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Vayishlach 5781 ~ Dec. 4, 2020

Our Torah reading for this Shabbat shares with us the fears and tribulations of Yaakov as he returns to the land of Canaan. His fears: that his brother Esau will not only remember the past, but not forget it. Perhaps he might avenge the stolen firstborn blessing by Jacob and the sale of the firstborn birthright to Jacob! His tribulations: I was a part of the scheme of my parents (which we read about in last week’s Torah reading,). I regret being party to that ruse. What did I gain? I was forced to flee from my parents’ home and the safety and calming nature of their presence…or at least that of my mother’s ways. I had to live in my deceptive uncle’s home and work for him for fourteen years.  I am returning not knowing what the future might behold as I return.

As he now returns to the land of Canaan, Jacob must conquer those fears and tribulations before he encounters his brother Esau. He needs to find internal strength to meet his brother on equal adult footing. Dealing with his less than honest uncle and father-in-law, Jacob learned the ins and outs of what to expect and how he might need to respond. The narrative tells us that, during the night, Jacob wrestles with an angel and is actually wounded during the skirmish.  Commentaries suggest that Jacob might have simply confronted his own insecurities  in a dream or nightmare in order to ensure that his true character comes to the forefront. Or, perhaps, we might consider that Jacob’s confrontation with the angel was not a vision but an actual simulation of how he might gain the advantage and assuage his brother’s anger.

We also learn that in order to protect his wives, concubines and many children, he separates his encampment into different groups to insure their safety. Perhaps, if the encounter with Esau is hostile, the rest might be able to flee and escape the same fate.  

One commentary suggests that Jacob’s separation of his family was foreshadowing of the future need of protection of the Jewish world. As long as we live throughout the world, there can never be a total destruction of the Jewish people. As our sages tell us, “The Holy One, blessed be He, did a kindness to the Jewish people that He scattered them among the other nations.” (Maharsham Ha-Kohen.) There is some truth to this concept.

As the narrative continues Jacob and Esau finally meet. The Torah shares with us: “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4) Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that "One cannot cry unless he is genuinely moved, for tears flow from the innermost feelings." The kiss and tears of Esau proved that he was more than just a selfish hunter, as we have been made to believe. He was able to set down his sword in favor of human feelings.

The emotional meeting of the two brothers displays the acquired maturity of years of life. They both now recognize that the prize was not the firstborn blessing, nor was it the firstborn right. As youngsters it was natural for there to be a contest and vying for ranking. As adults, none of that was important. They both had amassed wealth. They both had large families. Neither needed anything from the other. They just needed each other.

Just this past week I witnessed a video of that reality. It was filmed by an Israeli visiting a United Arab Emirates market place. Fruits, vegetables and other goods from Israel were on display. An Israeli flag was prominently displayed digitally on the tables with Israeli goods. The individual filming shared his amazement and awe.  Perhaps the Biblical story was a foreshadowing of what could be and now is between these two countries, sometimes referenced as the brothers Jacob and Esau. May both Jacob’s and Esau’s fears and trepidations of decades of animosity be overshadowed by cooperation and a longstanding peaceful coexistence. Let us hope that not only will this relationship thrive, but that it be a model for others in the region as well. 

Shabbat shalom.





Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782