Yaakov/Yisrael goes through a stressful period in his life in this week’s parsha. First, he encounters his brother Eisav on returning to Cana’an, which becomes terrifying when he learns that his brother has brought his 400 closest friends with him. Before meeting him, Yaakov struggles with an angel (or an unknown man, or himself), getting injured and having his name changed in the process. After allaying his fear for the safety of his family, he still avoids spending any more time with his estranged brother than he needs to, and settles near Sh’chem. If this was supposed to be the point at which he could live out his years in peace, the text hints to us that the sage of this family is far from over. Yaakov’s (I only continue to use this name, rather than Yisrael, because the text does so) only daughter is raped, and the family engages in trickery that brings to mind Yaakov’s first action of this type, when he steals his brother’s blessing from his father Yitzchak. Finally, we get a long list of genealogies relating to Eisav’s progeny.
I wish to once again consider contemporary political issues in light of the parsha. The UN approved a slight upgrade in Palestine’s status yesterday, and while there are those that alternately view this as a momentous success and a calamity, I think the issue is whether this will bring peace בקרוב בימינו – speedily in our times. Given the first chance to make peace with a brother whose last interaction with him was plotting to murder him, Yaakov send emissary after emissary to appease him with gifts. Once he learns that he has what appears to be an army with him, he worries – though primarily for his family’s safety, as he never considers fleeing himself. However, the text seems to prove Yaakov wrong in describing how effusively Eisav greets his long-lost brother (33:4). Nevertheless, Yaakov is not convinced that this is going to be a happy family reunion, and he ditches Eisav as his first opportunity (33:18).
As two families, even if large ones, Yaakov and Eisav had the privilege of agreeing to disagree, and going their separate ways (though they came together again to bury their father, much like Yitzchak and Yishmael). Today there is no such privilege, and we all must try to overcome our fears – borne of true pain and suffering, or simply of false images projected of the Other – and live together. Yaakov and Eisav were also brothers in the literal sense, growing up in the same household, which made any potential reconciliation that much easier. We must overcome the odds seemingly stacked against us and do what our forefather Yaakov could not: live in peace with family, because we call the same place home.
To give peace a chance
Let’s learn from Eisav