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[Dvar Torah] Vayishlach

In parshat Vayishlach, Yaakov returns to the land of Israel after a 20-year stay in Charan. He sends emissaries to his brother Esav, in hope of a reconciliation. However, the messengers report that his brother is on the warpath with 400 armed men. And so Yaakov prepares his family to escape for the worst case scenario of war. He prays and asks Hashem to remember him for prosperity, showing his trust in Hashem. Finally, he sends Esav a large gift (consisting of hundreds of heads of livestock) to appease him.

During Yaakov’s preparation to meet Esav, he wrestles with a mysterious being, who bestows on him the name Israel, which means “he who prevails over the divine”. Yaakov and Esav finally meet and reconcile, but eventually part ways. And the question arises - why did the brothers part after making peace? Could they not live together? 

Later in the parsha, Yaakov purchases a plot of land near Shchem, whose crown prince—also called Shchem— abducts Yaakov’s daughter Dinah and forces her into marriage. Dinah’s brothers Shimon and Levi avenge the deed by killing all male inhabitants of the city , after rendering them vulnerable by convincing them to circumcise themselves. Yaakov was very displeased with the behaviour of his two sons as he states:

“You have troubled me, to discredit me among the inhabitants of the land” (Genesis 34:30). 

Fast forward towards the end of the book of Bereshit (Genesis 49), Yaakov blesses his children before his death. When he blesses Shimon and Levi it seems more of a curse:

“Simeon and Levi are brothers… Cursed be their wrath for it is mighty, and their anger because it is harsh. I will separate them throughout Yaakov, and I will scatter them throughout Israel.” (Genesis 49:5-7)

Obviously, Yaakov is not happy with what these two do when they are together, but where is the blessing here of a loving father before his death? Is separating and scattering them throughout Israel a blessing? The answer to this question is perhaps also why Yaakov parted from his brother Esav.

In our social life as human beings we have many types of friendships, some lead to good outcomes, some to negative ones. Obviously, friendship between criminals leads to negative outcomes. But, sometimes even relations between two wonderful people can be negative and can bring harm to themselves or to others. In tefillah we ask: וְהַרְחִיקֵֽנוּ מֵאָדָם רָע וּמֵחָבֵר רָע meaning “Keep us far from an evil person, and from an evil friend”. A bad person is someone we obviously need to keep our distance from. But what is a bad friend? A bad friend may be a good person but our friendship has a bad influence in our life. 

Yaakov parted from Esav, his brother, because he felt that at this stage they would be better off separately. Yaakov understood also that Shimon and Levi, his two beloved sons, would bring more good to this world if they were not together. When separated they would each benefit individually. And we see that it worked - the Levites, for example, did not have their own territory in the land of Israel, as the other tribes. They were scattered throughout the country and their job was to teach the Jewish people the Torah and serve in the Temple. They were the teachers and educators of the nation. Being dispersed throughout the land enabled this. 

May we always know to recognize which relationships are good for us and others and may we learn when it’s time to come close or to part ways.

Shabbat Shalom,

Jessica, Grade 11