More than any other Patriarch, Yaakov Avinu is blessed with detailed coverage of his life in the
Torah From his prenatal condition, through his adolescence and into young manhood, he is
forced to struggle with his contentious brother Eisav. He survives by his wit. Heeding his
mother’s counsel, Yaakov contends for Yitzchak’s blessing, an act that brings forth the savage
rage of Eisav. Yaakov flees for his life. He seeks refuge and finds a bride in the home of his
uncle, Lavan, in Syria.
Some twenty years later, after working for many years as an indentured servant to Lavan,
Yaakov concludes a “final agreement on boundaries and a “peace process” with his uncle.
Yaakov, perhaps flushed with success, begins his inevitable journey home to his father, Yitzchak. He sends a diplomatically-couched message to his brother. “I’m coming home.” Traditional gifts are sent in the age-old Middle Eastern tradition but to no avail- Eisav and his army of four hundred are approaching.
Yaakov’s game plan, as described in the Midrash, comprises three steps: gifts lo Eisav, prayer
to G-d, and, preparation for war. Yaakov is still a reluctant warrior. Reviewing his strategy,
Yakov’s mindset is defensive. He divides his camp in half to allow at least some of his family
to escape in the event of a tragedy As for his prayer, Yaakov’s moving plea seems not to receive
an immediate response from the Almighty Yet an amazing providential event follows Yaakov
family fords the Yabok river and in the night, Yaakov remains alone on the other bank He faces
a mighty struggle through the night with physical, spiritual & psychological ramifications.
The Rambam describes the encounter with Eisav’s angel as a pre-confrontation prophecy.
This was the moment of truth that Yaakov avoided for over twenty years. it resulted in the
emergence of a new personality – that of a willing contender, rather than that of a committed
dodger. The angel’s blessing of Yaakov’s new name, Yisrael, represents a spiritual metamorphosis, a new emergence of his personality, and a realignment of his psycho-genetic essence. When he ultimately does confront his older brother, Eisav embraces him What brought about this gesture? Obviously, Eisav’s four hundred men were not meant to be an honor guard. For a committed anti-Semite to embrace a Jew requires a psychological investigation. Permit me then to suggest the flowing: psychological aggressive transference may occur when the
subject is confronted with trauma.
Over the passage of twenty years, Eisav obviously harbored an image of his brother that fueled
his hatred and nurtured the emerging ideology of prejudice which became a foundation stone
in his personality. Yaakov became bigger than life itself. Eisav viewed him as the vilain, the
robber of his birthright, the conniving socio-religious climber who would manipulate a blind
father into bestowing blessings upon him. Eisav felt cheated and his hatred festered. But as
Dine providence guided this encounler, Yaakov emerged from the angelic combat maimed,
and he limped as a result of the damage to his thigh: This was not the Yaakov that Eisav
remembered or that he perceived in his mind’s eye. Yaakov’s presence did not match the
caricature of evl, the shylock, the fagin. The new image confronting Eisav was Yaakov the
refugee from Lavan. His appearance evoked pity and remorse. Eisav was in shock! One can
almost imagine Eisav’s comment; “My poor brother Yaakov, a cripple, look what my miserable
uncle inficled on him. If Lavan was here, I would tear him limb from limb.” Liberated from his
hatred, Eisav runs to embrace Yaakov, his anger by trauma has been transferred to Lavan.
Lesson: The world of Eisav is ready to accept the Jew as a refugee, as a victim of the Holocaust,
but G-d prefers Israel as the emerging Jew, for even his limp is cured as he reenters the land
of Israel. “Vayevo Yaakov Shaleim – and Yaskov arrived complete” – complete in his health, in his
wealth, and in his knowledge of Torah.
Rabbi Dr. S. Zevulun Lieberman, Congregation Beth Torah, Brooklyn, NY
Sedra: Vavishlach: Bereshis 32:4-36:43; pages 170-197
Haftorah: Ovadiah 1:1-21: pages 1141 & 1142