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Vayishlach: Godwrestling

But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

The name of the parsha means "and he sent," and in the text, it refers to Jacob sending messengers (מלאכים) to Esau to attempt to make up with him. But of course, it also involves Jacob wrestling with an angel (מלאך) in the famous encounter that gives both Jacob himself, and the Jewish people, their name.

Alexander Louis Leloir, "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel"
Alexander Louis Leloir, "Jacob Wrestling with the Angel"

The text itself--or at least its narrative voice--doesn't actually identify Jacob's opponent as an angel. It's enigmatic. There's no lead-up. Jacob sends his party across the river and is left alone... "and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn."

The man asks to be released, because dawn his coming. (Why is that an issue?)

But Jacob, who's collecting blessings like they're going out of style (from his dad, from his deity, from his uncle...) refuses to let him go until the mysterious man gives him one. The man gives him a new name, telling him he's successfully wrestled with beings divine and human, which is maybe an admission that he's an angel?, and then orders Jacob not to ask his name.

And that's that.

Also, Jacob's daughter, Dinah, has sex with a man named Shechem, which was likely not consensual (the Hebrew is unclear--it translates to "humbled her") and her brothers decide to kill all the men in the town in response. Dinah isn't given a voice in the text to tell us what she thinks about the whole thing, which is unfortunate.

Join us at 9:00 am this Saturday for coffee, donuts, and what's always a lively discussion.

Other lenses

Want to know what other Jewish thinkers are saying about this parsha?

Wikipedia has an incredible treasure trove of geekery about the weekly portion, laying out everything from the number of Hebrew letters in the parsha to summaries of classical commentaries. Prepare to go down a very deep rabbithole.

Sefaria is an amazing free resource--an ever-growing library of Jewish texts in both Hebrew and English. In addition to the Hebrew text and translation, it provides the text of most of the classical commentaries (not all of which have been translated... yet). The parsha is one of the first links on the main page.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, does a podcast called Ten Minutes of Torah--perfect for when you're time-constrained. The Union for Reform Judaism has a whole page of resources for the parsha, ranging from beginner's guides to pieces on the contemporary relevance of the portion. The Women of Reform Judaism site has a glorious archive of the entire text of The Torah: A Women's Commentary divided up by parsha.

My Jewish Learning has a summary of the portion, the parsha itself and the haftorah, and commentary.

For a Reconstructionist take, visit Reconstructing Judaism's weekly learning page. T'ruah, the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, has a weekly d'var that looks at the parsha as a starting point for contemporary political issues.

The World Union for Progressive Judaism has a parsha commentary archive.

Keshet's Torah Queeries page provides commentary from an LGBTQ perspective (search on the portion name).

The Jewish Theological Society (the Conservative Branch seminary) provides weekly commentary at JTS Torah Online.

Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women, has a collection of Divrei Torah written by women and organized by parsha on its site.

Limmud, a 35-year-old grassroots Jewish learning event that started in the UK and has become an international phenomenon, maintains an archive of commentaries.

Liberal Judaism's Thought for the Week provides concise but thoughtful analysis of the portion. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi Emeritus of England, engages in profound commentary on the weekly portion in Covenant & Conversation.

InterfaithFamily puts out an animated Torahlog including contemporary reactions, poetry, folk music, and Jewish scholarship on the parsha.

The Jewish Renewal movement's site maintains an archive of commentary. Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, the Velveteen Rabbi--an author and Jewish Renewal rabbi--does commentary on her site.

The #parshachat hashtag on Twitter marks a constantly-running social media conversation on the parsha.

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