by Rabbi Shelton Donnell
In the portion VaYishlach Jacob is on his way home to the land of Canaan; on the border, he prepares to encounter his brother Esau. He doesn’t know what to expect — will his brother still be enraged with him or not on account of his stealing the birthright? When they meet, what would Esau do? Would he kill Jacob? Amidst all these doubts, Jacob prepares to meet Esau, and what does he do? He sends messengers with tribute — flocks and herds and donkeys along with male and female slaves. It is as if he is sending a diplomatic mission to placate Esau. Afterwards, Jacob divided the people who were with him into two groups, and the flocks and herds and camels as well. He thought, “If Esau comes and attacks one group, the group that is left may escape” (Genesis 32:8-9). That is to say, he prepared for war. Then, Jacob prayed, “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac, O Adonai, who said to me, ‘Go back to your country and your relatives, and I will make you prosper,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups. Save me, I pray, from the hand of my brother Esau, for I am afraid he will come and attack me, and also the mothers with their children. But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted'” (Genesis 32:10-13). Jacob went off to pray, he trusted that his God would protect him.
According to the Ramban (Nachmanides), there is a message here for future generations that all that happened between Jacob and his brother Esau would continue to happen with his descendants, “the children of Esau.” Therefore it would be well for us to heed the example of the Tzadik (the righteous Jacob) and prepare ourselves in the same three-fold manner in which he prepared: through prayer, tribute and rescue through war.
And who are “the children of Esau”? In Nachmanides’ time they were the Christians who oppressed the Jews during the Middle Ages. However, as a metaphor, “the children of Esau” has come to symbolize all the enemies of the People of Israel. Given the reality of recent events inIsrael and the Middle East leading up to Operation Pillar of Defense and culminating in the cease-fire declared on November 21st, the message of this portion seems to be very timely.
1) What do you think about what Jacob did to prepare for his meeting with Esau, do you think that it was a good strategy?
2) Do you agree with everything that Nachmanides advised for future generations?
3) Is there a connection between Jacob’s situation and ours today regarding our enemies? What is similar and what is not?
4) Do you think that Jacob’s strategy would work today in our situation? If so, how? If not, why not?