Jacob Meets Esau

Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.

The Meeting of Esau and Jacob (Artist: James Jacques Joseph Tissot, 1836-1902. Image: Public Domain, The Jewish Museum, New York)

Vayishlach

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Vayishlach (וישלח | He sent)
  • Torah: Genesis 32:3-36:43
  • Haftarah: Hosea 11:7-12:12, Obadiah 1:1-21
  • Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 32:3 | Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau
    • Genesis 32:22 | Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
    • Genesis 33:1 | Jacob and Esau Meet
    • Genesis 33:18 | Jacob Reaches Shechem
    • Genesis 34:1 | The Rape of Dinah
    • Genesis 34:25 | Dinah's Brothers Avenge Their Sister
    • Genesis 35:1 | Jacob Returns to Bethel
    • Genesis 35:16 | The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel
    • Genesis 35:27 | The Death of Isaac
    • Genesis 36:1 | Esau's Descendants
    • Genesis 36:15 | Clans and Kings of Edom
  • Prophets
    • Hos 11:1 | God's Compassion Despite Israel's Ingratitude
    • Hos 12:2 | The Long History of Rebellion
    • Oba 1:5 | Pillage and Slaughter Will Repay Edom's Cruelty
    • Oba 1:10 | Edom Mistreated His Brother
    • Oba 1:17 | Israel's Final Triumph

Portion Summary

The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach (וישלח), which means "and he sent." The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, "Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom" (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the Promised Land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob's adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.


The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach (וישלח), which means “and he sent.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the promised land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob’s adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.

Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. (Genesis 32:3[4])

After some twenty years of labor, Jacob was finally free from Laban’s mistreatment. Only God’s direct intervention saved him from Laban’s ire. As this Torah portion begins, the confrontation with Laban is over, and Jacob leaves his father-in-law behind in peace.

But something was still bothering Jacob. One angry relative was now behind him, but Esau was still ahead of him. He knew that Esau wanted him dead. Jacob must have felt like he had escaped the frying pan only to fall into the fire.

To escape Esau, Jacob had fled to the homeland of his mother, Rebekah. She had told him, “Stay … until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there” (Genesis 27:44-45). Rebekah’s message never came. Esau’s anger never cooled. Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.

Hoping that his brother’s heart had softened, Jacob sent messengers ahead to announce his homecoming to Esau. The messengers returned with bad news. “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Genesis 32:6). Quite a welcoming party! Jacob’s heart sank. He felt certain Esau was coming with armed men to slaughter him.

This is what dealing with our past mistakes is like. Through the course of life, our sins and bad decisions leave broken relationships and emotional messes behind us. Ordinarily, we do exactly as Jacob did. We run from the problems and hope they will go away. We hope the passage of time will heal the hurts we have caused. Perhaps forgetfulness and distance will absolve us. It rarely works that way. Inevitably, the wheel of life brings us back around to confront our past. Sometimes the problems have not diminished at all. Instead, time and neglect has only aggravated them. When Jacob left Canaan, he had only Esau to worry about. Now, upon returning, he faces Esau and four hundred armed men.

The solution is to deal with our mistakes when we make them. When we do wrong to someone, we should immediately do everything in our power to make amends. When we make a mistake, we should acknowledge it, correct it, and do our best to fix it. Yeshua taught that you should “make friends quickly with your opponent” (Matthew 5:25) lest the situation escalate.

There is one opponent, however, that we can never mollify. The adversary, that old serpent haSatan, has a case against each of us. His job is to record our sins and transgressions and bring charges against us in God’s court of law. He does not take bribes, and he never forgets. No matter how long ago it happened, he remembers. He has a claim against us that we can never escape. Just as Jacob eventually had to face Esau, we will eventually have to answer to his charges. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all face judgment.

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