Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Fear and Loathing - Parshat Vayishlach

Last week's food on a stick - very enjoyable.

Pumpkin Pie on a Stick

Last year, for this week's portion, Parshat Vayishlach,  we talked about the fraught reunion of brothers Jacob and Esav. The year before that covered Jacob's struggle with the angel. This year I want to string the two together, as the stories are in fact intertwined.

While Jacob must be feeling pretty free to be on his own with his family after 20 years under his father-in-law Lavan's roof, he is also feeling fearful of being out in the open. What if they encounter the reason Jacob ran to Lavan's community in the first place? The reason was of course that his brother Esav wanted to kill him, his mother Rebecca overhead this and sent Jacob away to protect him. She promised to fetch him from her brother Lavan's home when things cooled down. Well it's been 2 decades since then and Jacob takes the fact that his mother never came to get him as a bad sign.

But Jacob is done being passive, and decides to face his fear of his brother head on by sending his messengers to find Esav and offer him nice words. Jacob is certainly shivering in his boots when they bring back news that Esav is coming their way - with 400 men. But again he springs into action, sending presents on ahead to his brother and dividing his family into two groups in case of attack.

While Jacob waits for his brother to appear he has some time alone, in which he wrestles with someone - the text actually calls him a man but commentators deduce his actions to be that of an angel. After injuring Jacob in the sciatic nerve, he gives Jacob a new name - Israel. This will become the nation's name in the future, and in the interim serves to bolster Jacob in his moment of great trepidation, to better understand the dimensions of his own identity.   

Right after this struggle and renaming, Jacob sees Esav approaching. After much kowtowing on Jacob's part Esav embraces him and weeps. All seems to be forgiven. Except that Jacob wont agree to Esav's offer to travel together, blaming it on the slow pace that his large family must travel at. But it seems like Jacob still doesn't trust his brother completely and wants to keep his eye on him as he travels.

This week's dish combines elements from both stories. Among the gifts that Jacob presented to Esav were 220 goats.  This past Sunday I taught at Limmud Boston and was pleased to see the Adamah Fellowship selling their food products there. I bought some of their goat's milk feta cheese and think it would pair well with some winter greens lightly sauteed in olive oil and garlic, over thin angel hair pasta. And of course angel hair pasta is a very corny, though delicious, way to pick up on the second story. Enjoy.

Feta and Sauteed Greens with Angel Hair Pasta

1 box angel hair pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 cup of liquid reserved from cooking the pasta
2 cups of winter greens such as kale or chard
1.5 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup feta cheese - for a real parsha tie in use feta made from goat's milk

Warm olive oil in a large sautee pan over medium heat. Add garlic and winter greens. Season with salt and pepper and stir frequently until wilted - about 5 minutes.

Toss with angel hair past and feta cheese - add the liquid reserved from cooking the pasta and additional olive oil if desired.

Past Recipes for Parshat Vayishlach
Mustard Encrusted Lamb Roast
Roasted Butternut Squash and Garlic Soup


  1. Angel hair! So cute.

    In all seriousness, I think about this parsha pretty regularly. My favorite Bible professor used to remind us that being Jewish, being a part of Israel, is always a struggle. So many questions, so many ideas, so much to always think about. But just like Jacob's struggle helped solidify his identity, our own struggles make us stronger, too.

    Shabbat Shalom!

  2. Molly - it sounds like you had some amazing Jewish course in college that they still reverberate to this day! The idea of our Jewish identity as one of struggle has actually come up in a lot of conversations this week and it is always enriching to connect with the original source of that concept. Thanks for all your comments here and happy Chanukah!