Shabbat Vayishlah 5773

After 20 years of estrangement, Ya’akov is about to encounter his twin brother, Esav, and he’s not entirely sure what to expect. He hopes for the best, but plans for the worst. Rashi says that Ya’akov prepares for three distinct contingencies: one, to simply give his brother a present; two, he prepares through prayer; and only after these avenues have been exhausted, he divides the camp into two, a preparation for war. 

Elsewhere in the parshah, we see Ya’akov’s anxiety surface as he contemplates the realities of going to battle. The Torah says “Jacob was very frightened and anxious” (Genesis 32:8). These two descriptions of his emotional state seem redundant, but as always, midrash makes each word relevant. “He was afraid” lest he be killed; “he was anxious” lest he have to kill (Midrash Tanhuma). 

These thoughts from our parshah on the nature of war are relevant as we explore the chapter on “Military Service” by Rabbi Michael Graetz in The Observant Life at the Lunch n Learn this Shabbat. In this chapter, which unlike most of the volume is more specific to the experiences of Jews living outside North America, we find an attempt to link Jewish ideas and values to warfare. As we read the chapter (pp. 476-490), let’s consider this question: are the “Jewish” values of Israel’s military explicit or implicit?  

Everyone is welcome to join us on Shabbat morning, with a luncheon sponsored by Lifelong Learning and Adult Education following services, including our exploration of the chapter. Hope to see you there!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise