Parashat Vayishlah--Genesis 33:1-36:43
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Questions for Young Children
• How do you feel when you see your brother or sister after a long time apart?
• How do Ya'akov (Jacob) and Esau feel when they see each other?
• Has anyone in your family changed his or her name? Why?

Questions for Older Children
• Do you think that Esau and Ya'akov can finally make peace with each other? Why or why not?
• Why do you think B’reishit dedicates an entire chapter (36) to Esau’s descendants?
• Why does God give Ya'akov his new name, Israel? If you could rename yourself, what would you choose and why?
• Have you ever felt ambivalent about coming home?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• How do you think the parasha would be different if written from Esau’s point of view?
• What does the rape of Dinah story add to the patriarchal saga?
• In Genesis 34:8-9 Hamor approaches Ya'akov to persuade him to allow marriages between his people and Ya'akov’s children. How does Ya'akov react? This is an opportunity to discuss intermarriage. You can refer to Parashat Toldot (Genesis 27:46 )when Rivkah (Rebecca) wails:  "I am disgusted with my life because of the Hittite women.  If Ya'akov (Jacob) marries a Hittite woman like these, from among the native women, what good will life be to me?"
• Do you think Ya'akov’s new name “Israel” suits him? It means “you fought with God and men and won.” Is it a good name for the Jewish People? The country, Israel?


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Role playing with food--a dangerous game

         If you want to simulate sibling rivalry like Esau and Ya'akov's, you can try making the favorite foods of one of your children and not the other.  

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At last, Ya’akov (Jacob) is home. But homecoming is complicated and this parasha demonstrates the complexities of Ya’akov’s family relations. His return is tempered by fear of his brother avenging the stolen birthright. Ya’akov makes a strategic decision to split his camp so if there is an attack, part of his large family will survive. He sends spies ahead, sends gifts to propitiate Esau, and prays to God. By night he wrestles with an angel and undergoes a name change becoming “Yisrael,”(Israel) a God-wrestler. Then he is ready for Esau and his 400 men.

Safety lasts only one verse before his daughter Dinah ventures out and is raped. Ya’akov’s sons Levi and Shim’on (Simeon) exact revenge and raise Ya’akov’s anxiety level once again. At the moment of his greatest fear, Ya’akov once again turns to God, ridding his household of idols and building an altar to God at Beth El, God’s House. God blesses Ya’akov and confirms his name change to Yisrael, but more trouble and sorrow ensue for Ya’akov at the end of the parasha when his eldest son lies with Ya'akov's concubine, Bilhah, and Ya’akov’s father, Yizhak (Isaac) dies. Once again Ya’akov and Esau are reunited at his grave. The parasha concludes by detailing Esau’s descendants while Ya’akov’s twelve sons are simply listed before the death of Yitzhak is reported by B’reishit.

Find the food connection…
וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ, וַיִּפֹּל עַל-צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ

Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him [Ya'akov] and, falling on his neck, he kissed him, and they wept.
--Genesis 33:4
If you look at the Hebrew in Genesis 33:4 in the Torah, you’ll see marks above the Hebrew word for “he kissed him.” rsz nshikot copy
To me those marks look like little kisses and that was another reason I embraced this recipe.


The Side Dish
One of the first blogs I wrote was an extended kvetch about cooking for Pesah and accommodating an array of diets from vegan to gluten free to acid free and, of course, kosher for Pesah. Despite extra hours shopping for ingredients, hunting for recipes, and preparing food, I was glad to be able to allow my guests to enjoy their meal without worry. It takes a lot of trust for those on a special diet to be a guest in another’s home and by honoring their needs, we truly fulfill the command to welcome guests.

Special diets can be an opportunity to try new dishes. Gluten free is a relatively new addition to cooking limitations me. For those of you or your guests with celiac disease, it can be devastating to eat wheat or wheat products even in trace amounts. The toughest course for me to prepare for a gluten free guest is dessert. This recipe is one you can freeze. Remember to keep all the ingredients and utensils clean of gluten when you’re working.

For an ambitious host, there are recipes online for gluten free hallah. If you want to make Ha-Motzi on gluten free hallah, use a recipe with all oat flour.


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A Dash of Hebrew
This is a good week to focus on the word Yisrael. The meaning is explained in the parasha (Gen. 32:29). The name Israel was not a foregone conclusion when the state was founded. Another name considered was Tziyon (Zion). You can discuss other possibilities and why you think the founders selected Yisrael.

A Dash of Disturbing Text
One of my professors called B’reishit "a book of sex and violence." Thus far I’ve leaned heavily into the G-rated texts. The story of the rape of Dinah (Genesis 34:1-31) is an awful and fascinating section of this parasha. You and your guests will have to decide if you’re ready to wrestle with it. How do you read the text? Why do Levi and Shim’on (Simeon) avenge Dinah and why does Ya’akov react so passively to the rape yet rage against Levi and Shim’on for their revenge? Anita Diamant’s novel, The Red Tent, was a reimagining of Dinah’s life from her perspective. How do you and your guests think Dinah would tell her story? She has no voice in the text of B’reishit.

A Dash of Halakha
In this parasha Ya'akov wrestles one round with an angel and winds up with a new name and sore sciatic nerve. From this section (Genesis 22:25-33) comes
the law that the hind quarter of an animal cannot be eaten with the sciatic nerve, other arteries, and tendons. Most of us who keep kosher have probably never eaten beef tenderloin ( a cut from the hind quarter), but very skilled kosher butchers can remove the nerve, arteries, and tendons (the process called nikkur) so you may see beef tenderloin on a menu in a New York City kosher establishment or an upscale kosher Israeli restaurant.

A Dash of Video
(not for vegetarians or the faint of heart)
Everything possible seems to be on YouTube. If you want to see nikkur (removal of the sciatic nerve), visit

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Coconut-Chocolate Kisses
Pareve and gluten free--yields 4 dozen cookies


  • 3 egg whites
  • dash of salt
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla*
  • 1-1/4 c. shredded coconut
  • 1 c. chocolate chips

*Make sure your vanilla is alcohol-free if your guest cannot ingest any gluten. Many vanilla extracts include alcohol which contains gluten.

resized vayeira kissesDirections

  1. Preheat oven to 300º.
  2. Beat egg whites until stiff and add salt.
  3. Slowly, add the sugar beating at high speed.
  4. Fold in the vanilla, coconut, and chocolate chips.
  5. Drop the batter from a teaspoon onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  6. Bake 30 minutes.
  7. Cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

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