Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Yaakov Could Not Live WIth Esav

In this week's Parsha, Vayishlach, we have the long awaited showdown between Yaakov and Esav. For me, this meeting between brothers signifies the ultimate differences between Yaakov and Esav along with their attitudes towards G-D. if we read deeply, there is a very strong message that I think relates to our times.

In Breishis Chapter 33 we have the meeting and the introduction to the meeting. The verses say (ibid 1 and 3)

א. וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עֵשָׂו בָּא וְעִמּוֹ אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וַיַּחַץ אֶת הַיְלָדִים עַל לֵאָה וְעַל רָחֵל וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַשְּׁפָחוֹת:
1. Jacob lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men; so he divided the children with Leah and with Rachel and with the two maidservants.

ג. וְהוּא עָבַר לִפְנֵיהֶם וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַרְצָה שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים עַד גִּשְׁתּוֹ עַד אָחִיו:
3. And he went ahead of them and prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he came close to his brother.

Esav was coming towards his brother with 400 men and it seems like he wanted to attack him. That must have been how Yaakov's messengers understood it and why we see Yaakov preparing for a battle. However, we must understand why Esav was angry with his brother. It was, simply put, because Yaakov "stole" the blessing. This blessing, as understood by Esav, was a blessing to have physical wealth and strength. Therefore, Esav was angry that Yaakov stole his blessing to be strong and wealthy.

Esav now comes to Yaakov's camp with 400 men, he is the leader of a tribe and he is very wealthy. Why on earth would Esav still be angry at Yaakov? 20+ years have passed and Esav is richer and stronger than Yaakov, there is no reason to be angry with Yaakov anymore. Yaakov is bowing down to Esav and his camp is ready to be destroyed by Esav. Esav immediately realizes, in his opinion, that the blessing did not matter. That is why Esav runs towards Yaakov and hugs and kisses him. As the verse says (33:4):

ד. וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ:
4. And Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

This is not what would happen with two brothers that eternally hated each other. They truly missed one another and loved one another, as brothers should. Esav no longer cared that Yaakov stole some blessing that, in Esav's mind, was worthless. All that mattered now was that Esav had been deprived of a brother for 20+ years.

At this point, all that mattered to Esav was reuniting with Yaakov and becoming a family again. That is why Esav immediately asks about Yaakov's family and insists that Yaakov come to live with him so that Esav could protect him. As the verse says (33:5 and 12):

ה. וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת הַנָּשִׁים וְאֶת הַיְלָדִים וַיֹּאמֶר מִי אֵלֶּה לָּךְ וַיֹּאמַר הַיְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר חָנַן אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ:
5. And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and he said, "Who are these to you?" And he said, "The children with whom God has favored your servant."

יב. וַיֹּאמֶר נִסְעָה וְנֵלֵכָה וְאֵלְכָה לְנֶגְדֶּךָ:
12. Thereupon, he said, "Travel and we will go, and I will go alongside you."

However, Yaakov and Esav have very different attitudes towards G-D. Esav did not believe in the G-D of his father. Yaakov, on the other hand, reveals his belief in verse five by saying "The children with whom G-D has favored your servant." Esav reveals his lack of a belief in G-D in the later exchange with regard to Yaakov giving Esav gifts. In verses 8-11 it says:

ח. וַיֹּאמֶר מִי לְךָ כָּל הַמַּחֲנֶה הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר פָּגָשְׁתִּי וַיֹּאמֶר לִמְצֹא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי:
8. And he said, "What is to you [the purpose of] all this camp that I have met?" And he said, "To find favor in my master's eyes."

ט. וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו יֶשׁ לִי רָב אָחִי יְהִי לְךָ אֲשֶׁר לָךְ:
9. But Esau said, "I have plenty, my brother; let what you have remain yours."

י. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אַל נָא אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ מִנְחָתִי מִיָּדִי כִּי עַל כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱ־לֹהִים וַתִּרְצֵנִי:
10. Thereupon Jacob said, "Please no! If indeed I have found favor in your eyes, then you shall take my gift from my hand, because I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of an angel, and you have accepted me.

יא. קַח נָא אֶת בִּרְכָתִי אֲשֶׁר הֻבָאת לָךְ כִּי חַנַּנִי אֱ־לֹהִים וְכִי יֶשׁ לִי כֹל וַיִּפְצַר בּוֹ וַיִּקָּח:
11. Now take my gift, which has been brought to you, for God has favored me [with it], and [because] I have everything." He prevailed upon him, and he took [it].

Not once does Esav mention G-D, even though he is talking to one of the most G-D oriented people alive at that time. It is because Esav realized, in his own opinion, that the G-D of Yitzchak (Isaac) does not exist or is not all powerful. Why does he think this? Specifically, because he, Esav, IS more blessed, in his opinion, than Yaakov. He has the powerful army and wealth. Yaakov may have cattle and sheep, but he is weak. That is why Esav wants Yaakov to come with him. Esav wants to protect Yaakov and live with him like brothers should.

However, Yaakov realized what would happen if they lived together. Yaakov believes in G-D, Yaakov speaks to G-D and Esav does not care for G-D nor does he believe in G-D's absolute power. This is why Yaakov tells him they can not be together. Esav still offers to protect Yaakov, but Yaakov refuses. The differing beliefs of Yaakov and Esav never allow for them to dwell together.

This is why, in the end, Esav goes to Seir and Yaakov to Succoth. They both realized a life together would never work, their views were incompatible. Yaakov realized that they could not live together because of the influence Esav would have on Yaakov. Esav was a hunter and a warrior, but he also did not acknowledge G-D in any aspect of life. Yaakov knew that this would have an effect on him and his family. The physical ideals of Esav were appealing, wealth and power. Yaakov needed to be able to grow in spirituality and connect to G-D. It would have been extremely difficult for Yaakov and his family to focus on spirituality if Esav was able to influence them.

However, Yaakov was willing to go live among other non-spiritually oriented people in Shchem. So, although we learn the lesson that we, the Jewish people, must put ourselves into situations where we can grow in closeness to G-D and in spirituality, we must also live amongst society. Yaakov only denied Esav's invitation because he knew that Esav would treat Yaakov as a brother. Meaning, Esav would share all of his wealth and power with Yaakov. Yaakov would have grown comfortable without G-D and that would have allowed Yaakov to be in a situation that could have been detrimental to his connection with G-D. However, in Shchem, Yaakov would not have anyone else protecting him or supplying him with wealth. Yaakov would have to put forth effort and connect to G-D in order to be successful. This is why, I think, Yaakov turned down Esav's offer to live in security with him because Yaakov did not want to put himself in a situation where he would have, essential, disconnected himself from G-D.

This idea teaches us a couple very valuable lessons. The first, we need to be able to asses a situation and decide if this situation will remove us from G-D or allow us to connect to G-D. The second, the Jewish people need to be able to live in the world, however, we believe in G-D. We must be able to co-exist with other religions and peoples, but we can not allow for their attitudes to influence us. A connection to G-D is extremely important in a Jews life. Yaakov was torn between choosing to live with Esav or serving G-D, both would not be possible because Esav did not care for G-D. Yaakov chose to serve G-D even though it meant that he had to distance himself from his brother. It is not always easy serving G-D, sometimes it takes hard decisions, but if a person truly wants a connection to G-D, those hard choices must be made.


Recreational Musings said...

Yasher Koach!

I wholeheartedly agree except that "we can not allow for their attitudes to influence us." It makes it sound as if we cannot learn from different religions or cultures, but we can (and have throughout history). Although we need to be careful in what we learn from other influences so I would just add one word: "we can not allow for their attitudes to blindly influence us."

As the religious chair at my Hillel we have "themed Shabbatot" so I'm often looking for things in the weekly parsha (or Judaism in general, if that's a struggle) that relate to the theme for my d'vars: We've done Buddhism, Patriotism, Breast Cancer, and various cultural themes. I've never had trouble finding a concept from another culture or religion and drawing similarities to Judaism (usually I avoid differences because they're more controversial...). This week is Harry Potter Shabbat and I have a Dumbledore quote on "purity of blood." I think it relates nicely to your discussion on Jacob and Esav; perhaps I will share it!

E-Man said...

The reason I said attitudes is because if one looks at reform and conservative Judaism they will see that the surrounding attitude of acceptance of all ideas has crept into their ideals. In reform Judaism it is more important to be a good person than a good Jew (at least from my experience with them). This is a problem. The most important thing should be G-D. You hear what I am saying?

Other religions offer many beneficial ideas and concepts that we can learn from. However, what I think is the most important thing in judaism is our attitudes. What is our attitude towards G-D and the laws? In all truth, what should come first is always G-D and the laws, right? Other religions and cultures don't seem to see it that way, for the most part.

I hope that explanation was clear.

I would love to hear your dvar Torah with dumbeldore's quote.

Recreational Musings said...

I understand that more and in the context of Reform and Conservative I can see what you mean. As someone raised Reform, I certainly was never told to think about God in Sunday School by anyone other than my mom. Now I am very involved in the Conservative movement and have connections to the Reform world and (some of) the leaders of the movements do have very traditional attitudes towards God and His laws. Unfortunately, it is not more prevalent.

In traditional terms, the attitude is towards accepting God's laws first and foremost -- then the question gets to be which of those are most important and how do we interpret them. I think that is a big difference between orthodoxy and the religious heads of other movements, and within orthodoxy between the left and right. And I don't really think there's necessarily any "right" answer but different things work for different people.

Anonymous said...

is this thought yours, or from classic mforshim?

E-Man said...

It is my thought, but I would not be surprised if the idea was found in some meforshim.