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Divrei Torah on the weekly portions

Bereishit: VaYishlach


"And Esau ran towards him (Yaakov) and embraced him and fell on his neck

. . .
and kissed him (=VaYiSHaKeiHU) and they cried" (Bereishit 33:4) .

The Midrash (Bereishit Rabbah 78:9) offers two apparently conflicting explanations for the unusual dots inserted above the word VaYiSHaKeiHU in Torah scrolls. Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar taught that at (only) that moment Esau's pity was aroused and he kissed Yaakov wholeheartedly. That was why they cried. Rabbi Yanai taught that Esau wasn't coming to kiss Yaakov, but to bite his neck - a play on the word VaYiSHaKeiHU which has the same pronunciation if written with the Hebrew letter Kaf instead of Kuf. A miracle occurred and Yaakov's neck turned into marble, blunting the wicked Esau's teeth. Consequently, Yaakov cried because his neck hurt and Esau cried because he had severe toothache.

Why, asks Amos Wittenberg, did Esau specifically bite Yaakov's neck? Couldn't Esau simply instruct the 400 men with him (Bereishit 33:1) to attack Yaakov?

Earlier, we have learnt that after Yaakov took the firstborn's blessing, Esau remarked: "Vayomer Hachi Kara SHemo Yaakov Vayakveini " = "And he (Esau) said: Isn't he truly named Yaakov (YaAKoV) ! He has supplanted me (AKaV) twice. First he took my birthright, and now he has taken my blessing! " (Bereishit 27:36) . Esau now understood the value of the firstborn's blessing: it meant becoming the third patriarch in the chain begun by Avraham and Yitzchak, and inheriting their blessings.

The neck links the brain to the heart and contains the vital bodily connections for life. Esau sought to attack Yaakov's neck with his teeth (in Hebrew SHINayim) to challenge Yaakov's right to found the Israelite nation which assures its continuity through "VeSHINantam Levanecha" = "And you shall teach them to your children" (Devarim 6:7) . Esau hurt himself in this attack but Yaakov also suffered a pain in the neck.

Then, for just an instant, Esau realised that Yaakov was actually the rightful heir to Avraham and Yitzchak. Yaakov had not stolen the birthright, but Esau had sold it for a bowl of soup, showing he did not value it (Bereishit 25:29-34) . Of course Yaakov would still have fed him the soup even if Esau had refused to sell the birthright! Esau knew that Yaakov was a righteous man. At that moment, Esau sought to retract his statement above "Vayomer Hachi Kara SHemo Yaakov Vayakveini ", and he kissed Yaakov wholeheartedly (VaYiSHaKeiHU) . Since Esau momentarily went back on his words, the dots alert us that VaYiSHaKeiHU backwards (i.e. Vav, Hey, Kuf, SHin, Yud, Vav) is an acronym for "Vayomer Hachi Kara SHemo Yaakov Vayakveini"!

In conclusion, we have reconciled the views of Rabbi Yanai and Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar by understanding that Esau's primary intention was to bite Yaakov's neck. After biting him and blunting his teeth, Esau repented for a moment and then kissed Yaakov with love (Eitz Yosef on the Midrash) .



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