Jacob prepares to face his brother at Seir. Attempting to assuage his brother, Jacob sends servants in advance, who report that Esau is with four hundred men. Fearing violence, Jacob divides his retinue into two separate camps, hoping that at least one of them might survive. After praying to God for safety, Jacob sends a large selection of animals from his herd to his brother as a gift. These he sends in droves, hoping to propitiate Esau. Then, Jacob spends the night alone by the River Jabbok. A mysterious man wrestles with him all night, wrenching Jacob’s hip at the socket. Jacob refuses to release the stranger without a blessing, and the other renames Jacob as Israel, “for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed”. From that day on, Jacob limp, and the children of Israel do not eat the meat around the sciatic nerve. When the brothers reunite, Jacob and Esau embrace and weep. Jacob tells his brother “seeing your face is like seeing the face of God”. Esau invites Jacob to travel with him, but Jacob and his retinue venture alone to Succoth and then to Shechem, purchasing land from the local ruler.
Dinah visits with the local women, attracting the attention of Shechem, son of Hamor the Hivite, who rapes Dinah, and then asks his father to arrange a marriage. Hamor invites the Israelites to intermarry with the Hivites, and he asks for Dinah for his son. Jacob and his sons are outraged by the assault. Speaking with guile, they insist that the Hivite men must become circumcised, which they do. While the Hivite men still hurt, Simon and Levy attack, killing the males, taking the women and children captive, and gathering the livestock as booty.
Jacob is outraged by his sons’ behaviour and he moves on to Bethel, instructing the members of his household to purge themselves of any idols. Jacob builds an altar at the very site where God first was revealed to Jacob. At Bethel, Rebekah’s nurse, Deborah, dies, and God confirms Jacob’s new name, promising “the land that I assigned to Abraham and Isaac I assign to you; and to your offspring to come will I assign the land”.
Rachel struggles in labour and dies giving birth to a second son, who she names Ben-oni (son of my suffering). Jacob renames him Benjamin (son of my right hand). Rachel is buried on the road to Ephrat, near Bethlehem.
Reuben, Jacob’s son, sleeps with Bilhah, his father’s concubine, and Jacob discovers the betrayal but does nothing about it. Isaac dies at the age of 180 and Jacob and Esau bury him. The Parashah ends by listing Esau’s descendants, including Edom.
Based on The Bedside Torah by Rabbi Bradley Artson
Questions for discussion
1- Who is this mysterious man? A real man? An angel? Jacob himself? Someone else?
2- Who are the “bad guys” in this story? Shechem or the Israelites?
3- Why does Jacob needs to be told that he will own the land if it was promised already to Isaac and Abraham for them and their descendants?