The Hand of Esav

jacob angel
Moshe Kempinski

As Yaacov ( Jacob) returns triumphantly back to the land of Canaan with his extended family and his many flocks and herds we see his confidence quickly disappear.

“The angels returned to Yaacov, saying, “We came to your brother, to Esav( Esau) , and he is also coming toward you, and four hundred men are with him.Yaacov became very frightened and was distressed; so he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps. ( Genesis 32:7-8)

He turns to G-d with a plaintive cry

” I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, [and strike] a mother with children. ‘” ( ibid 11-12)

On the words ” I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, ” Rashi writes : My merits have diminished because of the kindnesses and the truth that You have rendered me. Therefore, I fear lest I have become sullied with sin since You promised me, and it will cause me to be delivered into Esav’s hands ( Shabbat. 32a)

Why was he feeling so unworthy and why could he not simply “trust” Hashem’s promise made to him before he left the land and upon his return? To understand this, we need to explore the dramatic and psychologically infused events that shortly follow.

” And he arose during that night, and he took his two wives and his two maidservants and his eleven children, and he crossed the ford of the Yabbok. And he took them and brought them across the stream, and he took across what was his. And Yaacov was left alone (Vayivater Yaacov Levado), and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.( Genesis 32:23-25)

Immediately following the reality of “And Yaacov was left alone” he wrestles with a “man” until the break of dawn. We learn subsequently that this was not just any man, but rather a spiritual being, the angel of death or perhaps the angel of the nation of Esav.

The Bnei Yissaschar understands from this encounter that at critical moments in our individual or corporate spiritual paths we are destined to confront a point of complete aloneness. In such times we are thrust into situations wherein we are left disconnected from our environment, our past, our destiny. We are simply left with ourselves equipped only with our delicate balance of strengths and weaknesses. It is in that struggle that we find the empowerment to move forward.

It is in such encounters that we struggle within ourselves with the insecurities and fears that keep us chained and blocked from growing into our purpose.

Yaacov came into this encounter filled with much concerns, insecurity and fears. He expresses these in his prayer to Hashem ;

”I am unworthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which You have shown Your servant,”( ibid 32:11)

What then was at the psychological core of Yaacov’s fears that he deeply sensed as he “was left alone (Vayivater Yaacov Levado)”with himself.( Ibid: 25)

Yaacov had experienced an emotionally searing experience with his aging father Yitzchak ( Isaac) so many years prior;

And Yitzchak said to Yaacov, “Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esav or not.” So Yaacov drew near to Yitzchak his father, and he felt him, and he said, “The voice is the voice of Yaacov, but the hands are the hands of Esav.” .’”( Genesis 27:21-22).

The discomfort became exacerbated with the next question.

“And he did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like the hands of his brother Esav, and he blessed him. And he said, “Are you [indeed] my son Esav?” And he said, “I am.”( ibid :23-24)

Yaacov was aware that what he did regarding the blessings was clearly within the desire of G-d. Yet Yaacov may have been deeply troubled by the gnawing question of how much of Esav’s character had seeped into his soul. Had “ the hands of Esav” overtaken his spiritual “voice of Yaacov”.

With that experience deeply ensconced in his mind, Yaacov was returning to confront Esav. This encounter was to occur after having engaged in a bitter and complicated battle of wits with his father in law and Uncle Laban. The question of whether he had adapted all of his spiritual core to become like Esav, was eating away at his confidence.

” I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant( ibid :11

That may have been the subtext of his cry to Hashem ‘Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav,( ibid :12).

Protect from that same hand of Esav that was ascribed to Yaacov himself “The voice is the voice of Yaacov, but the hands are the hands of Esav” ( Genesis 27:21-22).

Yaacov needed to remember what his father Yitzchak already knew. The divine mission placed upon Yaacov and his descendants necessitated the “hands” of powerful and decisive action, combined with the” voice” of spiritual yearning and faith. That is why Yitzchak originally wasted to bless Esav with the blessing of the physical world so that he could partner with Yaacov in what was to be common destiny.

That was not meant to be, because of Esav’s selfish “now-focused” yearnings. Yitzchak then realized that in spite of Yaacov receiving the blessings using subterfuge tthat he in fact deserved the blessing, “And he is blessed” ( Genesis 26:33).

We are in a time where good people and well-meaning nations are in retreat. They are attempting to be compassionate and good hearted which is clearly a good and divine attitude. Yet when facing passionate evil and murderous rage one needs to adapt the powerful and decisive “ hands of Esav “ to act with the sensitivity and vision of “the voice of Yaacov”.

One cannot be compassionate to terrorists that are coming to kill us. One cannot be understanding of evil because in the end that evil will overwhelm the good hearted. One must first confront and eliminate evil .Only then can one rebuild and strengthen the good that remains.

As our sages have taught “Those Who Are Kind To The Cruel, In The End Will Be Cruel To The Kind” (Kohelet Raba, 7:16, )

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved

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