As we go through each narrative in the life of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the Torah spends an enormous amount of time telling us the story without benefit of a halachic punch line. The Torah is not merely a code of law nor is it a history book. As such, every story should have some form of lesson for us to justify its inclusion in our Holy Writ. For example, the story of Yaakov preparing for his confrontation and reunion with his brother is a story that was used by the rabbis of the Talmudic time to inform them as to how they should approach the Romans. The Midrash is always looking at the Romans as descendents of Esav, even though there is no literal connection between the two. The Midrash states that once, Rabbi Yannai failed to review this chapter before approaching the Romans, and his trip was a dismal failure. Similarly, in 1744 during the time of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, there was a decree for the Jews to be expelled from Bohemia. Rabbi Zalman was supposed to meet with the Austrian official regarding the possibility of repealing the decree. So, Rabbi Zalman went to meet the councilor when the councilor was visiting with a Jewish woman with whom he had a romantic interest. At first the councilor was angry at Rabbi Zalman’s approaching him at her place, but Rabbi Zalman explained his methods by quoting from this week’s Parsha. The councilor was intrigued by the explanation and things progressed well. How we learn life lesson from the Torah narrative is a challenge.
During the 1967 war, Moshe Dayan, in directing the Israeli Defense Forces, learned from biblical and post-biblical accounts that the only successful military conquests of Jerusalem took place from the north. Learning from these ancient historical accounts, Dayan sent paratroopers to the other side of the Old City and they successfully conquered the Old City by entering from the north and northeast through the Lion’s Gate. History put to use!
Yaakov prepared for his confrontation with Esav in three ways. First, he prayed to God Almighty for Divine Providence so that his encounter would not be a failure. Second, he attempted to appease his brother by sending a large number of animals as a gift to his brother. Third, he divided his family into separate camps and prepared them militarily for the confrontation. This multi-tiered approach seems practical but it also indicates that Yaakov did not know which method would succeed. Would God intervene directly? Would Esav approach him with brotherly compassion and mercy? Or would there be an all-out battle? Sometimes we do not know the “right” approach. In this story we see Yaakov being quite unsure as to which is the proper approach. In the end, the gifts of appeasement seemed to have been successful.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman