Can sworn enemies reconcile? Can Yaakov and Eisav resolve their differences? Can they live in peace? Should they even try to live together or should each go their separate way?
Yaakov has not seen his brother for over 20 years. While time often serves to cool emotions Yaakov is afraid for his life as he prepares to return to Israel to be with his aging parents. Yaakov is told that Eisav is approaching along with an army of 400 men. "Jacob was very frightened and distressed" (32:8). Rashi, commenting on the dual expression of fear, notes that Yaakov was firstly afraid that his brother would kill him. Additionally, he feared that he would be forced to kill Eisav. Even when killing in self- defence one pays a very heavy price. No doubt Golda Meir was reflecting this notion when she made her famous comment that while perhaps we can forgive the Arabs for killing Jews we can never forgive them for being the cause of Jews killing Arabs.
For many fear is immobilizing. We get flustered and lose control of the situation. Yaakov Avinu, explains Nachmanides, adopted a three pronged approach in preparing to confront his brother. Number one he prayed. Ultimately it is G-d who controls the course of history. While man is given free choice to act as he sees fit (or unfit) "many designs are in man's heart but the counsel of Hashem - only it will prevail" (daily prayer service). Even if G-d does not carry out our wishes, by turning to Him at times of crisis we can gain strength. Second, Yaakov tried to appease Eisav by sending him gifts. And Yaakov, preparing himself in case of failed negotiations prepares to go to war if that should be necessary. Appeasement can only work if it comes from a position of strength. We must look to G-d to help us but we must also leave no stone unturned ourselves never relying on our
merits before G-d as perhaps our sins leave us with very little merit. This three pronged appraoch, the Ramban says, must be our historical approach in dealing with the Eisavs of the world. Thus Rabbi Yehudah Hanassi the redactor of the Mishna who had many an occasion to meet with Roman officials, would read parshat vayislach prior to meeting with those officials.
Did it work? Maaseh Avot Siman Lebanim : The stories and events that occurred to our ancestors foreshadow the future events of their descendants. Thus, the Ramban claims that Parshat Vayislach was written in order to impress upon us that Eisav can not conquer Yaakov. They may be able to inflict damage - thus the "angel" of Eisav succeeded in "crippling" Yaakov - but G-d will protect His people. But clearly we seek not only protection but ultimate reconciliation with Eisav. "And Essau ran to meet him and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept" (33:4). The Rabbis debate the sincerity of this kiss. The Midrash says that he really tried to bite Yaakov but "his neck turned to marble". Apparently the midrash is telling us that Eisav really wanted to harm Yaakov but realized he could not win a war so he tried the path of "peace". However many others say that Eisav and Yaakov were crying sincere tears. Why do we as brothers have to fight? Even normally ruthless people can do sincere repentance.
After their meeting Yaakov continues on his way home arriving at Succot. A sukkah is a temporary, precarious dwelling place. Our relationship with Eisav has been and apparently always will be precarious and unstable. Let us hope that the true reconciliation between Eisav and Yaakov does occur so there will be no doubt that the handshakes and kisses are sincere. Shabbat Shalom!