“And he took from what he had with him a present to Esav his brother … and Esav ran toward him and embraced him … and kissed him …” (Bereshit 32:14; 33:4)
The great confrontation between Yaakov and Esav was about to take place.
In preparation for this encounter, Yaakov sought to appease Esav and to appeal to Esav’s vanity — all with the hope of avoiding unnecessary bloodshed. Additionally, Yaakov beseeched Hashem for Divine mercy and if all else failed, Yaakov readied his camp for battle.
The Torah relates that Yaakov sent magnanimous gifts consisting of goats, ewes, rams, camels, cows, bulls and donkeys to his brother Esav and that Yaakov further instructed his messengers to leave ample space between each herd in order to magnify the size of the gift even more. They were further directed to say when they reached Esav that these gifts came from “your servant Yaakov” and were a present for “my master Esav.”
When the brotherly reunion occurred, Esav ran toward Yaakov, embraced him and threw himself on Yaakov’s shoulders, “vayishakehu,” and kissed him. Both Yaakov and Esav wept.
Thus it would seem that Yaakov’s strategy succeeded in transforming Esav into an altogether different person. But is appeasement the preferred path to take? Haven’t we learned from history that this approach is fraught with danger and often with disastrous results? Why then was Yaakov prepared to capitulate to Esav and basically hand over much of his hard-earned possessions?
On closer observation, it becomes clear that Yaakov did not yield any of his convictions or change the mode of his life in order to ingratiate himself in the eyes of Esav. This thought is stressed in Rashi’s comment on the phrase min haba beyado, “from what had come into his hand.” He states that it refers “to the precious stones and pearls which a person binds in a bundle and then carries them in his hand.” Another interpretation is that he gave him min hachulin, of the “profane and unconsecrated things.” Yaakov did not hesitate to give money, jewels and cattle as a price for the goodwill of Esav. He parted with things that pass from hand to hand, items that we may possess one day but easily part with on the next. Yaakov in effect said, “take my sheep and my camels or for that matter my jewels and my precious stones. They are profane items that can be replaced. But my heart, my neshama and my faith are sacred to me and I will never part with them.”
The patriarch left this legacy to his children. He instructed the bearer of the gifts, “When Esav my brother should meet you, and ask you saying: who are you and where are you going and for whom are these before you? Then you shall say: they belong to your servant Yaakov. It is a present sent to my lord Esav.”
I see in Yaakov’s words an instruction to future generations. If the Esavs of history confront you and ask, “to whom do you belong, what is your destination and to whom do all these things belong?” Your answer should be mincha hee sheluchah le ‘esav. It is a gift sent to Esav. Even though we worked hard for it and earned it honestly, we are willing to give it to you if that will satisfy the demands you make upon us. But as far as the question, to whom do we belong and what is our goal in life, we wish to make very clear that we — our hearts and our souls — are unwavering and our sole purpose is to serve Hashem, live by the tenants of our Torah and to always be proud Jews.
This legacy was not limited to one generation. “And so he commanded also the second, also the third, also all the droves that followed.” In other words, Yaakov ordered every succeeding generation of his descendants to emulate this example. We owe it to ourselves never to yield or compromise on who we are. Our strength vitality and indeed our destiny depend on it. JN
Rabbi Harris Cooperman is director of development at Phoenix Hebrew Academy.