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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 8
Vayishlakh: “He went on his way”

Bereshit (Genesis) 32, 4 - 36, 43

Strive in order to attain the level of "Israel"


1st level

1. Themes of the Parasha
2. The first stage in Torah study
3. The teaching of Rabbenu Yosef Caro
4. The teaching of Rabbenu Bahya
5. The 3rd mitzva: the gid hanashe

2nd level

1. The prohibition against eating the gid hanashe

Back to level 1

1. The angel of combat and the benefits of conflicts
2. Exercise in memorization and internalization
3. Recommended reading on the parasha
4. Test of knowledge

Study the life of Yaakov Avinu

Listen to the parasha chanted on the ORT link
teamim askenazim

Listen to the haftara chanted (ORT link)
teamim askenazim

The mitzvot as a way of life

Anger (in this parasha and in Ki Thissa)

Poems linked to the parasha



Level 1

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.

Themes 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 32, 33).
" 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 commentaries)

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, for example:
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 Sephardi iyun.

The teaching of Rabbenu Yosef Caro
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 fail.
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 it.


Level 2

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:

extension (ribbui):
" 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.

Limitation (miut):
" the particle akh (only) see Rashi on Bereshit 7, 23 or Shmot 31, 13.
" the particle rak (only) as in Bereshit 20, 11 or 24, 8.
" 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 understand it.

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 Jews.

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 the Torah).

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 term).

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 them.

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 with us.

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 attitudes.

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 exercise

Verse 32, 33,
lo yokhelu vene yisrael et-gid hannache:
"they will not eat the children of Israel the sciatic nerve"

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, read:

The prayer recited at dawn (exiting the night and welcoming the dawn).


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
approaches Esav?
- 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 separated?
- 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?


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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