Parshat Vayishlach: Lesson on Forgiveness

December 1, 2023
BBYO Weekly Parsha


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In this week’s Parsha, Ya’akov struggles with meeting his estranged brother Esau for the first time in many years. He sends messengers ahead, who report that his brother is approaching with 400 soldiers. To appease Esau, Ya’akov sends back servants with flocks of cattle as gifts. The night before he and Esau are due to meet, Ya’akov has a fight with an angel, who dislocates Ya’akov’s hip. He then asks the angel to authorize the blessing that Ya’akov received. This is the source of the brothers’ conflict … Esau is older and so had the birthright, but traded it to Ya’akov so that he would receive their father’s blessing. When Esau saw his brother receive it in his place, he got angry at Ya’akov. Ya’akov is asking for the angel’s consent, in essence to alleviate his burden of guilt. The angel refuses to comply, telling Ya’akov to be patient, and that G-d will change his name in due course, when he reaches a place called Beit El.

A quick aside to explain the symbolism of the name change … the name Ya’akov stems from the Hebrew word Akavah, which means trickery and deceit. The angel promises Ya’akov will have his name changed to Yisra’el, which denotes a leader. Having his name changed is therefore symbolic of being forgiven for his sins … for deceiving his father into blessing him … and his transformation into a holy figure, a leader and patriarch of the Jewish people.

Despite the angel’s promise, however, Ya’akov insists and the angel eventually gives in, consenting to the blessing prematurely. With last night’s encounter behind him, Ya’akov meets Esau, who almost immediately forgives him. Esau is in fact so forgiving he initially refuses Ya’akov’s gifts, although Ya’akov later insists Esau take them. Esau then moves on to Mount Se’ir, where Ya’akov too is headed, albeit much more slowly as he is traveling with young animals.

Many months pass asat Ya’akov eventually finds himself at Beit-El. It is here where G-d fulfills the promise the angel made and changes Ya’akov’s name to Yisra’elIsrael. But this is where something interesting occurs. Throughout the rest of the text, Ya’akov is still referred to as Ya’akov. His two names are used interchangeably, in the rest of this Parsha and in the next. Compare this to when Avram’s name became Avraham. He is uniquely called Avraham from the moment G-d decrees it his new name. Why does Ya’akov not receive the same treatment? Given the symbolism of the name, this implies Ya’akov was never completely redeemed. There are still moments where the Torah sees fit to refer to him as tricky or deceitful. And yet, he was blessed by the angel and forgiven by Esau. So why is this the case?

The angel with whom Ya’akov fought originally refused the request to consent to Yitzchak’s blessing. The angel told him to be patient and that G-d would forgive him in time. And yet Ya’akov persists even harder. The lesson to be learned is that forgiveness is a slow process. It takes time and requires proper care, as the angel tried to warn Ya’akov. “You will be forgiven,” the angel seems to be saying, “in due time.” And had Ya’akov accepted this response, perhaps his name change too would have been as permanent as Avraham’s. But he does not. Rather than waiting for G-d to approve the firstborn blessing, he makes the angel do it here and now instead. He tries to find the quickest way out. The easiest path to absolution. He tried to take a shortcut, essentially.

And I believe it is as a result of this that Ya’akov was never truly forgiven. He is still, from time to time, regarded as a trickster due to his attempt at circumventing the due process of forgiveness. In our lives, we must similarly take heed. The path to forgiveness is long, but ultimately you can claim your reward. This Parsha is a cautionary tale against trying to find a way out of this process, because it will end up meaning your forgiveness means nothing.

The message that is often difficult for us to hear is simply that … an apology, a real apology, is difficult and takes time.

And for that, I can only say… I’m sorry.

Shabbat Shalom,

Edward Lewis, BBYO UK

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All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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