This Shabbat, the reading is from the portion called Vayishlach (“sent messengers”), Genesis 32:3-36:43. This Torah portion is the meeting, after many years, between Esau and Jacob his brother.
This is a dramatic occasion. It is a meeting between two brothers, who 21 years earlier hated each other. In fact, Esau wanted to kill Jacob his brother, and that is the reason why Jacob was directed by his mother Rebecca to run to Haran, way up north to her brother Laban, for the fear of Esau’s desire to kill his brother Jacob.
I don’t think that Francis Ford Coppola, the great Hollywood director, could catch the drama and the dynamics of this meeting between the two brothers. Two brothers that struggled from the womb of their mother Rebecca.
The reading from the prophets (the Haftarah) is going to be this Shabbat from Hosea 12:12-14:9. And from the New Testament we read from Ephesians 6:5-24.
Here is the scene of the meeting between Jacob and Esau, after each one took precautions to make sure that there will be no fighting or killing in this dramatic encounter between the camps of the two estranged and hateful brothers. When crossing the Jabbok river, a tributary from the east side that pours into the Jordan river about halfway from Jericho to Beit She’an, an angel of the Lord meets Jacob in the middle of the river. They fight, and it seems like Jacob is strong and able to stand his ground.
This is a meeting of major importance for Jacob, because this angel is the one who renames Jacob “Israel” because he wrestled with “God’s messenger” and stood his ground. A meeting in the middle of the river Jabbok, just before crossing the Jordan River into the land promised to his fathers, Abraham and Isaac…
“Now Jacob lifted his eyes and looked, and there, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men. So he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two maidservants. And he put the maidservants and their children in front, Leah and her children behind, and Rachel and Joseph last. Then he crossed over before them and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, ‘Who are these with you?’ So he said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maidservants came near, they and their children, and bowed down. And Leah also came near with her children, and they bowed down. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed down. Then Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company which I met?’ And he said, ‘These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’ And Jacob said, ‘No, please, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my present from my hand, inasmuch as I have seen your face as though I had seen the face of God, and you were pleased with me.’” — Genesis 33:1-10 [NKJV]
Here is what we all ought to see in this encounter between the two estranged, angry, and hateful brothers, Jacob and Esau. The dramatic part of this story is the meeting that I listed above. Here are the dynamics of this meeting…
First, both approached the meeting with fear and insecurity. Each one had issues that seemed a legitimate cause to hate and desire to even kill his brother. The years passed and the two brothers matured and have families, and both realized that blood and family run much thicker than the floods of anger and hate, and the feeling that “my brother owes me… if he doesn’t pay I will kill him!” The brotherhood and family took precedence over the hate.
Second, the years that passed were good because some of the hate was softened by the time and by the fact that both brothers, Jacob and Esau, had families and succeeded in gathering wealth and even small armies. And the deep hate was softened by the light of the years and the maturity between the two twin brothers.
Third, what can we learn from this fascinating text sharing the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau?
Being unfair to your brother and taking advantage of his difficult situation is never wise. It is much wiser to be gracious and kind to your brothers. Seek peace and chase after peace.
It is always wise to present yourself vulnerable and be humble when your friends and brothers are feeling that you have been unfair to each other and anger is brewing between you.
Always be prepared for the worst, and hope for the best, when dealing with anger and hostility with your family and friends. It is never wise to taunt and pour gasoline on the fire of hate and the feeling that you’ve been taken advantage of.
Fourth, Jacob was afraid so he took every precaution to keep his family safe and to make sure that the promises of the Lord to him will be fulfilled, even if Esau’s anger is not appeased. Jacob divided his camp into two groups and marched them apart in two groups just in case Esau still had the murder of Jacob in his mind and heart!
In such a case Jacob was wise to take every precaution, and separate his family into two groups, that if one of the groups is caught and Esau still has the hate and murderous intentions, the other group will run and survive the hate between the two groups.
Taking security and defensive actions to insure the safety of his family is wise and very necessary, even when you have intention to make peace with those who might hate you and want to harm you.
Fifth, the relationship between the two brothers who hated each other seems to have been softened by the years of separation, and Esau was also successful financially and with his family, and became a major chieftain and honorable person in the land. This forced Esau to reconsider and find room for forgiveness and reconciliation with his brother Jacob and his family.
Finally, we today can learn that when friends and brothers fight, even when it is a fight that is totally reasonable, true strength and security has to come between warring friends and neighbors. Realizing that anger and past unfair treatment needs to be fixed with humility, dropping pride and reliance on militant strength, and coming with a spirit of reconciliation and peace. Then can take both sides come much closer to a peaceful landing and the restoration of peaceful relationship.
The other sad and very serious story is the story of the rape of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob that we know hardly anything about. The only reason why we know about this Dinah is because the son of the ruler of Shechem, Hamor (“donkey”), was in love with Dinah, and he raped and dishonored her.
Simeon and Levi, the two sons of Jacob, took action without Jacob’s permission and tricked the men of Shechem to be circumcised, in order to take Dinah in marriage. And when they circumcised themselves, the children of Jacob attacked the men of Shechem and broke the contract and agreement between Jacob and the local inhabitants of the land of Canaan.
Jacob never forgave his two sons for dishonoring and tricking the local inhabitants to be circumcised, and while suffering from the pain of circumcision, Simeon and Levi organized the murder of the men of Shechem. Jacob never forgot the act of Simeon and Levi his two sons, and when Jacob was on his death bed blessings his sons, Jacob didn’t bless them.
He actually cursed these two boys:
“Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. Let not my soul enter their council; Let not my honor be united to their assembly; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.” — Genesis 49:5-7 [NKJV]
A father’s blessing of his children is very valuable for the rest of their lives. But, we learn from this Torah portion that even a father’s curse is powerful and can bring unusual problems and calamities in the children’s lives.
This article originally appeared on Netivyah and is reposted with permission.