Parshat Vayishlach

Parshat Vayishlach

Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted

From last week’s parshah:

Bereishit 29:17

Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful.

Naftali Hertz Bacharach, 17th century, Poland

This is the mystical meaning of the verse: … [Rachel’s] eyes are not mentioned! Therefore, she is called “the beautiful young woman with no eyes.” We, her servants, have to make her eyes with our intentions. This riddle is mentioned at the beginning of Sava deMishpatim, where Rabbi Yose is amazed at the riddle. He thinks that this [refers to] ordinary matters and is almost punished. But it is, in fact, a mystical secret.

Rabbi Tabick explains that in the Zohar, the Torah is referred to as the “beautiful young woman with no eyes.” In kabbalistic symbolism, Leah represents Binah (Wisdom) and Rachel is a sign for Malchut — the Shechinah, or God’s presence in the world. The Torah and the Shechinah are sometimes treated interchangeably.

“No eyes,” also has a double-meaning. Although beautiful, seeing the Shechinah requires us to actively look. Our intention is necessary for the Shechinah’s expression. We become the eyes of the Shechinah by seeing Her.

How would describe this concretely? What in the world or in your life are you grateful for that requires you to actively notice? Have you had experiences where your active awareness made something real for other people too?

One of the notable events in this week’s parshah is the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. Rabbi Tabick looks at a Hasidic commentary on a minor episode that follows the reconciliation.

Bereishit 33:17

Jacob journeyed on to Sukkot [a place name, not the holiday], and built a house for himself and made sukkot for his cattle; that is why the place was called Sukkot.

Rabbi Shalom of Belz, founder of the Belz hasidim. 19th century, Ukraine

A human being’s service to God is to repair the bit of soul that is within. Although a human being requires things of this world, for without them that bit of soul could not exist, nevertheless, the essence of service is to see to the repair of the soul. Through the doing of mitzvot and good deeds,  one builds “houses” and pleasant structures for the soul. This is alluded to in the verse, “then he built a house for himself,” that is,  he made a house for himself which is the essential thing, “but for his cattle,” that is, the things of this world which are subordinate, “he made sukkot.”

How would you describe the difference between a sukkah and a house? What the Belzer saying about our priorities?

If a bit of the soul is within, where is the rest of it?

Why does it need repair?

Why does that bit need a body?

The next major episode is the rape of Dinah and the massacre that follows it. Although Dinah’s relationship is often described as a rape, it is not clear from the text whether the sexual relationship between Dinah and the Shechem chieftain’s son was a rape in a modern sense. Her brothers feel that their honor was violated. The chieftain’s son clearly loves Dinah and is willing to get circumcised to marry her. (Rabbi Tabick points out that the Midrash suggests that the love between the chieftain’s son and Dinah was genuine.) The men of Shechem are massacred by Jacob’s sons while they are tending their circumcisions. Jacob is incensed by their actions, which reflects a lack of control over anger. 

In the commentary by Rebbe Chaim, the relationship is assumed to be lust-driven, and a contrast is made to a different kind of love.

Chaim of Kosov, 19th century, Romania

The Holy One loves Israel with three expressions of love: attachment, desire, and delight. Attachment: “But you are attached to the Eternal your God.” (Devarim 4:4). Desire: “the Eternal did not desire you … because you were more in number than any people.” (Devarim 7:7). Delight: “And all nations shall call you happy; for you shall be a delightful land” (Malachi 3:12).

From this passage we may learn how to serve the Blessed One with attachment, desire, and delight and to give our soul for the Blessed One, like that wicked man [Shechem] gave his son for his lust.

There appears to be three characteristics that are contrasted to lust:

  • commitment.
  • desire based on inner worth, and
  • the expression of joy.

What is Rebbe Chaim telling us about how to connect with God?