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Vayishlach: Detente.  November 24, 2018

Rabbi Randall Konigsburg

י וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אַל-נָא אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ מִנְחָתִי מִיָּדִי  כִּי עַל-כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱלֹ’ וַתִּרְצֵנִי.
But Jacob said, “No I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God and you have received me favorably.” [Gen. 33:10]
Consider:
When Vayishlah opens, Jacob, who years earlier had left home at Rebecca’s request because Esau had threatened to kill him, is returning at God’s command with his large family and many flocks. Terrified, he strategizes about his forthcoming meeting with Esau. Begging for Esau’s favor, he reverses the language of the oracle to Rebecca, telling his advance party to say to Esau, in his name: “כֹּה אָמַר עַבְדְּךָ יַעֲקֹב, thus says your servant Jacob” (32:5). Their report: Your brother is approaching with 400 men. Scared, Jacob takes precautions, splitting his group in half, to ensure that some part of his family and possessions remain.
In that dark night, Jacob prays, referring to himself as the servant of God (32:11) and begging God to fulfill the divine promise to protect him, made when God told him to return to Canaan. He makes his preparations, sending ahead sheep, goats, and camels, divided into three groups, each led by a person who, when he meets Esau, is to say to him: “This is a gift from your servant Jacob. He is right behind us, for he reasoned, ‘If I propitiate him with presents in advance, perhaps he will show me favor’” (32:21). Simply put, Jacob is panicked at coming face-to-face with Esau. The men with the three-part gift set out that night.
But Jacob spends his night differently. First he gets his wives, concubines, and children across the ford of the Jabbok. Then he orders his remaining possessions across, while he remains alone on the other side where he famously wrestles with a figure ... The text is, as my colleague Dr. Stephen A. Geller argues, intentionally ambiguous ... Whatever transpired that night, Jacob saw it as an encounter with the divine, even going so far as to name the place Peniel which can be construed as the face of God, … Jacob, terrified to see his brother’s face, has seen God’s and come through the experience with minimal damage.
The next morning, when Esau approaches with his 400 men, Jacob fears the worst ... Esau runs towards him and embraces him and kisses him and they weep. After Esau meets Jacob’s family, he inquires about all the flocks he had passed. Jacob says that they are a gift. Esau responds, using the key word of the original oracle: “יֶשׁ-לִי רָב אָחִי, I have much (rav), my brother,” (33:9) subtly reminding Jacob that he, Esau, is the elder, to whom all blessing should flow. But Jacob nervously begs him to take the gifts, saying, “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” (33:11). Jacob continues, asking Esau, “Take my blessing” using the charged word “berakhah.” Finally Esau agrees to take the gift. Only fair, as Jacob had stolen Esau’s paternal blessing.
When, however, Esau suggests that they continue on their way together, Jacob begs off, citing the size and complexity of his party. He needs to tend to the children and the flocks. Although some would see Jacob as having been transformed by his nocturnal struggle, his response to Esau’s invitation is deceitful; his promise to catch up with Esau at his home in Seir is a ploy to avoid further contact. After Esau leaves, Jacob sets off in another direction.
… Although the history of treachery and threat can never be erased, the meeting reduces the tensions between the brothers, who meet again only to bury their father. They do not have to become the best of friends, only to avoid their previous state of war.
While Jacob and Esau do not completely “face history and themselves,” they do face each other. Jacob does not explicitly ask for forgiveness, nor does Esau renounce aggression, but, once they see each other’s faces, they essentially call off the open animosity and rivalries and agree to peaceful co-existence, a sort of adult parallel play. … Would that, as individuals, ethnicities, religions, and nations we could do the same.  [By Anne Lapidus Lerner, Assistant Professor Emerita of Jewish Literature; Torah From JTS, Posted on November 23, 2018 / 5779] 
 
Think About It:
1.       How do family feuds get started? What damage did it do to Jacob and Esau? How long did their feud last?
 
2.       How does one end a family feud? Is it possible to “buy” our way back into good feelings or does it take something more?
3.       Can we love the members of our family even if they don’t share our views and live a different lifestyle than we do? How is that possible?
 
Teaching:        
Two brothers lived and farmed on a hillside. One was married and had a large family, while the other was single. They lived in close proximity to each other, and each worked his land growing wheat. Each was blessed with a bountiful crop. The unmarried brother, observing his good fortune, thought to himself that God had blessed him with more than he needed, whereas his brother, who was blessed with a large family, could surely use more. He arose in the middle of the night and secretly took from his grain and put it in his brother’s pile. Similarly, the married brother thought to himself that he was fortunate to have children who will care for him in his old age, while his brother will depend on what he saved. He, too, arose in the middle of the night and quietly transferred grain from his pile to his brother’s. In the morning, each pondered why there was no noticeable decrease in his own pile, and so they repeated the transfer the next night. One night the brothers bumped into each other. In that instant, they each understood what the other had been doing and fell into each other’s arms in a loving embrace. When God saw that display of brotherly love, He selected the site for His Temple. 

 

Sermon given by Rabbi Randall Konigsburg at Beth Sholom B’nai Israel on Saturday, November 24, 2018

Wed, January 23 2019 17 Shevat 5779