The Parsha Discussion: Vayishlach — Antisemitism in a Tolerant Age

Posted by Alex Israel on November 30, 2017
Topics: The Parsha Discussion, VaYishlah

Parshat Vayishlach opens with Jacob’s intense fear of Esau’s murderous intentions. Jacob fears, “he will strike me down, mother and child alike.” (32:12)

In traditional Jewish commentary, this encounter becomes paradigmatic; Esau becomes the eternal figure of the non-Jewish aggressor, powerful and murderous, whereas Jacob is the personification of the Jew, vulnerable and at the mercy of the gentile. In this spirit Ramban writes:

This Torah portion is written to tell us … that everything which befell our father (Jacob) with his brother Esau will occur to us repeatedly in our relations with the children of Esau. [Rome and the entire Christian world are seen as heirs to the title “Edom” and are thus seen as Esau’s “children”.]

When the great 2nd century leader Judah the Prince needed to lobby the Roman government, he based his mode of appeal on Jacob’s address to Esau. (Genesis Rabbah 75:5)

But how do the acrimony, fear and distrust between Jacob and Esau end?

Click here to download and print this week’s Parsha Discussion on Vayishlach: Antisemitism in a Tolerant Age.

About Alex Israel

Alex teaches Bible at Pardes and is the Director of the Community Education Program and the Summer Program. Alex was born and raised in London. He holds degrees from London School of Economics, the Institute of Education London and Bar-Ilan University. Alex studied at Yeshivat Har Etzion under Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Yehudah Amital, and gained Rabbinic ordination from the Israeli Rabbinate. Click here to read more.

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