Jacob's Sukkah

The Torah's cryptic reference to Jacob's visit to "Succoth" hints about the Messianic Era and the final redemption.

A modern sukkah/booth built for the seven days of the festival of Sukkot. (Image © Bigstock)

Vayishlach

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Vayishlach (וישלח | He sent)
  • Torah: Genesis 32:3-36:43
  • Haftarah: Hosea 11:7-12:12, Obadiah 1:1-21
  • Gospel: Matthew 2:13-23

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 32:3 | Jacob Sends Presents to Appease Esau
    • Genesis 32:22 | Jacob Wrestles at Peniel
    • Genesis 33:1 | Jacob and Esau Meet
    • Genesis 33:18 | Jacob Reaches Shechem
    • Genesis 34:1 | The Rape of Dinah
    • Genesis 34:25 | Dinah's Brothers Avenge Their Sister
    • Genesis 35:1 | Jacob Returns to Bethel
    • Genesis 35:16 | The Birth of Benjamin and the Death of Rachel
    • Genesis 35:27 | The Death of Isaac
    • Genesis 36:1 | Esau's Descendants
    • Genesis 36:15 | Clans and Kings of Edom
  • Prophets
    • Hos 11:1 | God's Compassion Despite Israel's Ingratitude
    • Hos 12:2 | The Long History of Rebellion
    • Oba 1:5 | Pillage and Slaughter Will Repay Edom's Cruelty
    • Oba 1:10 | Edom Mistreated His Brother
    • Oba 1:17 | Israel's Final Triumph

Portion Summary

The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach (וישלח), which means "and he sent." The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, "Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom" (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the Promised Land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob's adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.


Jacob spent more than twenty years in Aram, a place in Mesopotamia. Jacob’s sojourn in Aram symbolizes the exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. His return to Canaan symbolizes the return of the Jewish people from exile.

As Jacob and his family returned to the holy land, they descended the Jabbok Canyon and arrived at a location east of the Jordan called Succoth. Biblical geographers tentatively identify the site with a high mound called Tell Deir Alla on the plain north of the stream of the Jabbok:

Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built for himself a house and made booths for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth. (Genesis 33:17)

The Torah offers a brief story to explain the name Sukkoth: “Jacob built for himself a house and made booths (sukkot, סכת) for his livestock; therefore the place is named Succoth (i.e., ‘Booths’).” The Hebrew word sukkah (סכה) means temporary shelter, stable, or hut. The name for the biblical festival of Sukkot (Feast of Booths) employs the plural form.

Although Jacob did not build his booths to keep the festival by the same name, the LORD commanded his descendents to imitate him by building sukkot annually as a reminder of their journey to the Promised Land, during which they lived in huts and booths:

You shall live in sukkot for seven days; all the native-born in Israel shall live in sukkot, so that your generations may know that I had the sons of Israel live in sukkot when I brought them out from the land of Egypt. (Leviticus 23:42-43)

Just as God led Jacob out of exile and brought him safely into the land of Canaan, so too He led Israel out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and safely to the Promised Land. The construction of booths during the festival of Sukkot commemorates the journey.

The festival of Sukkot also foreshadows the future kingdom of heaven when Israel will dwell under the shade of the Almighty. Then the LORD will establish Messianic Jerusalem and spread a canopy over the city: “There will be a sukkah to give shade from the heat of day, and refuge and protection from the storm and the rain” (Isaiah 4:1). In the Messianic Era, all nations will ascend to Jerusalem to hear the Torah and to worship the LORD at the festival of Sukkot. Then David’s fallen sukkah will be restored, and the kingdom of Esau will become the inheritance of the children of Jacob:

“In that day I will raise up the fallen sukkah of David, and wall up its breaches; I will also raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom and all the nations who are called by My name,” declares the LORD who does this. (Amos 9:11-12)

Likewise, Jacob built sukkot and a house, foreshadowing the final redemption when the exiles of Israel will return to the Promised Land and the Messianic Era will commence. In that day, the nations will say, “Come let us go up … to the House of the God of Jacob” (Isaiah 2:3), as it says, “Jacob journeyed to Sukkot, and built for himself a house and made sukkot.”

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