This level is for everyone, particularly beginners who
are seeking a simple, authentic interpretation.
We follow the guidelines set
out by the Shla in Shnei Luhot Habrit, his commentary
on the Torah:
" begin by studying the mitzva set out in this parasha
for it represents the meaning of the parasha;
" reflect on the deeper meaning of this mitzva;
" understand its concrete implications.
We could not follow these steps in the preceding parashiot,
because they did not set out a precise mitzva: the mitzva
of this parasha is only the 3rd mitzva of the 613 mitzvot
in the Torah.
of the parasha
" Yaakov approaches his brother Esav (Esau): his
anguish, prayer, the tactic he chooses, the way he approaches
his brother, the period of waiting.
" At the moment when he is alone with his anguish,
a man attacks him, wounds a sciatic nerve and dislocates
his hip. At dawn, the struggle is still going on, the
man asks to leave, Yaakov obtains from him a blessing,
the angel reveals to him that he has earned the name "Yisrael."
" The mitzva of not eating the sciatic nerve, the
"gid hanashe" the hollow of the thigh (verse
" He meets Esav, the separation.
" The arrival at Shehem where the governor's son
rapes Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Yaakov. The vengeance
by her brothers Shimon and Levi. Yaakov's disapproval
of their act of vengeance.
" Elokim confirs, at Bet El, the name Yisrael, and
the gift of the country to Yisrael and his descendants.
" The arrival at Efrat and Rachel's death during
the birth of Binyamin.
" The list of Yaakov's descendants, and the long
list of Esav's descendants.
Each one of these themes could
be studied in detail.
(Read the parasha, with particular attention to these
themes, in order to be able to understand the following
The first stage of Torah study
The first stage is to ask questions. This enables us to
look at a text in a new perspective and to receive the
messages of God that are transmitted by tradition.
Develop questions that come to mind as you read the parasha,
why is such a tzaddik put in such danger?
why does he give in to someone who threatens him?
why is he called adoni, my lord?
why was Yaakov attacked in his sciatic nerve?
what is the meaning, symbolism of the sciatic nerve?
what is the meaning of the prohibition against eating
the sciatic nerve?
Reflect on these questions and their implications before
going on to study what the commentators write. This is
not in order to emphasize my point of view as opposed
that of the commentators, but in order to put students
in a state of optimal vigilance.
This is the method of Rav Campanton, which is called the
The teaching of Rabbenu Yosef
Now let's look at the interpretations of the Sages: Rabbenu
Yosef Caro, in Megid Yesharim, writes that when one lives
in kedusha (like Yaakov) and one is threatened by negative
forces or people, a tzaddik reacts in a particular way.
Firstly he does not react with anger; by attacking, the
evil person comes into direct contact with a tzaddik who,
through his calm response, disseminates kedusha and can
thus cause evil to submit, after undergoing a tikkun.
The tzaddik thus enters into combat but not with the same
arms. He does not abandon his kedusha and holiness is
more powerful than evil. Esav will not win in the end.
A person who does not use the arm of kedusha and becomes
angry, loses the power inherent in kedusha and disseminates
negativity in the world. This is why the Sages say that
anger is worse than avodah zarah, idolatory.
The victory of over others or over negative forces can
only be achieved after the victory over oneself.
The task of bettering the world does not entail a crusade
or missionary campaign against others. Nor is it a battle
between the best of leaders. It is a task which entails
constant striving to ensure kedusha, and it is this position
which totally disarms evil, ipso facto. But it does not
remove fear, as we learn from this parasha.
The teaching of Rabbenu Bahya
Rabbenu Bahya teaches us first that a tzaddik succombs
to evil, which is a daring and illuminating proposition.
A lot of wisdom can be learnt by observing this trait
in the lives of great figures. Then he teaches us that
a tzaddik does not remain in a position of submission.
Quoting from many traditional texts (notably Proverbs
25, 26), Rabbenu Bahya demonstrates that a tzaddik is
not only a river of life, he is its source. Thus one can
want to go against the flow of a river, or against its
source and try to block it, but one cannot destroy the
link between the source and its origin (God who is called
the eye of the source, ayin) which is boundless. One cannot
attack the source of life. Read Jeremiah 17, 13 and Psalms
36, 10. He who abandons the Torah, loses the source of
all life and everything he will attempt to do will ultimately
He writes that the attribute (midda) of adhering to the
source is hassidut. This is pure love for those who try
to stay totally within the house of God (Psalm 15, 1-2).
Evil has no power over this position. This is why Yaakov
can say to his brother "garti" (I dwelled with
Laban). The gematria (numerical value) of the word garti
is 613, which corresponds to the total number of mitzvot
in the Torah.
The teaching of the Shla:
the 3rd mitzva - the gid hanashe.
In order to understand these
questions, the Shla writes that one has to understand,
the global meaning of the mitzvot and their function.
The mitzvot are not "duties," or "actions."
They are linked to the nature of man and to his make-up.
Indeed, because man was created in the image and likeness
of the world above, tradition explains that the very make-up
of man corresponds to the mitzvot, which represent the
link between the world above and this world.
It should be stressed that all the good things of this
world are always enclosed: just like fruits, whose sweet,
nutritious elements are enclosed within a hard exterior.
In the same way, it is said
that "positive" forces correspond to the positive
commandments (do), and forces that involve containment,
discipline, hardness, correspond to the negative commandments
(do not). The two are indissociable. separated.
Thus there are in the Torah:
" 248 positive commandments (with the expression:
do), which correspond to the number of organs of the body,
and to the body's ideal representation in the world above.
They are our link to the shekhina, the divine presence.
" 365 negative commandments (with the expression:
do not), which correspond to the days of the year. Each
prohibition corresponds to a day of the year and to one
of the hardest parts of our body, which include the tendons.
The sciatic nerve is the most
sensitive and vulnerable part of the body and corresponds
to the most sensitive day of the 365 days of the year,
tisha be av, the 9th of Av, the day of the greatest catastrophe.
This is the day when we have the least protection, when
oppressive forces are least tempered by the forces of
goodness and mercy (rahamim).
On no other day, can Israel be conquered and destroyed.
He who eats the sciatic nerve,
or he who eats on the 9th of Av (a fast day), becomes
connected to all the negative forces that are against
Israel, as is written in Psalm 12, 9: saviv reshaim yithalekhun,
"the wicked walk on every side." He feeds on
negative forces (which are always there on the periphery),
and absorbs them just like food.
The sciatic nerve is not only vulnerable, it is close
to our sexual organs. This adds another meaning -- that
of "strengthening the forces that are capable of
destroying the very source of life." This is why
the negative conduct of the Jewish people led to the Temple
being completely destroyed twice on the 9th of Av.
This mitzva prohibits us from
acting badly and destroying the most important and most
vulnerable part of Israel. It teaches us how to react
when we see others follow the wrong direction.
It is clear that the mitzvot are not simply acts which
have been prescribed: they are acts that need to be studied
and understood at every level.
The important thing is not
to discuss the theory behind this concept, but rather
to understand the teaching behind it, so we can live by
The prohibition against eating
the gid hanashe
The above explains to us why
Yaakov was attacked in such a devastating way, together
with his family, within his very being, at the moment
when he was weakest (when Esav was threateningly close
and during the night).
The Torah tell us that Yaakov's descendants, therefore,
do not eat the sciatic nerve. The symbolism of this is
clear. But concretely, where does this "therefore"
comes from in the Torah? From this.
We shall discover a rule for
how to read and interpret the Torah.
Verse 32, 33 says lo yohkelu
vene yisrael et-gid hanashe: the children of Israel will
not eat of the sinew" (the sciatic nerve), the word
et is unnecessary and is written in order to tell us that
one must make an "extension" ( a ribbui) of
the principle contained in in the phrase to other cases,
in this case, to descendants.
The function of this type of word is "lerabot"
(to multiply the meaning and create extensions or applications
to other cases or situations).
This rule was formulated by
Nahum ish Gamzu who demonstrated that particles in the
Torah have two opposing functions: limitation and extension,
which are expressed in three particles.
This formulation is found in Midrash Bereshit Rabba (1,
14; 22,2; 52, 15).
(See chapter 20 of Lev Gompers)
Rashi teaches us how to identify
these expressions of the Torah in the following verses:
" the particle et as in the mitzva we are studying
(see Rashi on Bereshit 1, 4; 4, 1; 21, 1).
" the particle af (also) as in Devarim 33, 28.
" the particle gam (also) as in Bereshit 3, 6; 12,
17; 15, 14.
" the particle akh (only) see Rashi on Bereshit 7,
23 or Shmot 31, 13.
" the particle rak (only) as in Bereshit 20, 11 or
" the particle min (from) as in Bereshit 41, 2 or
Shmot 18, 13.
Once again, one sees that
it is important to pay attention to the particular forms
of the Hebrew text in order to identify the signs which
point to the meaning of the text and which help us to
It is for this reason that
I encourage readers of these parashiot to begin studying
Hebrew, if they have not done so already. The aim is not
to try and speak Hebrew, but to read and understand, in
order to be able to refer to a text.
Back to level 1
The angel of combat and the
benefits of conflicts
The Talmud (Tractate Hulin,
page 91) analyzes Yaakov's combat and the personality
of the angel Samael. Some say that Samael looked like
a non-Jew, others say that he looked like a Jewish Sage;
from this we learn that a person's most striking trait
can be positive or negative and that we ourselves can
veer from one to the other. Similarly, on page 94, we
are reminded that one must not deceive non-Jews more than
The Shla writes: this tells
us that the angel of Esav who came to attack Yaakov possessed
qualities that were negative and dangerous for Yaakov;
but the combat which brought out his bad feelings, also
helped him reach the good feelings in him. It is important
to learn the benefits of conflicts.
Even the most dangerous people,
such as Esav, can be ambivalent: sam is the harmful drug,
but El (God) is also present in his name. The negative
part can transform itself into a drug of life, like the
Torah (sam hayim), and it is the same word sam (to put)
which we place on our arms when we put on the tefilin.
The combat was indeed terrible;
it is said that the dust rose up to the throne of God.
We too experience terrible combats, within ourselves,
when two people search for each other or separate from
each other, or when nations fight.
Yaakov's greatness (and that
of the Jewish people) is that he knew how to fight with
the utmost determination and how to defeat an adversary
by his own positive qualities, and, in so doing, to discover
the best of himself
and make way for hope.
His example tells us that:
" one should never submit or give in to the demands
of an adversary whose aim is to annihilate us (this fault
is analyzed in detail in the traditional texts).
" one should never destroy anything or anyone indiscriminately
(hence Yaakov's reproof of Dinah's brothers).
" but one should follow the truth, with no concessions,
as long as darkness lasts, whatever the price, in the
knowledge that God helps his people, and that the dawn
will one day arrive, and that such complete devotion is
the only possible way to enable an adversary, at some
moment, to discover his qualities and to move closer to
goodness, recognizing Israel, its existence, its Torah
and its land. Yaakov demands of his adversary that he
should accept all of him and he does not cede on this
point - the Shla demonstrates that this is what Rashi
stresses in his commentary on verse 32, 17.
Many lessons can be drawn
from this strict moral stand.
There must never be any concession
to those who demand that Israel renounce the very essence
of her "being" (her Torah, her people, her land)
in order to win peace: Yaakov "does not give in"
and does not let go.
Of course, this is only possible
because Yaakov lives totally by the Torah: he studies
the Torah, masters it, and lives a moral life according
to its precepts.
No generation, in almost 4,000
years of Jewish existence, abandoned this path:
only, in our generation, is there confusion and lack of
devotion or an inability to make correct judgments (for
we are trying to resolve critical questions regarding
our nation and land by criteria that are not those of
Yaakov's closeness to his
adversary in the hand-to-hand wrestling does not represent
" an abdication to his adversary's wishes
" nor destruction of his adversary
" nor compromise.
Yaakov conducts himself according
to derekh eretz (he prays, sends presents, acts morally,
courteously, and wisely). But he is not fooled when a
kiss becomes a bite, as is shown by the points added to
the text (33, 4) on the letters of the word vayishakehu.
The text shows that Yaakov does not falsify a situation,
out of his desire for peace (peace of mind in the short
It is useless to try to draw
arguments from this to support current political theories
on war and peace, because, in these parashiot, we are
only beginning to discover the basic principles of our
religion, and the ones we are learning here constitute
a small part of the teachings of the Torah. The analysis
of damages and compensation, for instance, takes up entire
volumes of the Talmud, as the Sages try to understand
the teachings of the Torah and the rules which ensue from
Studying and living by the
Torah is far removed from the simplistic process involved
when one makes an electoral choice between two positions:
a process which involves acceptance or rejection of a
particular position. The Jewish people have always been
a people of learning, but they are being forced to make
choices today that dispense with caution and thought,
and all that they have so zealously preserved for generations,
at the cost of much suffering and persecution.
The Shla writes that we can
see Yaakov's realism and lack of utopic idealism in the
words: hatzileni na miyad ahi "save me from my brother"
(not from my enemy), and also when he proposes peace to
Esav through a contract that keeps them apart, and thus
avoids the possibility of conflict.
Sadly, those the descendants
of Esav or Edom (the nations of the Roman Empire) came
back and tried to take Yaakov's possessions away from
him again and take his place. The same problem is still
There are still missionary
movements today, often covert, that aim to harm the Jewish
people. This is a difficult problem to resolve and cannot
be done simply by promoting good relations, because the
texts which are the credo of these movements exist and
cannot be modified. So it is not just a question of mistaken
Tradition also consideres
the inclusion of El (God) in the name Samael (negative
angel), as an opening that allows those who are ambivalent
to adopt or return to Judaism through conversion.
Memorization and internalization
Verse 32, 33,
lo yokhelu vene yisrael et-gid hannache:
"they will not eat the children of Israel the sciatic
Extension (ribbui): et, af, gam
Limitation (miut): akh, rak, min.
3. Refer to the first two
mitzvot: fructify, the circumcision.
In the context of the parasha,
The prayer recited at dawn (exiting the night and welcoming
Questions to verify your knowledge
of the parasha
- What term describes the
messengers sent by Yaakov to Esav?
- According to Rashi, what are the three tactics adopted
by Yaakov as he
- How does Yaakov divide his family into groups?
- What is the name of the river which he crosses?
- What did the angel ask precisely of Yaakov?
- In what direction did the two brothers go after they
- What is the term used to describe the assault on Dinah?
- What did Yaakov do with the statuettes of foreign gods?
- What did Yaakov do after the death of Rahel?
- Name the children of Yaakov and their mothers?