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Torah Parshiyot

Parashat Vayishlah
December 6, 2014 – 14 Kislev 5775

Finally free from serving his father-in-law, Laban, Jacob is informed of a new challenge: his estranged twin brother, Esau, is on the way to visit him with 400 men at his side. Jacob is fearful, and with good reason; the last time Esau was nearby, he was threatening Jacob’s life. Jacob springs into action in three ways: he separates his traveling party into two halves (to reduce the risk of total destruction should Esau attack), prays to God for safety, and prepares gifts for his brother.

But no matter how much energy he expended preparing for his brother’s approach, nothing could have prepared him for his midnight encounter. Jacob, now standing alone, is met by a mysterious being, and the two wrestle until day- break. Jacob proves to be stronger, but not before his opponent strains Jacob’s hip socket. Victorious nonetheless, Jacob demands a blessing, and the unknown being changes Jacob’s name to Israel, because he had “striven with be- ings divine and human, and … prevailed.”

Limping back to his camp, Jacob sees Esau and his party approach. But instead of attacking, Esau arrives with open arms, kissing Jacob and speaking of journeying together. Jacob, however, remains polite yet cautious, insisting that Esau accept his gifts, and asking to travel at a slow pace behind Esau’s company. Jacob and Esau reunite only once more: to bury their father, Isaac, who dies at the age of 180.

At Jacob’s next encampment, his daughter, Dinah, is raped by Shekhem, the son of the Hivite chief Hamor. Shekhem desires to make Dinah his wife, and Hamor asks Jacob for an even deeper arrangement, proposing that the Hivite and Israelite clans marry one another. Jacob approves the request, provided that Hivite males be circumcised. Little does Jacob know that two of his sons, Simeon and Levi, would slaughter the Hivites recovering from their circumcisions, and pillage their camp.

God speaks to Jacob a second time, asking him to return to Bethel, the site of Jacob’s initial encounter with God. There, God blesses Jacob once more, reminding him of the covenant promising his offspring the land of Canaan.
But tragedy strikes in two ways. First, Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah, dies while journeying back to Canaan. And Rachel gives birth to her second son, Benjamin, but dies immediately afterward, thus leaving Jacob without the love of his life. In spite of being blessed with so much, Jacob shows signs of unraveling, as evidenced by Reuben’s rebellion against him.

The portion concludes with a complete genealogy of Esau and his descendants.

Parashat Vayeshev
December 13, 2014 – 21 Kislev 5775

Jacob gives Joseph a colored coat to show that he is Jacob’s favorite son. Joseph tells his brothers of dreams that his family will serve him. Enraged, the brothers plan to kill Joseph, until Reuven pleas for clemency; instead, they sell Joseph into slavery, and tell Jacob that Joseph had been killed by an animal.

Judah refuses to have his third son marry Tamar after his first two sons who had been married to her, die. Tamar dresses as a harlot and seduces Judah. When Tamar is discovered pregnant, she is saved from execution only after Judah is revealed as the father.

Joseph, now in Egypt, serves Potiphar, a courtier of Pharaoh. Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce Joseph; when he refuses her advances, she accuses him of rape. Joseph is imprisoned. While there, Joseph correctly interprets the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker. But while the baker is executed, the butler forgets Joseph once he is restored to his post.

Parashat Miketz – Shabbat Hanukkah
December 24, 2014 – 28 Kislev 5775

Pharaoh is disturbed by his dreams, and his butler finally suggests that Joseph be summoned from prison to help. When Joseph explains that the dreams foretell seven years of prosperity followed by seven years of famine, Pharaoh appoints Joseph as second-incommand of Egypt, and Joseph successfully ensures that Egypt has food during the ensu- ing years.

Facing famine in Canaan, ten of Joseph’s brothers go to Egypt in search of food. The brothers don’t recognize Joseph, though Joseph recognizes them; he withholds his true identity. Joseph imprisons Simeon and sends the rest of the brothers home with food, telling them not to return until they bring Benjamin with them. Despite Jacob’s protests, the brothers return to Egypt with Benjamin. Joseph is pleased, and he releases Simeon and sends the brothers back with food again, but also plants his goblet in Benjamin’s bag. The brothers fear that Benjamin will be imprisoned in Egypt permanently.

Parashat Vayigash
December 27, 2014 – 5 Tevet 5775

Judah pleads with Joseph for mercy, knowing that Jacob would be crestfallen if he knew that Benjamin was impris- oned. Joseph decides to tell his brothers his true identity, reassuring him that he would not take revenge on them for selling him into slavery. Instead, he insists that the entire family relocate to Egypt. Jacob rejoices at the news that Jo- seph is still alive, and Joseph’s extended family settles in Goshen. Jacob meets the Pharaoh and reveals the anguish he has felt in his life. Joseph proves himself a master economic planner, nationalizing Egypt’s land and livestock.

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