This Shabbat’s Dvar Torah was given by Jonny Freedman
At the start of this week’s pasha Vayishlach, we read about the reconciliation between Jacob and Esau. Jacob faces meeting his brother again with great trepidation. It’s not surprising, as at their last contact, just before Jacob fled, Esau had sworn to kill him for stealing his birthright. Jacob sends out servants to bribe his brother with livestock and riches. The servants return reporting that Esau has 400 men with him. Jacob determines that all is lost and goes so far as to split his camp in to two so one half will survive when Esau inevitably attacks. He then prays to God, claiming unworthiness, but reminding God of God’s promise to make Jacob’s seed immeasurable as the “sand of the sea.” It’s interesting that God doesn’t answer – perhaps he is growing fed up of our patriarch’s Chutzpah – he seems to take, take, take as Beverley so eloquently reminded us in her Drosha last week.
Jacob determines to appease Esau with a succession of extravagant gifts delivered by his servants. After a restless night wrestling with an angel (and probably his own conscience), Jacob finally gets the blessing he had earlier sought from God. Obscurely this is to change his name from Yaacov to Israel, which may have been somewhat of a let down based on what we know of Jacob, but the Torah does not tell us his response.
Adding to our concerns already voiced about Jacob’s character, he ensures the most ‘dispensable’ family members – the handmaids and their children – were in front and his favourites Joseph and Rachel were at the rear.
Astonishingly, in Chapter 33 Vs 4 we read that Esau ran to meet Jacob, embraced him, fell on his neck, kissed him and wept. So reconciliation at last between the two warring brothers….. but was it?
Judaism has quite a lot to say about reconciliation and forgiveness. What we can learn from this is that there is far more to it than kissing and making up. No apology was sought or offered by either brother. We are told that granting forgiveness is a critical part of forgiveness and reconciliation. In his book “The Power of Forgiveness,” Elie Wiesel refers to a Jewish view that in order to be forgiven, one must first admit to wrongful action and apologize. The German government, in response to his request, did indeed issue a formal apology at the Knesset in Israel for its involvement in the Holocaust. As well as the importance of allowing the wrongdoer to atone, we are also commanded to accept someone’s apology in order to facilitate his or her own spiritual development.
Although in our tradition Esau is portrayed as the villain I think that each has a responsibility to seek forgiveness for their actions and/or words.
Another interesting observation is that following this joyous meeting of the two brothers and their clans, we are told that they next meet some years later at their father’s deathbed. So no attempt is made to rebuild their fractured relationship in any ongoing manner. This should be a lesson for all of us as we reflect on the relationships in our own lives that may be in need of repair.
I’m going to leave the final words on Forgiveness and Reconciliation with Nelson Mandela. In his Inaugural speech on becoming President of South Africa in 1994, he sought to heal the wounds of his divided nation. He said – “The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come…. Forgiveness liberates the soul, it removes fear. That’s why it’s such a powerful weapon”