D’var Torah For Friday, December 9, 2022
This week we will be reading from parashat Vayishlach. Vayishlach, along with Vayigash (the story of Joseph and his brothers), contains two of the most powerful reconciliation narratives in the Torah. In this week, it was Jacob who was returning to his homeland after years away.
Jacob was returning to his homeland after having worked to acquire his wives: Rachel and Leah as well as their handmaids Bilhah and Zilpah. At this point, Jacob is a wealthy and powerful man. There is only one thing standing in his way, his brother Esau. Jacob was worried that Esau was going to kill Jacob upon sight, for Jacob had wronged his twin brother.
Jacob was fearful, in part, because when he looked out, he saw his brother approaching along with four hundred armed men. Yet, when they came close, “he himself (Jacob) went ahead of them and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother. Esau … ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him. And they burst into tears” (Gen. 33:3-4). As is mentioned in the Plaut Commentary on this passage, “Esau’s readiness to make peace comes as a surprising climax to the carefully prepared encounter” (pg. 233).
They then spent time getting reacquainted. Later on, the brothers united one more time to bury their father, Isaac.
The process of reconciliation is never easy. It involves admitting that we do not hold the absolute truth on reality. Therapists call this “separate-reality phenomenon.” That though we may have experienced events and lives with another person, they may very well have a different understanding of those same experiences. In the case of Jacob and Esau, the reconciliation was only possible because Jacob came to understand how he had wronged and hurt his brother. If he had not, the story may have ended very differently.
This is not to say that every broken relationship needs mending. But, if there are those out there, we would like to mend, our Torah portion is inviting us to start by asking: are their memories different from ours? And if so, why?
There was very little Jacob and Esau agreed on. They did go their separate ways. But at the end of the day, they did at least agree that they were family. And that can be a starting point for some of us this Shabbat.
Rabbi Benjamin A. Sharff