Torah Soap: Vayishlach

Where we last left our daring hero (aka polygamous protagonist), he and his four wives, 11 sons, and one daughter were heading back to the birth-land.

There was a considerable amount of nail-biting going on as the last time that Jacob had seen his twin, Esau was planning to become an only child.

But after 20 years, Jacob was putting some stock – livestock, that is – in buttering up his brother. He got together his best bounty. We’re not talking about the leftover Starbucks cards from his wallet, but dozens of the finest cows and camels anyone could ask for.
Jacob’s messengers go on ahead to deliver the bounty but come back with news that Esau is coming their way and… with 400 men!
Fear not! Our hero has a plan and a back up plan.
First he goes to God and is like, “Hey, remember we struck this deal on the way out of this place? You promised to keep me fed and clothed and return me safely to my homeland. And I promised that if you kept your promise, you could be my God. So just a friendly reminder: now’s the time for delivery on the safety part.”
Then just in case, Jacob divides his camp in two. That way if Evil Esau takes one half, the other half could get away.
Forward ho!
Jacob takes his family, friends, and flocks and crosses them over the Jabbok. But he spends the night alone on the far side of the river.
Maybe he’d planned one last night of bonbons before the big showdown, but it’s not what he got.
That night, a man came and wrestled with him all night long. Fear not! Jacob was as mighty as a contender as anyone. Dawn broke, and they were still wrestling. Then the man injured Jacob, and they were still wrestling!
Finally the dude is like, “It’s morning, I gotta get out of this place. Let me go.”
But our man of the hour refuses to do so before being bestowed a blessing. His blessing? A new name: Israel.
So that morning, Israel sets back on his journey and for the first time sees the magnitude of the 400 men approaching with his brother and kicks things into high gear to save his seed.
He lines his children and their mothers up in order of least favorite to most favorite. Jacob bows seven times on his way up to his brother.
Esau grabs Jacob! In a hug not a death hold; and they all survive.
They all survive, but the same can’t be said of the tribe of Hamor. They were all slaughtered at the hands of two of Jacob’s eldest boys: Simeon and Levi.
Well, because the prince fell in love with their sister, Dinah, of course. What could be worse? Here’s what could be worse: Hamor’s plan of combining the tribes of Hamor and Jacob. Oh the horror! These men were uncircumcised heathens! If only they would accept Jacob’s God and put all their foreskins in a pile, but no.
But wait. Yes! Yes, they would do even that. Every one of them! All the men were circumcised and on the third day, when they were in the greatest pain, Simeon and Levi act out their greatest revenge.
They slaughter every last one of the men of Hamor’s tribe.
And by the way, the other brothers had nothing to do with this slaughtering. Maybe because they were so busy looting the town, taking all that had been Hamor’s and making it their own.
Jacob doesn’t think this is as cool as his boys do. But they challenge him, asking would it be better that their sister be treated like a whore? A whore!
It’s not murder if it’s morally justified, right?
More death comes when Joseph becomes a big brother to Baby Ben, and their mom dies in the process.

Hear the whole story here.

Could there be good news on the horizon?

Have Jacob’s sons learned how to manage their emotions? When they get jealous of Joseph will they leave him to die or let him live? Whose dreams will come true and whose will rot in jail? And how does Judah become the grandfather of his own sons? These questions and many others will be answered in next week’s Torah portion, Vayeshev.

About the Author
Esther Goldenberg is the founder of Out-of-the-Box Judaism. Her books The Out-of-the-Box Bat Mitzvah: A Guide to Creating a Meaningful Milestone and A Story Every Week: Torah Wisdom for Today's World is available on and at other online booksellers. Join the conversation at
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