Weekly D’var Torah Parashat Vayishlach 5779

In two places in Sefer Bereishit (the book of Genesis), we see the phrase “and he/they came from the field…. (ויבא מן השדה).” The first instance is in Parashat Toldot, 25:19. Esav came from the field, and he was tired. Yaakov was preparing a lentil stew, and Esav sold his birthright for a bowl. In the process, he earned the name “Edom.” The second instance is in this week’s parashah. In 34:7, following the rape of their sister, Dinah, Yaakov’s sons came from the field, and they were saddened and enraged.

In both instances, those who “came from the field” did something rash and caused damage, at least to themselves. Esav did not value his birthright enough to wait for his meal, and he gorged himself on his brother’s stew, not caring about the price. Shimon and Levi slaughter all the male residents of Shechem. Their act was premeditated and was part of an elaborate ruse, but the decision to kill was made with seemingly no debate. The inevitable result, as Yaakov points out, is that they draw the hatred of all the local residents. We do not see this materialize, but Yaakov points out that their act was irresponsible and unwise.

Esav’s act does not seem to carry any moral weight. He simply acted gluttonously, and put aside care for his place in the family and for personal honor. He does not seem to harm anyone else directly by his act. The slaughter of an entire city, however, even if motivated by legitimate rage, as many crimes often are, cannot be without moral significance. Still, neither the Torah’s narrative, nor the Midrash, seem to comment on the morality of Shimon and Levi’s killing of the people of Shechem. But what is explicitly named is the fact that they acted without care for their own honor or reputation, or for the consequences of their act, as was the case for Esav.

Is the phrase ״ויבא מן השדה״, “and he came from the field,” an allusion to rashness, to action without forethought, to action made without considering one’s higher values? The Talmud uses that phrase in such a way as to help confirm this understanding. In Brachot 4b, we see an admonition to prioritize discipline in our religious practice:

When a person comes from the field in the evening, and says “I will go home, eat a little, drink a little, sleep a little, and then I will recite “Shma” and the evening prayer.” He is overcome by sleep and ends up sleeping all night. However, he should come from the field in the evening, enter the synagogue (even before it is time for the evening minyan). If it is his habit to read Bible, he reads. If it is his habit to learn Mishnah, he learns. And then he recites Shma and prays. Then, he goes home, eats his meal, and says the blessings over the food.

All of these people who were “coming from the field” were coming home from a day’s work, and all were tired. We can see the Torah telling us that our “coming from the field” is the most crucial time for us to practice those spiritual exercises that train us to be driven less by our own momentary feelings, desires, and impulses and more by higher faculties, such as empathy, appreciation, patience, and reason.

Shabbat Shalom, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Aaron Shub

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