A Dangerous Brotherhood

After learning from the angels he sent as emissaries to his brother that Eisav was still filled with hatred against him and was coming towards him with 400 men, Yaakov Avinu readies himself in three ways. He sends tribute to appease Eisav, he prepares for war and he turns to the Ribbono shel Olam with a heartfelt tefillah.

“Rescue me, please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav, for I fear lest he come and strike me,” he pleads to Hashem. (Bereishis 32:12)

Since Yaakov Avinu had only one brother, many meforshim have wondered why it was necessary for him to add the words “from the hand of Eisav,” after he had just said “from the hand of my brother.”

The Beis Halevi teaches that Yaakov Avinu saw that there were only two possible scenarios: Either Eisav would wage war against him and seek to kill him, or Eisav would shift course and live with Yaakov in peace — like two close brothers.

Yaakov Avinu had a great fear of either of these possibilities, for he viewed the notion of having a close and loving relationship with Eisav as something that would be very harmful to him.

Earlier (32:8), the Torah teaches us that when the angels reported back to Yaakov about Eisav’s approach and intentions, Yaakov “became very frightened and it distressed him.”

According to this approach, Yaakov Avinu “became frightened” lest he be killed, and “it distressed him” — lest he draw close to Eisav.

Therefore, Yaakov pleaded that he be saved from both possibilities, from “his brother” and from “Eisav.”

The Ribbono shel Olam heard the tefillah of Yaakov Avinu regarding both possibilities. When Eisav first encountered Yaakov, he sought to kill Yaakov, and Hashem saved him. Then, after Eisav allowed himself to be appeased, he sought to be together with Yaakov, and he proposed that they travel together.

Yaakov Avinu successfully turned down the offer, citing the fact that the children were “tender,” and that the flocks and the cattle had to travel slowly in order to survive.

Maaseh Avos siman labonim — whatever happened to the Avos directly influences what will happen to their descendants, and the twin dangers that Yaakov faced are the same that Klal Yisrael would face many generations later.

For centuries, our enemies sought to annihilate us through acts of persecution and mass murder, and only through the infinite mercy of Hashem did we survive. Later, the heirs of Eisav would desire to live in peace with Yaakov — but their real intention is to distance us from our avodas Hashem and tear us away from our heritage.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 74:14) on Eisav’s offer “I will proceed alongside you,” states that Eisav offered Yaakov that they should partner in both worlds.

The Beis Halevi explains that Chazal are teaching us that Eisav offered that the two should move “towards” each other in matters of haskafah. Eisav would agree to accept the fundamental beliefs of the Torah, including emunah in Hashem Yisbarach, Torah MiShamayim and the principles of reward and punishment. In return, Yaakov would give up a little of his positions, spend less time learning Torah and instead be more involved in the “ways of the world,” and agree to stop observing those mitzvos that cause conflict between the two of them.

Chazal (Tanna D’bei Eliyahu Zuta 14) tell us that Eisav told Yaakov Avinu, “You take Olam Hazeh and half of Olam Haba, and I will take Olam Hazeh and half of Olam Haba.”

Eisav argued that Yaakov should suffice with “half” of his Olam Haba through abandoning “some” of the mitzvos, and therefore will also be able to fully enjoy the material aspects of Olam Hazeh.

In his tefillah, Yaakov Avinu first pleaded that Hashem save him from the danger posed by Eisav acting like a brother before he beseeched Hashem to save him from the danger of Eisav acting like his true self. For Yaakov Avinu’s fear regarding the former was even greater than his fear about the latter.

In reality, when the danger facing Jews is enmity cloaked in the guise of friendship, the peril is both spiritual and physical. For the overt acts of friendship and favors are limited to those who agree to give up on some of the mitzvos, and in the process are giving up on their soul. Those who reject the overtures and refuse to draw close to Eisav continue to be mistreated and persecuted.

Klal Yisrael will face this double-edged sword, the Beis Halevi says, until the coming of Moshiach.

May Hakadosh Baruch Hu protect His children from all danger, both in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus.