After much anxiety, Yaakov meets with his brother Esav, and the results are underwhelming. The two of them actually are amicable to each other! But Yaakov is anxious to end the meeting and get on with his life.
When they separate, the Torah does not describe any hugging and kissing. The parting of ways is lacking in compassion. This is similar to the end of Yaakov’s and Lavan’s relationship. It would seem that this coolness in separation was purposeful on both sides. Yaakov actually rejects Esav’s efforts to be closer. He is happy that the reunion came off successfully without any threat to life, but Yaakov is aware that a future relationship with Esav was impossible. It would create a bond that could only serve as a problem. Yaakov did not want his sons to have a relationship with Uncle Esav for fear that the uncle would influence them in some form. Yaakov was aware that he was the patriarch blessed with 12 sons with the possibility now of entering Israel; and making steps to become the nation with an eternal bond with Hashem needs to be nurtured. This cannot be successful if there is a Lavan or an Esav anywhere in the picture.
At the end of the Parsha, Hashem officially puts his seal of approval and changes Yaakov’s name to Yisrael. God told Yaakov, “your name shall no longer be Yaakov but Yisrael shall be your name” (35:10). The same language existed earlier when Hashem changes the name of Avram to Avraham. The difference is that Avraham is never referred to by his old name while Yaakov is sometimes referred to as Yaakov, and other times referred to as Yisrael. Rabbi Robert Gordis felt that the answer was in the context in which Yaakov’s name is mentioned. If it is a personal or family matter, the Torah would use the name Yaakov. If the event or incident had national or prophetic meaning, then the Torah would use the name Yisrael. However, this answer does not seem to work in every single situation. When the Torah uses Yaakov, we don’t ask the question why. But when the Torah uses the name Yisrael, one should ask the question and this suggested answer does work as a challenge and as a departure point for discussion of the matter. For example, in the beginning of next week’s Parsha it states that Yaakov dwelled in the land of Canaan, and then when it introduces the story of Yosef, Yaakov is referred to as Yisrael. Maybe the point is that when the story of Yosef begins, the reference of Yaakov as Yisrael would indicate the national importance of the personal relationships of the brothers.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman