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Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5771
Parashat Hashavuah: The Demands of IndependenceHarav Yosef Carmel
Last week’s parasha ends with Yaakov asserting his independence from Lavan, with the assistance of Hashem who forbade Lavan from imposing his will on Yaakov. Yaakov emerges as the leader of a fledgling nation, able to negotiate, make treaties, and set international boundaries.
In this week’s parasha, Yaakov continues the trend, sending a diplomatic team to his brother, Eisav. This too was for negotiations between national leaders about whom it had been prophesied to their then pregnant mother: “Two nations are in your abdomen and two nations will separate from your innards” (Bereishit 25:23). Yaakov made a mistake, though. He initiated the contact by referring to Eisav as his master and himself as Eisav’s servant (ibid. 32: 5-6).The fact that he did not cling to the status of a master in his own right is responsible for his need to deal with the frightening news that Eisav was on the way with 400 warriors.
Yaakov prepared himself for the encounter in three ways: with a gift, prayer, and preparations for war. While the first two are active responses to help achieve a positive outcome, the third one was done with a defeatist attitude. As he says, “If Eisav will come to the first camp and smite it, the remaining one will be survivors” (ibid.:9). Despite Rashi’s explanation, the simple reading is that if one group would be attacked first, the second group would flee.
The descriptions of fear that open and close this section are not what we expect of a leader who is charged with maintaining the independence that he earned with Hashem’s help, and Chazal take Yaakov to task. One statement points out that Yaakov, who saw a dream with angels going up and down and Hashem standing above him, should not refer to Eisav as his master. Another says that the younger who was told that “the older will serve the younger” (ibid. 25:23) and yet called Eisav the master deserved for the latter status to become reality (Midrash Yelamdeinu, Bereishit 144).
Hashem did not allow Yaakov to remain unwilling to fight. He encountered a “man,” who was actually the angel of Eisav, prompting Yaakov to wrestle him until the morning and pay the price of an injury to his leg. Finally, the angel announced the change of his name to Yisrael, representing his ability to act with success and decisiveness against angels and people (Bereishit 25:29). Yet this good news was relayed by an angel. The process of Yaakov’s maturation as a leader was not complete until he proved himself against the inhabitants of the Land. After the encounter with Shechem, which appears explicitly in the text but is expounded upon by Chazal to include Yaakov’s bravery, we are told: “The fear of Hashem was upon the neighboring cities and they did not chase after the sons of Yaakov” (ibid. 35:5). Only at that point did Hashem appear to Yaakov Himself and officially change his name and inform him that that he would be the father of a royal nation (ibid. 10-11).
One who acts like a servant cannot be the father of kings.
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