sibling rivalry and severe tension between Jacob and Esau began even in
the womb. They first encounter this struggle in Rebecca’s womb. Later
Jacob legally "swindles" Esau out of the birthright, and finally,
deceptively manages to receive the blessing Isaac had intended for Esau.
The sibling rivalry and severe tension between Jacob and Esau began even in the womb. They first encounter this struggle in Rebecca’s womb. Later Jacob legally "swindles" Esau out of the birthright, and finally, deceptively manages to receive the blessing Isaac had intended for Esau. Understandably, their relationship has classically been characterized by deep-rooted anger despite, and probably because, of their being brothers.
In this week’s Torah portion, after more than 20 years of separation, Jacob encounters Esau for the first time since Jacob "stole" his blessing and Esau swore to take revenge by killing Jacob. On the one hand twenty years has passed and Esau’s anger might have subsided. After all, they are brothers. On the other hand, their last time together made them sworn enemies. Moreover, Rebecca had told Jacob that she would call him home if the danger dissipated.
In truth, commentators go in both directions saying either that everything was in the past or that the wounds were still open. The Netziv, a 19th century Lithuanian Torah giant, finds a middle ground in his understanding of the encounter and dialogue between the two brothers when they were reunited. The verse sates that, "Esau ran to greet him (Jacob) and he hugged him, and fell on his neck, and he kissed him, and they wept" (Genesis 33:4).
The Netziv noticed that the last three verbs (hug, kiss, and cry) are not jointly done by both Jacob and Esau. Initially, only Esau hugged and kissed Jacob because Jacob was not moved by the moment of reuniting with his brother and remained apprehensive. However, Jacob began to feel the genuine joy Esau was filled with in reuniting with his little brother and even Jacob began again to feel for his brother. After Esau showed the interest, Jacob began to feel again for his brother. And for a moment, the two siblings, although remaining enemies afterwards, found a moment of happiness and feeling for one another. The sibling bond overcame the rivalry for a moment.
Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan, writes from Israel.
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