This week’s reading is unusual because it begins not at the beginning of Chapter 37 but at verse 4:
Now Jacob sent messengers ahead of him
And it goes on to say:
he became very frightened and was distressed
What is the difference between fright and distress? The first is physical fear and the second is a self-analysis of what you may have done wrong. Jacob gets many things wrong: from the taking of Esau’s birthright, through the deceptions of Laban and later to his remaining silent after the abduction of Dinah. He reproaches his sons more for putting him in danger than for seeking retribution.
Jacob had sent angels ahead to assuage Esau but they came back with the warning that Esau was coming with an army. Jacob sends servants to offer gifts but after putting his family in a place of safety finds himself wrestling with an angel who will rename him Israel (it is curious that he never uses the name; until his death he is always referred to as Jacob).
Esau had gone away with many protestations of peace but still wanted to leave some of his own men with Jacob. At the end of the Sedra is the enumeration of Esau’s family. Is this to remind us that they will always be a part of our life or to define them as “the other”?
The Chinese philosopher Sun-Tzu wrote:
Words of peace but no treaty are a sign of a plot
Toward the end of his life, in front of Pharaoh, Jacob, admits:
The days of the years of my life have been few and miserable
We all make mistakes. Facing reality raises moral issues.
We all face the challenges of conflicting ideas, passions, desires and temperaments. Like Jacob, we are often left alone in our decision making and need to wrestle with ourselves. Perhaps we should see ourselves as God would see us. We are only human.