The Torah/Vayishlach


Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1865 painting by Alexander Louis Leloir)

As told in Genesis 32:4–36:43, this is the story of the Torah reading Vayishlach:

Jacob’s reunion with Esau


Jacob sent a message to Esau in Edom that he had stayed with Laban until then, had oxen, donkeys, flocks, and servants, and hoped to find favor in Esau’s sight. The messengers returned and greatly frightened Jacob with the report that Esau was coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob divided his camp in two, reasoning that if Esau destroyed one of the two, then the other camp could escape. Jacob prayed to God, recalling that God had promised to return him whole to his country, noting his unworthiness for God’s transformation of him from a poor man with just a staff to the leader of two camps, and prayed God to deliver him from Esau, as God had promised Jacob good and to make his descendants as numerous as the sand of the sea. Jacob assembled a present of hundreds of goats, sheep, camels, cattle, and donkeys to appease Esau, and instructed his servants to deliver them to Esau in successive droves with the message that they were a present from his servant Jacob, who followed behind.

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1659 painting by Rembrandt)

As the presents went before him, Jacob took his wives, handmaids, children, and belongings over the Jabbok River, and then remained behind that night alone. Jacob wrestled with a "man" until dawn, and when the “man” saw that he was not prevailing, he touched the hollow of Jacob’s thigh and strained it. The man asked Jacob to let him go, for the day was breaking, but Jacob would not let him go without a blessing. The man asked Jacob his name, and when Jacob replied “Jacob,” the man told him that his name would no more be Jacob, but Israel, for he had striven with God and with men and prevailed. Jacob asked the “man” his name, but the “man” asked him why, and then blessed him. Jacob named the place Peniel, saying that he had seen God face to face and lived. And at sunrise, Jacob limped from the injury to his thigh. Because of this, the Israelites do not eat the sinew of the vein that is the hollow of the thigh, because the man touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh.

The Reunion of Jacob and Esau (1844 painting by Francesco Hayez)

When Jacob saw Esau coming with 400 men, he divided his family, putting the handmaids and their children foremost, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph at the back. Jacob went before them, and bowed to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. Esau ran to meet him, embraced him, and kissed him, and they wept. Esau asked who women and the children were, Jacob told him that they were his, and they all came to Esau and bowed down. Esau asked what Jacob meant by all the livestock, and Jacob told him that he sought Esau’s favor. Esau said that he had enough, but Jacob pressed him to accept his present saying that seeing Esau’s face was like seeing the face of God, and Esau took the gifts. Esau suggested that Jacob and he travel together, but Jacob asked that Esau allow Jacob’s party to travel more slowly, so as not to tax the young children and the flocks, until they came to Esau in Seir. Esau offered to leave some of his men behind with Jacob, but Jacob declined. So Esau left for Seir, and Jacob left for Sukkot (meaning “booths”), where he built a house and made booths for his cattle, thus explaining the place’s name.

Dinah (watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

The rape of Dinah


Jacob came to Shechem, where he bought a parcel of ground outside the city from the children of Hamor for a hundred pieces of money. Jacob erected an altar there, and called the place El-elohe-Israel.

When Dinah went out to see the daughters of the land, the prince of the land, Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, saw her and lay with her by force. Shechem loved Dinah and asked Hamor to arrange that he might marry her. Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled Dinah while Jacob’s sons were in the field, and Jacob held his peace until they returned. When Jacob’s sons heard, they came in from the field, and were grieved and very angry.

Simeon and Levi Slay the Shechemites (illustration from the 1728 Figures de la Bible)

Hamor went out to Jacob and told him that Shechem longed for Dinah, and asked Jacob to give her to him for a wife, and to agree that their two people might intermarry and live and trade together. And Shechem offered to give Jacob and his sons whatever they wanted as a bride price. Jacob’s sons answered with guile, saying that they could not give their sister to one not circumcised, and said that they would consent only on the condition that every man of the town became circumcised, and then the two people might intermarry and live together; otherwise they would leave. Their words pleased Hamor and Shechem, and Shechem did so without delay, out of delight with Dinah.

Hamor and Shechem spoke to the men of the city in the city gate, saying that Jacob’s family were peaceable, and advocated letting them dwell in the land, trade, and intermarry. Hamor and Shechem reported that Jacob’s people would only do so on the condition that every man of the town was circumcised, and they argued that the men do so, for Jacob’s animals and wealth would add to the city’s wealth. And the men heeded Hamor and Shechem, and every man of the city underwent circumcision.

On the third day, when the men of the city were in pain, Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi each took his sword, came upon the city with stealth, and killed all the men, including Hamor and Shechem, and took Dinah out of the city. Jacob’s sons looted the city, taking as booty their animals, their wealth, their wives, and their children. Jacob told Simeon and Levi that they had made him odious to the inhabitants of the land, who would gather together against him and destroyed their family. Simeon and Levi asked whether they were to allow someone to treat their sister as a prostitute.

Jacob’s flight


God told Jacob to move to Bethel, and make an altar there to God, who had appeared to him there when he fled from Esau. Jacob told his household to put away their idols, change their garments, and purify themselves for the trip to Bethel, and they gave Jacob all their idols and earrings and Jacob buried them under the terebinth by Shechem. A terror of God fell upon the nearby cities so that the people did not pursue Jacob, and they journeyed to Luz, built an altar, and called the place El-beth-el.

The Death of Rachel (painting circa 1847 by Gustav Ferdinand Metz)

Rebekah's nurse Deborah died, and they buried her below Beth-el under an oak they called Allon-bacuth.

And God appeared to Jacob again and blessed him, saying to him that his name would not be Jacob anymore, but Israel. And God told him to be fruitful and multiply, for nations and kings would descend from him, and God would give Jacob and his descendants the land that God gave to Abraham and Isaac. And Jacob set up a pillar of stone in the place, poured a drink-offering and oil on it, and called the place Bethel.

They left Bethel, and before they had come to Ephrath, Rachel went into a difficult labor. The midwife told her not to fear not, for this child would also be a son for her. And just before Rachel died, she named her son Ben-oni, but Jacob called him Benjamin. They buried Rachel on the road to Ephrath at Bethlehem, and Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. And Israel journeyed beyond Migdal-eder.

While Israel dwelt in that land, Reuben lay with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, and Israel heard of it.

The text then recounts Jacob’s children born to him in Padan-aram.

Jacob came to Isaac at Hebron, Isaac died at the old age of 180, and Esau and Jacob buried him.

The text then recounts Esau’s children. Esau took his household, animals, and all his possessions that he had gathered in Canaan and went to a land apart from Jacob, in Edom, for their substance was too great for them to dwell together. The text then recounts Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, among whom were Amalek.