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Parshat VaYishlach, 5784 - The Kiss Heard Around the World (or was it a bite?)

11/28/2023 01:16:48 PM


Beyond being the sacred text that molded western civilization and has had the most impact of any work of literature ever, the Bible in and general and the Torah in particular contain what can only be described as incredible storytelling.

Take this week’s parsha.  Jacob and Esau, twin brothers who have been rivals since before they were born, face off after twenty years of enmity and estrangement. Esau’s grievances against his brother are severe: tricked out of his birthright and firstborn blessing, Esau swore to kill Jacob. Jacob’s counter: Esau has always been about himself, his needs, desires, power and popularity. What does he care for blessings and birthrights? He has no shortage of wealth and domination over others. The spiritual heritage of Abraham, the G-d whom he walked before, what are they to him but another avenue to his own egoism?

But Jacob wants to confront his brother, to make peace. He sends lavish gifts of flocks; a fortune in livestock, the measure of wealth of the day. He and his family go forward to meet the estranged brother, brother-in-law, uncle. Esau, for his part, does not bring his family to the meeting. Instead, he brings four hundred armed men: an army

The night before the meeting, Jacob, who has gone forward alone to spend the night in seclusion, is attacked by a mysterious figure and fights all night long. The figure, seeing the dawn, administers a supernatural wound but Jacob does not yield. I will not let you go without your blessing, he says.

And the blessing he receives reverberates throughout history: No longer shall you be called Jacob. You are now Israel- G-d Fighter.

It is a transformed patriarch who limps forward that day to confront Esau. Esau comes running to meet him. To embrace and forgive? To kill and slaughter? In this masterful storytelling moment, we do not know.

When they meet, the brothers embrace, kiss and weep. Reconciled, they proceed on their way. But there is one riddle left: Above the Hebrew word: (Esau) kissed him, there are mysterious dots in the Torah text. Are they italics? Yes, the two brothers, diametrically opposed: the physical power of Esau and the spiritual greatness of Jacob, have truly come together at last.




Maybe the dots are question marks. How could the violent, vengeful Esau ever forgive and be at peace with Jacob? Each brother will found a civilization: Jacob, the spiritual civilization of Israel and Esau, the power and domination of Rome. How could they ever be reconciled? Surely, rather than kissing his brother, the violent Esau meant instead to tear out his brother’s jugular vein with his teeth? Only divine intervention rendered Jacob’s neck at that moment hard as marble so the villain’s teeth were shattered so that Esau wept, not tears of forgiveness but tears of pain!

And so the question remains: Can physical power and authority ever be in harmony with gentle spirituality and peace? Can Rome and Jerusalem co-exist? Can the hands of Esau and the voice of Jacob ever unite to create a world where the mighty are gentle and the peaceful and spiritual emerge from their refuge to help make their vision come to pass?

The Torah gives us no answer- perhaps because that is a question that only we can answer. Let our little lights kindled in the window be our answer. In the words of Prophet Zechariah, the Prophet whose book we read on Chanukah: Not by might, not by power but by My Spirit shall you live in peace, says the Adonai Tzva’ot, the Lord of Hosts.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784