David Curwin
David Curwin

Between Vayishlach and Vayeshev

After many chapters, Parashat Vayishlach ends the story of the conflict between Yaakov and Esav. Parashat Vashev starts the Yosef saga. Is anything to be gained by looking at the progress from one parasha to the next?

I think a well known, but perhaps not well understood, comment by Rashi can prove that the connection between Vayishlach and Vayeshev is significant.

In his commentary on Bereshit 37:2, Rashi writes, “Yaakov wished to live at ease, but the troubles in connection with Yosef suddenly came upon him.”

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, in an essay I discussed here, says that Yaakov was ignoring his divine mission. He should have gone on to conquer Eretz Yisrael, instead of merely “settling in it” (vayeshev – Bereshit 37:1). His desire to live in peace prevented him from taking the steps necessary to begin the conquest.

And where does the Rav learn this? From Esav, at the end of Vayishlach. In contrast with Yaakov’s passivity, Esav conquered his portion – Seir. The comparison between the two is mentioned explicitly in Devarim:

“Similarly, Seir was formerly inhabited by the Horites; but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them, wiping them out and settling in their place, just as Israel did in the land they were to possess, which the LORD had given to them.” (Devarim 2:12)

The verse here is stating that the nation of Israel is about to conquer the land of Canaan, but mentioning Esav brings into contrast their ancestor Yaakov.

But what does all this have to do with the “troubles of Yosef”? As I discussed in this essay, when Yaakov did not begin the conquest, and particularly with his passive attitude towards the town of Shechem, the seeds of the tension between the brothers was planted. Shimon and Levi, the leaders of the opposition to Yaakov in Shechem, were also likely the ones who were planning on killing Yosef. Having rejected Yaakov’s leadership (and moved to Shechem, the city of their conquest), they moved their focus to Yaakov’s favorite son – Yosef.

All of this eventually led all of the brothers to Egypt, and only after leaving there as a nation, would they again get the opportunity to conquer the land.

About the Author
David Curwin is a writer living in Efrat. He has been writing about the origin of Hebrew words and phrases, and their connection to other languages, on his website balashon.com since 2006. He has also published widely on topics relating to Bible and Jewish philosophy.
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