Parshah Summary – P’shat
The parshah opens with Jacob returning home to the land of Canaan after a 20-year stay in Haran. He sends angels ahead of him to meet his brother Esau in hope of a reconciliation, but they report back that Esau is on the warpath with 400 armed men. Jacob prepares for war, but also sends Esau a large gift (consisting of hundreds of heads of livestock) to appease him, and then intensely prays for salvation. That night, Jacob sends his family and possessions across the Jabbok River, while he remains behind and encounters a mysterious being with whom he wrestles until daybreak. Jacob suffers a dislocated hip but vanquishes the supernal creature, who bestows upon him the name Yisrael, Israel. When Jacob and Esau finally meet, they break down, hugging and kissing, but then part ways.
Jacob purchases a plot of land near Shekhem, whose crown prince—also called Shekhem—abducts and violates Jacob’s daughter Dinah. 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 in order to intermarry with them. Again fearing for his life after what his sons had done, Jacob and his family flee. Rachel dies while giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and is buried in a roadside grave near Bethlehem. Jacob arrives in Hebron, to his father Isaac, who later dies at age 180.
Torah of Awakening
וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח יַעֲקֹ֤ב מַלְאָכִים֙ לְפָנָ֔יו אֶל־עֵשָׂ֖ו אָחִ֑יו אַ֥רְצָה שֵׂעִ֖יר שְׂדֵ֥ה אֱדֽוֹם׃
Jacob sent angels ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom.
- Bereisheet (Genesis) 32:4, Parshat Vayikhlakh
One Friday afternoon, when Rabbi David of Lelov was on a journey in a horse-drawn carriage, the horse stopped and refused to go on. The driver began to beat the horse, but the rebbe objected. “Rabbi,” cried the driver, “the sun will soon be setting and Shabbos is almost here!”
“You are quite right,” answered Rabbi David, “but what you have to do is make the animal understand you. Otherwise it will someday summon you to court in Heaven, and that will not be to your honor.”
The horse and driver are classic symbols of the body and mind. Beyond the plain teaching of being kind to animals, Rabbi David is teaching us not to force our bodies, but to be lovingly present with our physical nature. This duality of the mind and body are also expressed in the Jacob story: Jacob and Esau are twin brothers, representing opposite archetypes. Esau was a hunter, a man of the field. Jacob, on the other hand, “dwelled in tents” where, according to the tradition, he would study Torah. In other words, Esau represents the body, and Jacob the mind. Esau wants to kill Jacob because Jacob used his cunning intelligence first to convince Esau to sell him his birthright, and later to trick their father Isaac into giving Esau’s blessing of the first born to Jacob.
And this what the mind often must do: The body has its needs – not very complicated or profound – it needs good food, fresh air, good rest, and so on. But our minds have other more sophisticated and ambitions and plans. And because of all the things we want to accomplish and experience, all the things we “think” are more important, we can end up polluting our bodies, not getting enough rest or exercise, and pushing ourselves in ways that can make us sick – not to mention the damage we cause to others in the process. Eventually, Esau will rebel; the body rebels, and that’s when life can fall apart. What is the solution?
It is to realize, first of all, that there is a much more profound dimension to our minds than our thoughts, ideas and ambitions; and that is our sensitivity, our awareness, our Presence. Just as Jacob sends the malakhim – the angels – to Esau, so you can “send” your awareness into your own body. That is literally how our bodies feel loved, because awareness is the carrier wave for love; it is the whole basis for love. After all, before we do anything loving for anyone, we first have to be present with them, we have to pay attention to them. Sometimes, attentiveness is all that is needed; and it is the same for our own bodies.
Some people like to pamper their bodies with spa days, putting on various lotions, makeup, and so on. To a “spiritual” person this may seem materialistic and vain, but actually it can be a way that one expresses Presence, and hence love, to the body. Loving Presence in the body activates our innate healing potential; that is why some people don’t feel good unless they “put on their face.” They may think it’s the makeup that makes them feel good, but it’s actually the attention itself which puts the body at ease and activates a feeling of wellbeing…
וַיִּשְׁלַ֨ח יַעֲקֹ֤ב מַלְאָכִים֙ לְפָנָ֔יו – Jacob sent angels before him… But of course, once we understand this, we don’t really need the outer garments of attention; we can go right to the essence, sending our “angels” before us, into our bodies – this is meditation.
וַיָּ֨רׇץ עֵשָׂ֤ו לִקְרָאתוֹ֙ וַֽיְחַבְּקֵ֔הוּ וַיִּפֹּ֥ל עַל־צַוָּארָ֖ו וַׄיִּׄשָּׁׄקֵ֑ׄהׄוּׄ וַיִּבְכּֽוּ׃
Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and he fell on his neck, and he kissed him; and they wept.
In the text, the word kissed, וַׄיִּׄשָּׁׄקֵׄהׄוּׄ has dots over all the letters, and there is a dispute about the meaning of the dots. Rashi explains that some say the dots are there to imply that the kisses were done not with the whole heart, while Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai said, “Is it not well-known that Esau hated Jacob? But at that moment his pity was really aroused and he kissed him with his whole heart. (Sifrei Bamidbar 69.2)
Similarly, there is a paradox in our relationship with our bodies: when we bring the mind out of its imaginary worlds of ambition and projection and down into our physical bodies, then with practice, our bodies will reflect back to us that quality of love and attention as a feeling of blissful spaciousness, showing us the true nature of our own Being, of our consciousness. And this is the paradox: the body, with its constant needs and aches and pains, is ordinarily experienced as a kind of impediment to spiritual transcendence. But when we “kiss” our bodies with loving Presence, we can receive back that sense of blissful transcendence; our bodies “kiss” us in return.
But to rest our loving attention in our bodies, we need patience; we need to be able to put aside the urgency of our thoughts in order to fully rest the mind and meditate in stillness; this is the quality of the letter ח het – patience, listening, Presence-with:
אֶלָּא שְׁתִיקָה. וְלֹא הַמִּדְרָשׁ הוּא הָעִקָּר, אֶלָּא הַמַּעֲשֶׂה.
וְכָל הַמַּרְבֶּה דְבָרִים, מֵבִיא חֵטְא.
Shimon, his son, says: All my days I have grown up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence. Study is not the main thing, but practice, and all who increase words bring error.
- Pirkei Avot 1:16
Silence – that is, silent, loving Presence, is what the body needs; it is the foundation of healing. So in this week of Shabbat Vayishlakh, the Sabbath of Sending, may we practice “sending” our loving attention deeply into our own bodies. May our appreciation of the body nudge the world closer to the eradication of needless violence and violations of this precious human temple of consciousness within which we dwell. And as we approach the time of Hanukkah, may our loving attention toward others ever increase like the lights of the menorah; may peace come speedily.
Read past teachings on Vayishlakh HERE.
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