13 Kislev 5774 / Nov. 15-16, 2013
In this week’s portion, Vayishlach, Jacob’s past catches up with him (or rather, is heading right towards him with 400 men), as he prepares to encounter his brother Esau for the first time in over 20 years. Jacob obviously is fearful about this encounter, given that he not only traded Esau some stew for his birthright, but also stole Esau’s blessing from Isaac by disguising himself and lying to his father. I suppose you could say his fears were well founded.
Often lost in the hustle and bustle of the narrative is the reality that in addition to being a man who played favorites with his wife and children and who had some shady dealings with his uncle Laban, Jacob was a terrible brother. We could argue that it was his preordained destiny (/ God’s plan for him) to steal both Esau’s birthright and blessing, but ultimately, I can’t help but struggle with the fact that we’re the descendants of someone (and we celebrate such!) who would treat his own kin so poorly.
You’d like to think that Jacob’s shortcomings didn’t rub off on his own children, and we find a compelling (positive?) example later in this week’s portion when two of Jacob’s sons (Simeon and Levi) slaughter an entire town for their sake of their sister Dinah’s honor. And yet, we know that ultimately, Jacob’s sons have such hatred for their brother Joseph (Jacob’s favorite) that they sell him into slavery.
At the end of this week’s portion, Jacob and Esau, despite their historic differences and subsequent reconciliation, bury their father Isaac together.
This Shabbat, examine your relationship with your siblings (and if you don’t have siblings, with your family in general). Do you get along? Do you treat each other with respect and honor? Even if your relationships are already strong, resolve to take meaningful steps to improve upon them and show your love. Be generous. Be kind. Be forgiving. Be family.