After fleeing the land of Israel from his bloodthirsty brother Esau, Jacob struggles to raise his family amid the fraudulent activities of Laban. Now, on his way back to the land of Israel, Jacob must once again meet his sinister brother.
After fleeing the land of Israel from his bloodthirsty brother Esau, Jacob struggles to raise his family amid the fraudulent activities of Laban. Now, on his way back to the land of Israel, Jacob must once again meet his sinister brother. Preparing for the confrontation, Jacob prays to Hashem, "Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him" (Genesis 32:12). What is the meaning of this prayer? Jacob had only one brother; would it not suffice to ask for salvation from either "my brother" or "Esau"?
The Beis Halevi, one of the most brilliant Torah scholars of the 19th century, explains that Jacob anticipated two possible dangers in confronting Esau. Of course, there was the fear that Esau was still out to kill, and that with the army he had brought along, he was planning an all out military attack. For this possibility, Jacob asked Hashem to save him "from the hand of Esau". Nevertheless, Jacob was more worried about the second possibility. There was a chance that after all those years, Esau had decided to live peacefully with his brother and was now coming to greet him with a large welcoming committee. Although on the surface this would seem to be anything but a threat, Jacob realized the extreme danger that lay in such a possibility. By acting in a brotherly way and maintaining continued contact, Esau would subtly intertwine his values into those that Jacob had so carefully implanted in his family. In fear of this, Jacob also prayed "save me from the hand of my brother".
The values of Esau and the other nations of the world are 180 degrees away from those of Jacob a nd the Jewish people. Esau directs his efforts toward worldly pursuits, while Jacob believes that "This world is like a hallway to the World to Come" (Ethics of our Fathers 4:21). When Esau and Jacob become too brotherly, Jacob's values become diluted and warped by the tempting values of Esau.
The result is all too clear to us in our time when we find the Jewish people experiencing a severe identity crisis and suffering at the hands of rampant intermarriage. In the Holocaust, we felt the brute of Esau's violent hand; now we appear to be falling to his brotherly one.
At this point, we must ask ourselves what we can do about the situation. To answer this question, we must once again look at Jacob's actions in this week's Torah portion. After the confrontation had ended, Esau went home to the land of Seir and Jacob went to a place called Sukkot. The Torah relates that Jacob "built a house for himself, and for his livestock he made booths; he there fore called the name of the place Sukkot (booths)" (Genesis 33:17). The question is asked: Why did Jacob name the place after the temporary booths he made for his livestock - would it not seem more fitting to name it after the more substantial dwelling which he made for his family?
The answer is simple. After meeting with Esau, someone who believed that the goal of life is to amass great physical wealth, Jacob wanted to create a reminder that life is transitory and that the acquisition of material wealth is not the purpose of life. Therefore, he named the place after the temporary booths that he made for his cattle. The lesson for us to learn from Jacob's actions is that in our time, where we are so exposed to the values of Esau, we must make sure to remember what our values are. The only way to do that is by first knowing them firmly, something which an be accomplished only through the study of the Torah.
Avi Lowenstein, a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem.
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