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   by Jacob Solomon

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Jacob greatly feared, and he was distressed… (32:8)

This part of the narrative relates Jacob's preparations to encounter his murderous (27:41) brother, Esau, who was already on his way with his retinue of four hundred men (32:7).

Rashi highlights Jacob's use of three strategies within the text that Jacob used to prepare to protect himself from Esau. He sent him a large piece of his newly-acquired wealth in the hope that it would calm his wrath (32:14). He used military sense by dividing his camp into two sections, so that at least half of his people would escape should Esau physically attack (32:9). And after he made use of all the physical courses of action at his disposal, he prayed (32:10), placing himself in G-d's hands, and at His mercy.

And what happened? Jacob did save himself and his family – Esau ran forth to meet Jacob and kissed him (33:4). But that does not mean that they became lifelong friends. Jacob made an excuse to part company as soon as possible, and there is no recorded meeting between them until Isaac's death many years later (35:29). So there was an uneasy truce… and the later meeting implies that Esau did not honor the birthright ceded to Jacob as 'Esau and Jacob buried him' (35:29); Esau himself being in the first place…

One of the recurrent themes of the Ramban's commentary is that 'the doings of the fathers are signs to the children' – that events happening to the Patriarchs in their lifetimes are symbols to the generation of their descendants. They recur in different forms, but on the same principles. Maybe this concept could be extended to the very serious challenges facing Jews living in Israel.

There has been no peace with the Palestinian Arabs since the long before the beginning of the State. Israel is divided into many parties, all with their own distinctive policies and outlooks. Within Jacob's descendants practicing traditional Judaism, there are, in simplified form, three camps; each with a different approach. There are those who emphasize that salvation will come if the Jews keep the Mitzvot and pray as they should. Learning Torah for its own sake, and pray with deep devotion is the key. Others emphasize war – army service, construction of settlements – in the process, showing the Palestinians on what terms they may, and may not live amongst the Jews. And there is a third group – which searches for representative parties with which to appease and negotiate for a formula by which both sides might co-exist.

All those three elements formed part of Father Jacob's strategy – and they did not exclude one another. Jacob had 'three parties within one soul'. The prayer side did not condemn the military plan side. And the 'right-wing' military 'party' did not denigrate the 'left-wing' appeasement 'party'. They were all part of one great picture, all working in the harmony of the soul of that great patriarch. And, following Rashi's interpretation of the text, that combination did not bring peace, but an uneasy truce. The fundamental differences between Jacob and Esau were far too great. That was the most he could have hoped for.

That is the lesson. A Jew may admire and even belong to one party, but he should realize that other groups with different approaches may be no less valid than his own. Like in Father Jacob's soul, they should recognize and create accord between one another, combining to bring the 'uneasy truce' which is probably the best that can be hoped for…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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