Vayishlach – Close encounters

4 Jacob sent messengers ahead to Esau his brother, in the land of Seir – the territory of Edom. … 7 The messengers returned to Jacob saying: We came to your brother, Esau, and came out to us and four hundred men were with him. 8 Jacob was terrible afraid, he was anxious …

Genesis 32

Jacob and Esau were brothers but not friends. They had grown into more calculating and cautious versions of their former selves. They weren’t close in childhood and had spent many years apart. How could they overcome trepidation before renewed familial encounters?

12 Save me please from the hand of my brother Esau, because I am afraid of him in case he will come out and strike me, mothers with all offspring.

Genesis 32

Should Jacob, who truly feared his brother, have put on a fiercer face? Should Esau have come alone without bringing 400 men with him? Should they have shied away from even meeting with one another? There is no record of pleasant memories to alleviate the animosity between them. Conflict over birthright and strife related to blessings would always remain open wounds.

1 Jacob looked up, he saw that Esau was coming and with him were 400 men; he divided his offspring, those of Leah, those of Rachel and those of the maids. 2 He put the maids and their children first, and Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph last. 3 And he passed in from of them; he bowed down to the earth seven times until his brother went up to him.

Genesis 33

Face to face can be so disconcerting and yet sometimes it cannot be avoided. Where do you hide when the encounter is upon you?

1 Esau ran towards him, he hugged him, his head fell on his shoulder and he kissed him; they wept together.

How did they feel standing in front of one another and their entourages? Was that meeting really sincere and honest? Did they shed tears in the same spirit? Was there any sincere tie to bind them? Were they strangers then as before? Did discretion prevent any real contact or resolution of their stormy past? Were they fated to play hide-and-seek with one another forever?

16 That day Esau returned to his road to Seir. 17 Jacob traveled to on to Succoth …

Genesis 33

No communications were recorded after that tearful meeting. No prayer of thanksgiving was recited by Jacob; he just moved his family on. Esau returned to the land he inhabited without speaking. They would not meet until the funeral of their father, yet another silence resounds through history between these brothers.

Sometimes siblings free us and at other times they tie us to lives we thought we had left behind, done and buried in time. Slowly the old ties would become part of the past; the connections would dim and fade into the sands of time that span the distances. Would that all siblings could embrace tearfully in joy and harmony, but maybe lives lived separately and at a distance are healthier.

Ties that bind

Midrash Harabah and English translations by Rabbi Gail Shuster-Bouskila ©2021