Vayishlach: Jacob's Mission of Mercy

Three Missions

Vayishlach stems from the verb meaning "to send" (שלח ). There are three parshahs in the Torah whose name stems from the verb “to send” שלח : Vayishlach (וישלח ), our parshah,Beshalach (בשלח ), in the Book of Exodus, and Shelach (שלח ) in the Book of Numbers. All three of these Torah portions begin with a mission. Though the simple meaning of the verb “to send” is to send away, in the Torah it is most often used in the context of sending someone as an emissary or as an ambassador, or on some kind of mission.

Who is the one sending in each of these parshahs?

In Vayishlach it is Jacob who is sending emissaries with a mission to placate his brother Esau. In Beshalach it is Pharaoh who sends the Jewish people out of Egypt. And, in Shelachit is Moshe Rabbeinu sending spies on a mission to the Land of Israel.

Missions and Compassion

Now let us begin to interpret these three missions and the spiritual meaning behind them by first understanding why the first mission in the Torah is Jacob’s.

In Kabbalah, Jacob is considered the exemplar of the sefirah of beauty. Beauty (tiferet, in Hebrew) is the source of mercy and compassion in the psyche and, like Jacob himself, is likened to the crossbeam running through the central axis of the sefirot, connecting all thesefirot on the central axis, from crown at the top to kingdom on the bottom. Whenever we wish to awaken our own feelings of mercy, we need to connect vicariously with our patriarch Jacob. Then the spiritual mechanism of mercy begins to function.

How does this work? First, one’s sefirah of beauty must ascend to (i.e., connect with its source in) the supernal crown in order to arouse great mercy from the source of true mercy and true loving-kindness. The supernal crown symbolizes God’s mercy for all His creatures. Once mercy has been aroused in the supernal crown, one must exercise one’s sefirah of knowledge, one’s consciousness in order to draw the mercy down until it reaches the sefirahof kingdom. The sages say that it is forbidden to feel mercy for anyone or anything that has no appreciation of the good. Therefore, exercising our own knowledge means awakening that person’s knowledge by helping him or her first appreciate the good. Finally, once the energy of mercy reaches the sefirah of kingdom, which descends down through the three lower Worlds of Creation, Formation, and Action, it can be passed on as bountiful abundance to the object of our compassion. In day to day life, the sefirah of kingdom in our psyche most often appears as the power of expression. Thus, in practice, this third stage corresponds to giving our emissary his or her mission.

It follows then that the first mission (as far as the names of the Torah portions goes) in the Torah—Jacob’s sending of emissaries to his brother Esau—is one of compassion and mercy. Following the sages’ dictum that “everything follows the lead of the first time,” this indicates that the motivation behind all the missions in the Torah is compassion and mercy to others. This also bears on us, teaching us to send people only on missions where it is clear to us that our motivation is one of mercy. Sometimes, a person has mixed reasons for sending someone to perform some action on their behalf. In such a case, he should strive to elevate his heart to see things from the perspective of the supernal crown, the source of all compassion and mercy, before appointing a messenger to carry out the mission.

Clearly, the one mission-oriented parshah that is the hardest to explain as motivated by mercy is Pharaoh’s sending of the Jewish people out of Egypt. We will see a full explanation of this in another article.1 For now, let us mention that because every word in the Torah is a connotation for God, there exists in the Divine a holy counterpart to Pharaoh. In Hebrew, the root of the name “Pharaoh” means “revelation.” Thus Pharaoh’s holy counterpart is understood in Kabbalah to be the supernal crown (or more precisely, the origin of kingdom in the supernal crown), from where all the lights are revealed.2

In Kabbalah, Moshe Rabbeinu, who sent out the third mission, is the archetypal soul of both the sefirah of knowledge in the intellect and the sefirah of victory in the attributes of the heart. As such, he symbolizes the power to successfully (victoriously) remove the concealment of the supernal crown and bring its energy to full consciousness (knowledge). The sefirah of knowledge is the soul or inner aspect of the sefirah of beauty,3 which acts to draw the light and abundance of the crown through beauty into kingdom. Indeed, we find that when God grants Moshe the approval to send the spies, He uses the language “Send for yourself,” which Rashi explains means “Send them based on your own knowledge [consciousness].”4 The knowledge to which God is referring here is the sefirah of knowledge in its capacity as higher knowledge, the special consciousness attributed in this world solely to Moshe Rabbeinu. At this level of consciousness, a created being sees reality from God’s point of view (Being—above, nothingness—below). Higher knowledge is considered to be the concealed unifier of wisdom and understanding, which are described as “two that never part.” This is why Moshe’s name is not mentioned explicitly when God approves of the mission. That higher knowledge is concealed in this manner allows it to permeate the essential invisibility of the sefirah of crown, and then reveal it by transferring its revelation through the extending aspect of knowledge.

And yet, all three of these missions, with all of their good intentions did not succeed to the satisfaction of those who initiated them, a point that will be explained in following articles.

(Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Sunday, 8 Kislev 5768 – November 18, 2007)

2Zohar ???. This was explained in length in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s discourses.

3. A relationship described in the Zohar as “Moshe on the inside, Jacob on the outside.”

4 . שלח לך – לדעתך .

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