Friday Voices: Parashat Vayishlach



by Rabbi Robert A. Jacobs

Life’s experiences can give us energy: a friend walking her dachshund was angered when two larger dogs attacked the little fellow, biting him seriously. The dog bears scars but healed, and that allowed the two owners to move from that misfortune to a mutual understanding. Life’s experiences promise us change, and in Parashat Vayishlach , we read of spiritual experiences that transform lives.

Transformation in South Africa addresses the enormous social change following the decades of discrimination before and while Apartheid was law. Sisterhood in South Africa has spent 80 years opposing the ill-treatment of others, and continues its task of helping others overcome adversity and resulting rancor.

The weekly parashah, Vayishlach, opens with Jacob preparing for reentry into the Promised Land after his 20 productive years in Haran. He left with the clothes on his back and returns with wives, concubines, children, herds, and flocks large enough for him to send a vanguard ahead to his estranged twin brother, Esau.

At this time of year, many are busy giving to others. Honoring parents and grandparents with tea and a concert by the Wits Choir (University of the Witwatersrand) and an accordion-playing grandmother in the community marked the 3rd Mitzvah Day organized by Bet David’s Kehillah, which involved sisterhood and friends working together. End-ofthe–year parties at the primary school and feeding initiatives for several hundred deprived youngsters will be catered by Kehillah with treats, small gifts, and other items.

Jacob sent his gifts to earn favor with Esau. Torah sees them as having struggled from the beginning during their months in Rachel’s womb. Esau’s response to the vanguard—embracing and welcoming Jacob—allows him to accept the great gift that his brother offers and the two reunite once more in the text, at the end of the weekly parashah, to bury Isaac.

Too often in life, disagreements become a fixed idea and lead to long-term separations. South African Jews call those disagreements feribles—just like American Jews would say, broigas (or in Heberew, b’rogez, meaning in anger). That anger is a natural result of life’s bruises, like Jacob’s taking of the birthright and blessing from his twin. Esau nevertheless returns with the feast he has prepared for Isaac despite the disappointment of having been outwitted by the whole family.

Torah also tells that Esau succeeded and Jacob did not have a completely easy path. As they matured and prospered, their understanding shifted from their previous disagreement as their sibling rivalry could only have served to alienate them from one another. Such anger is often not contained in a single relationship; its bitterness and ambiguity spills over to other important areas of our lives.

Perhaps you can see elements of your life in this story and learn from it that we succeed through acts of forgiveness and generosity by moving past anger and into embraces.

Rabbi Robert A. Jacobs is from Bet David Progressive Synagogue in Sandton, South Africa.

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