by citing Rashi, who writes (Gen. 27:45) that Rivkah prophetically declared that her two sons - Yaakov and Eisav - would both die on the same day. As a result, Yaakov was afraid that if he was attacked, he may end up killing Eisav, which would lead to his immediate death.

Based on this explanation, the Maharil Diskin resolves another difficulty. Yaakov split his family and possessions into two camps and expressed confidence that even if Eisav would destroy one camp, the remaining one would surely survive (Gen. 32:8). If Yaakov feared that Eisav may indeed prevail over his first camp, why was he so sure that the second camp wouldn't also succumb?

The Maharil Diskin explains that Yaakov placed a distance of one day's travel between the two camps and positioned himself at the front of the first camp. As a result, he was certain that even if he was killed, Eisav would also die on that day before having an opportunity to reach the second camp, thereby guaranteeing its survival.

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Just prior to his encounter with his brother, Eisav, Yaakov crossed a river together with his two wives, two maidservants, and 11 children (Gen. 32:23). As Yaakov had 12 children at this point, Rashi explains that Yaakov hid his daughter, Dina, in a box so that the wicked Eisav couldn't lay his eyes on her. Although one of Yaakov's children was unaccounted for, how did Rashi know that it was Dina and not one of his sons, such as his beloved Yosef?

The Vilna Gaon (Kol Eliyahu) answers that our Sages teach (see Targum Sheini Esther 3:3) that the tribe of Benjamin merited having the Holy Temple built in their portion of the land of Israel because Benjamin was the only one of the brothers who didn't bow down to Eisav, as he hadn't been born at the time of the encounter. If, however, any of the other sons was in the box instead of Dina, this reason would be insufficient as there would then be a second tribe which would have the same claim to the Temple. As a result, Rashi knew that the "missing" child could only be Dina.

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Because the angel wounded Yaakov in his thigh, Jews may not eat the sciatic nerve (Gen. 32:33). Will this prohibition always be in effect?

Rabbi Shlomo HaKohen of Vilna (Shu"t Binyan Shlomo) writes that in the Messianic era the consumption of the sciatic nerve will be permitted. He explains that there are 365 sinews in the human body, each of which is associated with one of the days of the solar calendar. The Zohar teaches that the sciatic nerve corresponds to Tisha B'Av. By dislodging it, Eisav's angel gave strength to his descendants to destroy the Holy Temple twice on that day.

In the times of Moshiach, this damage will be reversed as the Temple will be permanently rebuilt, and the sciatic nerve will become permitted. The Torah alludes to this concept in stating that as a result of the angel's wounding Yaakov in that place, the Jewish people don't eat it until the present day, implying that there will come a time after the present day when it will be eaten.

However, the S'dei Chemed (Klalim Gimmel 36) disagrees and brings several proofs that it will be forbidden even in the Messianic era.

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ALL 613

Rashi writes (Gen. 32:5) that Yaakov sent a message to his brother Eisav stating that although he had dwelled with the wicked Lavan for 20 years, he had remained steadfast in his faith and had continued to keep all 613 of the commandments. How is this to be understood, as it is physically impossible for any person to observe all of the mitzvot?

Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman (Ayeles HaShachar) rejects the explanation that Yaakov meant that he had studied the laws of all 613 mitzvot, as Rashi writes that he said that he had observed them. Instead, he suggests that because Yaakov's intention was to fulfill every mitzvah when he would have the opportunity to do so, it was considered as if he kept them all.

Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch (Taam V'Daas) notes that Yaakov didn't say that he fulfilled all of the mitzvot, but rather that he was "shomer" all of them. Rashi writes (Gen. 37:11) that this term can be used when a person guards something in the sense that he is waiting and anxiously looking forward to its fulfillment. In this case, Yaakov was guarding the mitzvot through his desire for the opportunity to perform all of them. Rav Shternbuch adds that at present, we lack the Holy Temple and all of the mitzvot which can only be performed there, but if we yearn for the time when we will have the merit to observe them, it will be considered as if we have already done so.

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