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(On hearing that Esau was on his way with a company of four hundred men, Jacob prayed) 'Save me from my brother, from Esau' (32:14).
The Siftei Hahamim writes that Jacob did not have to introduce Esau as his brother when praying to G-d. In praying for safety from Esau, whom his mother had some twenty years previously described him as plotting to kill him (27:42), he exclaimed: 'Save me from my brother, for Esau'. Indeed, Rashi explains this to mean that he wanted G-d to protect him from Esau the Wicked. who does not behave as a brother should.
However, the words 'from my brother, from Esau' could be alluding to two very different possibilities - each with very different concerns.
One possibility was 'from Esau' - the same Esau that Jacob had to leave home in a hurry, in fear of his life. His coming-up with four hundred men to meet Jacob had sinister implications. Jacob sought to combat them in three different ways: in prayer, in dividing his camp in preparation for war, and in sending an advance slice of his considerable wealth in the hope of calming his wrath.
The other possibility may have been a very different one - from 'my brother'. Maybe Esau's intentions were quite different. His coming with four hundred men was not to attack Jacob, but indeed literally to 'meet him' (32:7) and reunite the family. That Esau was accompanied by so many people was the reality of his status and his influence. Just like Jacob.
Jacob feared the second eventuality for a different reason. The situation might be compared to two trains that leave Tel Aviv - one for Jerusalem and the other for Nahariya. When they depart, they are together, but with each additional minute, they are further and further apart. And when they get to their destinations, they are so distant from each other that it appears as though they had never been together.
Such was the issue of Jacob and Esau. Jacob suffered his trials and tribulations with Laban, and was in contact with G-d - direct. Esau spent those years with Ishmael and went on to possess the area of Seir (the area to the north and east of modern-day Eilat). The reality was that with the passing of twenty years, neither would be good for each other on a long term basis. Their ways of life were so different that restoring personal involvement would not fit - indeed would undermine - Jacob's life goals.
So praying to be saved 'from Esau' referred to the eventuality that he would prove hostile. And praying to be saved from 'my brother' referred to the eventuality that he would prove eager to initiate a positive brotherly relationship. Both deeply troubled Jacob.
And on actually meeting Esau, the issue proved to be the latter. After Jacob pressed Esau to accept his gift, Esau proposed that they travel together. Jacob tactfully succeeded to evade the issue by excusing the slow pace of his children and his flocks, with the ruse that he would catch up in due course. Esau accepted the excuse - G-d indeed had answered Jacob's prayer (33:14-16. And later on, he changed his plans because 'the land had insufficient pasture to sustain their vast wealth in cattle accumulated in pastoral nomadism (c.f. 36:7).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
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