Yom Sheini, 17 AdarI 5781
Monday, 1 March 2021
Va-yishlach 2012

Parashat Va-yishlach by Rabbi Andrew Goldstein
30th November 2012

One of the saddest episodes in the Torah comes in Genesis 33:12-17.   The sedra opened with Jacob's realisation that he couldn't avoid meeting his brother Esau after years of separation.  You will recall that Jacob was forced to run away from home, fearful of his brother Esau's revenge having stolen his rightful birthright and father's blessing.  Now, having wrestled with his conscience (a.k.a. angel) yet still scheming and ensuring that if Esau sought his revenge then Jacob's least favoured wife and children would be wiped out first, maybe giving him a chance to escape.  Now, he came faced to face with his brother, who rushed forward to kiss him, not smite him.  And though most rabbinic comment centred on unbelief at Esau's forgiveness ("it wasn't a kiss, but a bite on the neck", etc), Esau continued to express his love for his long lost brother. Jacob offered presents, which Esau is reluctant to take: it seems he had long ago forgiven Jacob and needed no presents to make up for the hurt done to him.  And in the end Esau only accepted the presents to avoid his brother getting upset.  And then Esau offered to accompany Jacob on his journey, going slowly with the children and pregnant sheep.  Even ordering some of his men to act as armed guards to protect Jacob's camp.

But Jacob is still suspicious and refuses the offered of help and the chance to get close again to his brother, and Jacob walks off again leaving, I am sure, Esau saddened and wondering if ever he could do something to win his twin brothers love.  They met only once again - at their father's funeral.  Esau turning up even though the burial was in Jacob's territory.  And again he left empty handed and empty hearted as Jacob again showed him no welcome nor love.

How often have I officiated at funerals where a family broiges had long ago caused splits, where siblings met at the grave-side for the first time for years.  Occasionally the funeral was an opportunity for a rapprochement, but so often the sad siblings went their own way from the cemetery.  How silly to miss any opportunity to forgive forget past wrongs and to make a new start.

And Jacob became Israel and Esau the father of the Arabs.  We often blame the modern descendents of Esau for never missing an opportunity for making peace.  Perhaps the sedra teaches us that we must always look at our own actions; does our side always make enough effort or are we truly the children of Israel?