© 2017 by Shalom Magazine

Parsha Vayishlach

   Esau learns that Jacob is returning to the Land of Israel; he sets out with an army to kill Jacob. Jacob prays to the Almighty, "Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau" (Genesis 32:12). Jacob has only one brother. Why did the Torah specify "from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau"?

The Torah is telling us by the repetition that when a brother turns into an enemy, he becomes a much more dangerous enemy than a stranger.

    Tosafot, a commentary on the Talmud, adds that just as a one-time beloved friend is the worst enemy, so too when two enemies become friends it is the strongest of friendships.

   When you have difficulties in getting along with someone, don't think that just because at present you do not like each other it must last. On the contrary, if you will be able to overcome the animosity between you, the former negative feelings can be transformed into extremely positive feelings. We have seen countries which have fought bitter wars against each other finally make peace and become close allies. This should serve as a lesson for us in making peace with individuals who have quarreled with us in the past.

   Rabbi Meir Yechiel of Ostrovtzah saved the Jews of his city from a pogrom during the First World War. The Austro-German army left the city and the Russian army entered. In other places, the Jews suffered greatly when the Russian soldiers came in. Rav Meir Yechiel called a meeting of the notables of his city and told them about his plan to greet the Russian soldiers as liberators. They would give out food and cigarettes to the soldiers and develop a friendly relationship with them. This is what they did and the soldiers acted in a very friendly manner towards the Jewish population of the city.

   We've all heard the term "tzaddik" – a perfectly righteous person. But what defines a tzaddik? Good deeds? Pious behavior? Indeed, these are attributes. But what truly defines the tzaddik is looking at every possession and situation in life as coming directly from God. In that way, all of life is deeply meaningful.

   This outlook is emphasized again in our parsha when, after 20 years apart, Jacob is reunited with his twin brother Esav. In describing their state of affairs, Esav says: "I have a lot." Jacob says, "I have everything." (Genesis 33:9-11)

   The difference is subtle, but in fact speaks volumes. Esav is saying: "I have a lot..." but I sure could use more! Whereas Jacob is saying: "According to my part in God's grand eternal plan, I have everything – exactly as I need."

   Our lives are filled with so many objects, people and ideas. What is the value of each? If we only open our eyes and focus, we can discover the deeper meaning and purpose of everything as a special gift from God.

   When Yakov (Jacob) heard that his brother Esau -- who had once promised to kill him -- was coming to meet him with 400 warriors, he sent gifts. The Torah relates the following message which Yakov sent to his brother, "I have acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, servants, and maidservants and I am sending to tell my lord that I might find favor in your eyes" (Genesis 32:6). Why isn't Yakov afraid of exacerbating his brother's hatred by arousing envy for Yakov's wealth?

   The commentary Ha'emek Dovor by the great Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin clarifies that for Esau the only thing that mattered was having power over other people as we see by the fact that he had 400 men with him. Yakov's wealth didn't cause envy because there was no power with it. This can give us an insight into overcoming envy.

  When one has power, one will not envy another person who lacks it. Since the greatest power is having control over one's own impulses and desires (see Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers 4:1), if one masters self-discipline he will have no need to envy anyone else. The feeling of strength will be so fulfilling that you will be free from feeling envious of others!

   When Jacob finds out the Esau is coming to meet him, the Torah tells us:"Jacob became very frightened and it distressed him" (Gen. 32:8)..

  Why was Jacob afraid? The Almighty promised to protect him.

Jacob was afraid that the merits of Esau's mitzvos might tip the balance in his favor, to the point where God's promise would no longer be binding and Esau would be allowed to triumph.

   Esau was a scoundrel of the first order! The Midrash states that Esau committed the most grievous sins. How could Esau's mitzvospossibly outweigh Jacob's abundant mitzvos? Jacob studied Torah day and night for 14 years at the academy of Shem and Eber. He did not neglect any of the mitzvos while with Laban (Rashi, Genesis 32:5). What reason was there to suspect that Esau had greater merits?

   The Midrash states that Jacob feared that Esau had the merit of two great mitzvos which he lacked: 1) Esau lived in Eretz Yisrael (the Land of Israel) while Jacob was in Mesopotamia, and 2) Esau was in the presence of Isaac and fulfilled the mitzvah of honoring his parents (Bereishis Rabbah 76:2)

   Jacob did not willfully neglect these mitzvos. He left home and left the Land of Israel at his mother's behest, because Esau swore to kill him. Even though Esau was an evil person, Jacob still feared that the merit of these two mitzvos might earn Esau Divine favor over him.

    We are blessed with the opportunity to do many mitzvot. We should appreciate their incomparable value!