Parshat Vayishlach Summary

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Parshat Vayishlach is the 8th parsha in Sefer Bereshit (also known as Genesis).

This parsha is verses Genesis 32:4 – 36:43, or a total of 154 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

Aliyah 1: Genesis 32:4 – 32:13, 10 verses

At the end of Parshat Vayeitzei, Jacob had a tense encounter with his father-in-law Laban.

Now he must face his twin brother, Esau. Recall that Jacob fled to Laban because his brother wanted to kill him. Even though 20 years have gone by, Jacob is not certain how Esau will treat him.

Jacob sends some messengers ahead of him to greet his brother.

The word translated as “messengers” is the Hebrew word “malachim.” This word can be rendered into English as either “messengers” or as “angels.”

The commentators discuss whether Jacob sent human messengers or angelic messengers.

Those who favor angelic messengers point out that Jacob was met by groups of angels at the end of Parshat Vayeitzei.

The messengers return to Jacob and give him the news that Esau is coming toward him accompanied by 400 men.

Jacob prepares for a possible battle by dividing his family and possessions into 2 groups. Then he prays to God. He asks God to save him from Esau. He reminds God of His promise to increase his offspring.

Aliyah 2: Genesis 32:14 – 32:30, 17 verses

Jacob’s next preparation for battle is to send gifts to Esau. He sends him the following groups of animals:

  • 200 female goats with 20 male goats
  • 200 female sheep with 20 rams
  • 30 nursing camels with their young
  • 40 cows along with 10 bulls
  • 20 female donkeys with 10 male donkeys

Jacob then helps his wives and children cross the stream Jabbok.

When Jacob is alone a “man” starts wrestling with him. According to Jewish tradition, the man Jacob wrestles with is the guardian angel of Esau.

The man cannot defeat Jacob so he dislocates Jacob’s hip. Even so, Jacob is still defeating the man. Jacob demands a blessing from him.

In response, the man informs Jacob that his name will be changed to Israel because he has contended with God and man and prevailed.

Aliyah 3: Genesis 32:31 – 33:5, 8 verses

Jacob calls the place where he wrestled with the man Peniel. He explained the name, saying, “I have seen God face to face and my soul was saved.”

Jacob sees Esau approaching with 400 men, so he makes one final preparation for a possible battle. He goes in front of the entire family. Each son is standing with his mother.

He bows toward the ground 7 times as he approaches Esau.

Esau runs forward to greet Jacob. He embraces him and kisses him.

Esau asks about the women and children coming behind Jacob.

Aliyah 4: Genesis 33:6 – 33:20, 15 verses

Zilpah and Bilhah with their children come forward and bow to Esau. Then Leah and her children do the same. The last to come forward and bow to Esau are Joseph and Rachel.

Esau next asks about the groups of animals (see Aliyah 2) that had met him on the road. Jacob explains that they are gift to find favor with Esau.

Esau tries to decline the gift, but Jacob presses him until he accepts.

Esau then offers to travel together with Jacob. Jacob explains that because of the children and herds he cannot travel quickly.

Therefore, Esau offers to lend Jacob some men to accompany him. Jacob politely refuses this offer.

Esau returns to Seir, but Jacob journeys forward in the Land of Canaan. He purchases some land near the city of Shechem and builds shelters for his family and his herds.

goats behind wood fence
Jacob built shelters for his animals in Shechem.

Aliyah 5: Genesis 34:1 – 35:11, 42 verses

Dinah the daughter of Leah goes out to visit with some of the women of Shechem. She is abducted and raped by Shechem the son of Hamor.

Shechem the son of Hamor decides he wants to marry Dinah. He asks his father to arrange the marriage.

Hamor and Shechem meet with Jacob and his sons. For some reason, Jacob is strangely quiet during their meeting.

Hamor proposes that Jacob and his family settle permanently in the area. They will intermarry and do business together.

Jacob’s sons tell Hamor and Shechem that they can only make such an arrangement if all of the men of Shechem are circumcised.

Hamor and Shechem convince the residents of Shechem to go along with the proposal. They tell them that eventually all of the property of Jacob’s family will become theirs. All they have to do is get circumcised.

All of the men of the city listen to Hamor and Shechem and are circumcised.

On the 3rd day after the circumcision, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah’s brothers come into the city and kill all of the males. They rescue Dinah and take her back home.

The rest of Jacob’s sons come into the city and plunder all of its wealth.

Jacob speaks for the first time in this chapter. He tells his sons that their deed has made it likely that the family will be attacked by the other tribes in Canaan. Simeon and Levi reply that no man can treat their sister like a whore.

God tells Jacob that it’s time to leave Sukkot and go to Beth-El. Jacob tells all of his household to discard any idols they may have in their possession.

Jacob and his family leave Shechem but they are not attacked or harassed by any of the other tribes.

In Beth-El, Deborah who was Rebecca’s nurse, dies and is buried.

God appears to Jacob and blesses him. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. This confirms the new name that Jacob was given by the man who wrestled with him.

Aliyah 6: Genesis 35:12 – 36:19, 37 verses

God blesses Jacob / Israel that nations and kings will descend from him. He also promises him the land that He had given to Abraham and Isaac.

Jacob continues his journey to return to his father in Hebron. Rachel was pregnant but experiences a difficult childbirth. She dies giving birth to Jacob’s 12th son, Benjamin.

The next event in Jacob’s journey is Jacob hears that his oldest son Reuben has “laid” with Bilhah.

Jewish tradition and the commentators give several explanations about what Reuben did. The important idea for this summary is that Reuben acted improperly. This act is partly responsible for Jacob transferring Reuben’s birthright of the firstborn to Joseph.

Jacob finally reaches his father’s home. Isaac dies at the age of 180 and is buried by Esau and Jacob. (The Torah records Isaac’s death at this point in the narrative. However, he does not die until after Joseph is sold into slavery.)

Bereshit / Genesis Chapter 36 is devoted to Esau and his descendants.

Esau married three wives. Here they are named as Adah, Oholibamah, and Basemath. Earlier in Parshat Toldot they were identified as Basemath, Judith, and Mahalath. This short summary is not the place to discuss the differences in their names.

Esau left the land of Canaan because he and Jacob had too many herds for the land to support both of them. Esau moved his family and possessions to Mount Seir.

The remaining verses of this reading give us details about Esau’s children.

Aliyah 7: Genesis 36:20 – 36:43, 24 verses

The parsha ends by recounting the sons of Seir the Horite. These were the people who lived in Mount Seir before Esau moved there.

The final verses of the parsha recount the kings who reigned in Edom before there were any Jewish kings.

How Many Verses?

According to Jewish tradition there are 154 verses in Parshat Vayishlach.

However, according to our printed books there are only 153 verses.

I discussed possible reasons for these differences in verse counts in Parshat Yitro.

Haftarah Summary

Obadiah 1:1 – 21

His prophecy describes the relationship between Jacob and Esau. He explains that at times Jacob is oppressed and appears to be destroyed. However, at the end of days the house of Jacob will be redeemed and those responsible for its oppression will be judged.

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