The weekly Torah reading, Vaishala, begins in contrast to last week's parsha. Last week, we started reading "JACOB left," and this week begins with "Jacob sent angels ahead of him." Jacob went into exile last week and is now leaving and returning to Eretz Yisrael (the Hebrew Land).
We will learn that this whole part teaches us what process the Jewish identity must go through when we are freed from the identity of our exile. How does a Jew go from being 'Jacob' to the identity of 'Israel'?
Jacob is the little one who surrendered to the bigger one. On the other hand, regarding Israel, it is written: "Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed." [Genesis 32:29]. In this, the angel informs him that he discovered his ability to face political challenges and the like by becoming Israel. This is a necessary condition to become 'Israel.'
The first test is Jacob's meeting with Esau when he is still afraid of him, as it is written: “Jacob became very frightened and was distressed…” [Genesis 32:9]. Why is fear emphasized twice in this verse? Rashi (medieval commentator) interprets it as follows: “He was frightened lest he be killed, and he was distressed that he might kill others.”
We see that Jacob's fear of having to “kill others” is more significant than the thought of the actual danger that he might be killed. This way of thinking is still the result of an exiled moral code. He cannot confront and defeat the enemy if he cares more about the enemy than himself.
Let's look again at Rashi's commentary. He wrote - 'Perhaps he will kill others'. Who are the 'others'? According to the Midrash, the 'others' refer to one of the greatest sages of Hebrew in the days of Rome, Rabbi Meir. According to tradition, Rabbi Meir was a sage, A descendant of Nero, the emperor, and Nero was a descendant of Esau. In other words, Jacob understands that within the culture of Esau, a great soul can emerge like Rabbi Meir's. He cannot get out of his mind that there are precious elements even within the enemy. He cannot enter the Land of Israel and settle there in such a situation.
Thus, divine providence causes Jacob to fight Esau. As it is written: 'And Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.' [Genesis 32:25]. When Jacob was forced (in a dream) to fight and defeat his enemy, he is now ready to enter the Land of Israel.
He will still have to face a real enemy, as in the case of the people of Nablus. In the case of Dinah (daughter of Jacob) in Nablus [see Genesis chapter 34], he is still humble. Jacob holds back and chooses not to fight. But his sons already understand the mode of action necessary for existence in the Land of Israel. In their explanation to Jacob, their father, they said: "Shall he make our sister like a harlot?" [Genesis 34:31] Therefore, they explain, we had to act.
After the battle with Nablus and its inhabitants, Jacob goes up to Bethel because, at this stage, he finally acquired the appropriate level of conviction required for the Jews of the Land of Israel. This level reaches that of Israel, which knows how to fight.
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