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Portion Vayishlach (וישלח “He sent”)
Date 02 Dec 2017 / 14 Kislev 5778
Torah Genesis 32:4-36:43
Haftarah Hosea 11:7-12:12 (A)[1], Obadiah 1:1-21 (S)[2]
Brit Hadasha Hebrews 11:11-20, Matthew 26:36-46, 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, Revelation 7:1–12

Vayishlach | וישלח | “He sent”

Jacob Took It All

This week’s Torah portion start out with the story of Jacob’s return to the holy land and his reunion with his brother Esau. Jacob was very afraid of what Esau would do when they finally met. Jacob stole Esau’s birthright, and if that wasn’t enough Jacob also stole Esau’s blessing. Esau traded everything for a bowl of stew, and Jacob took everything that he had an opportunity to take.

It is very easy to look at this story and feel empathy for Esau, and is also very easy condemn Jacob for his actions. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that Jacob took an opportunity that was presented to him and acted upon it. The question we should be asking ourselves is this: what would we do to gain an inheritance from G-d himself? This is truly what Jacob was doing. Jacob knew that the firstborn was to inherit the promise of prosperity and blessing from G-d himself promised to Abraham and Isaac. So, he did everything in his power to get it. We see this tenacity played out again when Jacob wrestles “a man” until daybreak. Jacob would not let the man go until he blessed him.

Faith without Action Is Dead

Genesis 32:10-13 (TLV) 10 Then Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham, and God of my father Isaac, Adonai, who said to me, ‘Return to your land and to your relatives and I will do good with you.’ 11 I am unworthy of all the proofs of mercy and of all the dependability that you have shown to your servant. For with only my staff I crossed over this Jordan, and now I’ve become two camps. 12 Deliver me, please, from my brother’s hand, from Esau’s hand, for I’m afraid of him that he’ll come and strike me—the mothers with the children. 13 You Yourself said, ‘I will most certainly do good with you, and will make your seed like the sand of the sea that cannot be counted because of its abundance.'”

Hebrews 11:8-10 (TLV) 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he was to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he migrated to the land of promise as if it were foreign, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob—fellow heirs of the same promise. 10 For he was waiting for the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

In today’s church is often taught that all you have to do is believe, and then because you believe G-d will do what you want. Contrary to this erroneous teaching the Tanakh (Old Testament) demonstrates a different kind of faith. Without getting too deep into a full on study about the Hebraic concept of faith, the first two thirds of the Bible defines faith as putting our trust in G-d’s faithfulness rather than just believing in some arbitrary hope that is based upon our own desires (new job, new car, new house, all the problems of life solved, etc.).

The kind of faith that Jacob demonstrated in this week’s portion required action and trust in G-d’s faithfulness to His Word. The first thing Jacob did was to try to appease Esau. He knew the danger of the situation, and he took the blessings that G-d provided him and used them to the best of his ability. Then, after his messengers returned with the report that Esau had 400 men with him Jacob realized his own strength and ability was not enough to get through the situation. He knew G-d had promised his grandfather Abraham that his seed would be like the sands of the shoreline. He knew this promise was also given to his father Isaac. He knew that because he now holds the birthright of Esau that this promise was his, and he put his faith in this fact.

The first thing Jacob did after receiving report from his servants was to, once again, do his very best to prepare his household for the reunion. He divided his camp into two so that if one has destroyed the other may escape. He did everything in his power, standing on the promises given by G-d. Then when he has done all that he could he went into the presence of Adonai. Jacob said, “oh G-d of my father Abraham, and G-d of my father Isaac, Adonai, who said to me, ‘Return to your land into your relatives and I will do good with you.'” Jacob went into the presence of G-d believing in G-d’s faithfulness, that G-d would fulfill his word. He followed the example of his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, who received G-d’s promise and believed it. They believe that G-d himself would fulfill this promise. They put their faith in G-d’s faithfulness.

In the book of Hebrews we read that, ‘Abraham obeyed when he was called out to a place he was to receive an inheritance.’ [3] He went out even though he didn’t know where he was going. Abraham believed G-d would fulfill his promise, and standing upon this promise he put his faith into action. This kind of faith is echoed in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) in the book of James:

James 2:14-26 (TLV) 14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but does not have works? Can such faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in shalom, keep warm and well fed,” but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is that? 17 So also faith, if it does not have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith without works and I will show you faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one. You do well. The demons also believe—and shudder! 20 But do you want to know, you empty person, that faith without works is dead? 21 Wasn’t Abraham our father proved righteous by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith worked together with his works, and by the works his faith was made complete. 23 The Scripture was fulfilled that says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”[4]—and he was called God’s friend. [5] 24 You see that a man is proved righteous by works and not by faith alone. 25 And likewise, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute also proved righteous by works when she welcomed the messengers and sent them out another way? [6] 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.

This concept of faith that is portrayed in the first two thirds of the Bible should not be ignored. When you go through the Scriptures about faith in the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) you’ll find that they echo the concept of faith that is demonstrated in the Tanakh. When taken in context, the Brit Hadasha (New Testament) passages about faith reinforce and expound upon the concepts and examples given to us in the Tanakh.

James says, “Faith without works is dead.” What kind of works? That which is grounded upon the faithfulness of G-d fulfilling His own word. If Adonai says he will bless you, provide for you, and keep you safe and then tells you to go to a country that is unsafe for believers, then the kind of works you should do is to go to that country anyway. We obey G-d, and we put our faith in his faithfulness to His Word. This is the kind of faith that G-d is looking for.

We don’t put our faith and just anything, anyone, or anything. Rather, we put our faith in G-d’s faithfulness. This is true biblical faith.

Related Links

Did Esau Bite Jacob? Scribal Dots


  1. Ashkenazic Haftarah
  2. Sephardic Haftarah
  3. Hebrews 11:8
  4. James 2:23 Gen. 15:6; cf. Gal. 3:6.
  5. James 2:24 cf. Isa. 41:8.
  6. James 2:26 cf. Josh. 2:4ff.

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