December 10 2011/14 Kislev 5772 Shabbat Vayishlah

The moment of truth is upon him. After 20 years of estrangement, Ya’akov cannot run from Esav any longer. Esav is headed directly for him, with a band of 400 ostensibly armed men. So Ya’akov divides his camp, giving one group a chance to escape in the event of an attack on the other. He makes final arrangements, taking his family across the ford of Yabbok and sending his possessions. But Ya’akov remained alone: Vayivater Ya’akov levado.

The Rashbam, Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, an 11th-century commentator on the Torah and grandson of Rashi, has a daring explanation for Ya’akov’s solitude: “In other words, he sent over everything so that all that would be left to cross over was himself. He wanted to cross after them, as his intention was to escape in a different direction so that Esav would not confront him.” For this reason, says Rashbam, the angel comes to wrestle with him, so that he would be unable to flee, but would see God’s promise–that Esav would not harm him–fulfilled.

Our usual mental choreography of this scene depicts a Ya’akov remaining alone, preparing himself for the dramatic encounter with Esav, but fully intending to cross the Yabbok and face whatever may come. Could Rashbam be right in saying that Ya’akov was planning to sneak away unnoticed?

What are we to make of Ya’akov’s desire to remain alone?

On Shabbat morning, we’ll hear from our friend Joan Kedem, who coordinates the Hayyal Boded–Lone Soldier–program at Congregation Moreshet Yisrael in Jerusalem. Like Ya’akov, these soldiers are often left on their own. Instead of coming to assault them, Joan and other angels work to alleviate their feelings of loneliness and isolation. Do these young men and women have anything in common with Ya’akov?

To be continued on Shabbat morning in shul…

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi David Wise