וישלח

In this week’s parsha we read about the long-awaited meeting between Yaakov (Jacob) and his brother Eisav (Esau).  After fleeing for his life and living with his uncle for twenty years, Yaakov is ready to return.  He sends messengers ahead of his family to placate Eisav, hoping to avoid an unpleasant reunion.  However, the messengers return telling Yaakov that Eisav knew he was coming, and has come out to meet him with 400 men (Bereishit / Genesis 32:7).  This terrifies Yaakov, and he decides to split his camp in two, so that at least one will survive.  Yaakov’s fear troubles the Ibn Ezra, who sheds light on his beliefs regarding prophecy and faith in Hashem through what he says.  The underlying question bothering him, as well as other classical commentaries, is: how could Yaakov be afraid of a merely human enemy, when Hashem told him that “I will be with you” (31:3)?

Ibn Ezra does not believe that even such an explicit promise entails perfect faith.  He points to later in Yaakov’s life, when his favourite son Yosef (Joseph) is sold into slavery, and Yaakov despairs that Yosef has surely been killed.  Further, in the mind of the classical commentators, the greater the person, the greater the punishment for sin.  Ibn Ezra explains that Yaakov is aware that he may have sinned – without explaining when this might have happened, the Ibn Ezra may be pointing to his dealings with his uncle Lavan, which were not perfectly amiable, or his deceitful actions that brought on his brother’s anger in the first place.  How does the Ibn Ezra know that even a small sin can be punished severely when committed by a צדיק (a righteous person)?  Moshe (Moses) is his proof: when he is commanded by Hashem to free the Israelites from Egypt, and tarries along the way, Hashem sends an angel to kill him (Shmot / Exodus 4:24).

It is clear, from Ibn Ezra’s point of view, that even the greatest of biblical characters, people believed to have the powers of prophecy, can doubt their personal safety at times.  While I am attracted to the lesson that we should interact in good faith and love towards those who are closest to us (as a starting point), this episode clearly has a lesson as well about not underestimating potential threats to us and to those we love, regardless of the safety nets we believe are in place.

Trusting in God

Is a great test, even

For our prophets

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