Fear of spiritual harm

Why didn't Jacob try to avoid meeting his brother?

Danny Ginsbourg ,

Danny Ginsbourg
Danny Ginsbourg

Last week’s Parasha concluded with Yaakov Avinu being accorded a singular honor: the angels of Eretz Israel came towards him, to accompany him to the Land, whilst the angels of Chutz L’Aretz, which had accompanied him there, were still in attendance on him.

This week’s Parasha commences with the Passuk:(32:4)’Then Yaakov sent angels ahead of him to Esav his brother, in the Land of Seir, the field of Edom’.

Our Sages, from the juxtaposition of these two passages, say that the angels that Yaakov sent to Esav were the angels of Diaspora, Chutz L’Aretz.

The Alshich Hakadosh comments:’Seeing that the angels of Chutz L’Aretz remained, Yaakov said to himself: It must be that Hashem wants me to appease Esav over the brachot I took from him, and left these angels so that I send them to Esav, to appease him, and therefore ‘Yaakov sent angels to Esav’’.

The Torah relates that he sent these angels to Esav, and that (32:7):’They returned to Yaakov, saying: ’We came to your brother, to Esav; moreover, he is heading towards you, and four hundred men are with him; Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him’.

Rav Eliyahu Shlezinger wonders:’Why was Yaakov frightened, after the promise Hashem had made to him:(28:15)’Behold, I am with you; I will guard you wherever you go and I will return you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken about you’’.

Indeed, our Sages find fault with Yaakov making contact with Esav, referring to him ‘as getting involved בריב לא לו: in a fight which did not concern him, and in waking up a sleeping dog’:’Hashem said to him: he was going on his way, and you send messengers to him, saying I am your servant!’.

Rav Yosef Chaim Shneur Kotler wonders:’Why was this ‘a fight not concerning him’? The enmity of Esav to Yaakov was well-known, and he was waiting for an opportunity to kill Yaakov. How, then, could it be said that this was a fight which did not concern Yaakov?’

Answers the Rav:’Yaakov, in fulfillment of his destiny, for which he was commanded to leave the house of Laban, and return to the Land of Israel, should have been totally ‘oblivious’ to the existence of Esav; he should have been totally focussed on fulfilling his role, the consequence of which would be the fulfillment of Hashem’s promise, that רב יעביד צעיר: his older brother would serve him’.

‘He should therefore not have made any efforts whatsoever to meet Esav, which could only interrupt, and weaken, his fulfillment of his destiny. He should not have had any feelings of guilt, for receiving the blessings, but to know that the birthright was rightfully his, and therefore, to completely disregard Esav and his force.

‘By sending the angels to Esav, Yaakov gave the impression of still being ‘linked’ to him, and, in the eyes of our Sages, this was an ‘improper’ act’.

Rav Shlezinger provides a beautiful ‘justification’ for Yaakov Avinu’s fear.

He does not address the criticism that our Sages raised, perhaps relying on the Ramban’s observation:’ Yaakov’s route to his father’s home required him to travel through, or close to Edom, Esav’s home, and Yaakov was afraid that Esav might learn of his proximity; to preempt this, Yaakov sent the angels to Esav’.

Be that as it may, Rav Shlezinger asks: ‘Why did Yaakov send angels, and not human spies, who could better assess the might of Esav?’

He answers:’Yaakov was not afraid of battle, even against Esav; his fear was from the corrosive effect Esav might have on the spiritual level of Yaakov and his family.

‘Hashem’s promise would not- and could not - protect them against this, as ‘everything is in the hands of Heaven, except for יראת שמים: fear of Heaven.

‘The angels, being spiritual beings, were far better equipped to judge the level of spiritual danger posed, than human beings.

‘This is why Yaakov was so frightened by their report- especially when he heard that four hundred of Esav’s men - likely to be of the same moral character as Esav.

‘The Rashbam expands on the cause of Yaakov’s fear, arising from the angels’ report:’We came to your brother, Esav, and found that you have found favor in his eyes. And, in his joy at your approach, and his love of you, he is coming with four hundred of his men, to honor you’.’

‘Upon hearing of this intended honor, Yaakov did not believe that it was good tidings, but bad ones’, concludes the Rashbam.

‘The fear of the spiritual harm that closeness to Esav and his men, brought terror to Yaakov’s heart.

‘This was the meaning of Yaakov’s prayer:’Save me from the hand of my brother, of Esav’- save me from closeness to the he one who IS my brother, but is Esav; from the entity which, externally, is ‘my brother’, but at whose core, is ‘Esav’.’

We next read in our Parasha that, though the brothers did meet, and Esav used every endeavour to bring Yaakov closer to his venal world view, Yaakov remained steadfast to his faith, and rectitude, and managed, after only one day, to separate completely from Esav, and his influence’.

A parting insight from the Beit Halevi:’On hearing of the approach of Esav, Yaakov understood that he could not escape from one of two outcomes: Either that Esav was coming to fight him, OR that he was intent on sitting with him, as two loving brothers.

‘Both of these thoughts filled Yaakov with dread, but the order of his prayer to Hashem, makes clear which was his greater fear: First, ‘save me from the hand of my brother’, and second:’The hand of Esav’, my enemy.

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.