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16/17 December: Shabbat Vayishlach

rabbipaulsmlShabbat comes in 3.37 pm: goes out 4.46 pm

Jacob is returning home and now faces his brother Esau after more than 20 years apart.  The text describes Jacob as “terrified” and “anxious.”   The midrash B’reishit Rabbah explains why these two words are not repetitive:

R. Judah bar R. Ilai asked: Are not fear and distress identical?  The meaning, however, is that “he was afraid” lest he should be slain and “he was distressed” lest he should slay. For he thought: If Esau proves stronger than I, he might slay me, and if I prove stronger than him, I might slay him.

This text comes to teach us a lesson about responding to violence in the world without compromising our own humanity. The principle at stake is the setting of moral boundaries around the wielding of power.

There are times when we face legitimate threats to our safety or survival.  In these instances, self-defence is a moral obligation, not just a permitted option. But Jewish tradition imposes limits on our use of force, even in legitimate self-defence, be it full-scale warfare or between two people. We should be reluctant warriors.  We need to  consider how to fight evil without becoming evil.  .

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Paul Arberman









December 15, 2016