Vayishlach – A Brothers’ Reunion

The night before meeting Esav, Yaacov wrestled with an angel. He had sent his family and possessions across the stream and had sent gifts ahead in appeasement of Esav’s anger. According to Rambam, the struggle took place in a vision, rather than in reality. Rambam’s view was that the bodily forms in which angels appear exist only in the mind of the one who sees them. Ramban, Radak, and Ibn Ezra argued that Yaacov straining his thigh indicated that an actual struggle took place. Ralbag argued that the thigh injury was a psychosomatic aftermath of the vision.


R’ Eli Munk commented on the divergence between the literal and symbolic meanings of the episode. He wrote that the struggle in the night could be taken as Yaacov’s preparation for the encounter which he would have with his brother the following day. He could have struggled with his conscience, or with the evil angel and his inner value prevailed. His adversary recognised that he could not be overcome, and struck him on the hip, and said “let me go for it is dawn”, and Yaacov said “I won’t let you go unless you bless me”. The angel called him Israel because “he had striven with the Divine and with man and had overcome”. Onkelos interpreted the name Israel as “fighter before G-d”, indicating that Jewry’s mission is to fight for the establishment of the kingdom of G-d on earth, fighting only with spiritual weapons, for ideals and principles. The strength Yaacov possessed came from the merits of his grandfather and father, and from his study of Torah. This struggle then reminded him that he could meet his brother Esau despite his superior numbers.


Esav’s welcome was warm. R’ Shimon bar Yochai wrote that “it is well known that Esav hates Yaacov, but at that moment he was overcome with pity and kissed his brother with genuine feeling”. R’ Munk wrote that Yaacov’s prayer was fulfilled and Esav treated him with kindness and sympathy. There was fear on both sides for Esav realised the strength and wealth of Yaacov’s group and his sons’ preparedness to defend them. Esav asked the purpose of Yaacov’s gifts and he replied that he wished to gain favour in Esav’s eyes.  Esav said “let what you have remain yours”. Rashi interpreted this to mean that Esav was acknowledging Yaacov’s right to the blessings of Yitzchak.  Yaacov insisted that Esav accept his gifts, remembering the angel he had wrestled.


 Aviva Gottleib Zornberg wrote that Yaacov greeted the godliness in Esav and wished him more life. She wrote that this was a moment of equilibrium in which Esav was genuinely moved by Yaacov’s courage and generosity. Yaacov had an equivalent awareness of his brother’s power, and they both had the sense of being equal in the eyes of G-d. They then went their separate ways, Esav on more adventures, and Yaacov to settle with his family near Shechem. They were to meet next at their father’s funeral.      

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