If Yaakov had been American...

Had he been an American Jew, how would Yaakov have reacted to hearing that Esau is on his way with 400 men?

Daniel Pinner ,

Army boots
Army boots

About to return home from his 21-year exile, Ya’akov sent מַלְאָכִים – maybe human emissaries (per Radak), maybe angels (per Rashi and Midrash Tanhuma, Shoftim 19) who briefed him that his brother Eisav was coming towards him with a veritable army of 400 men (Genesis 32:4-7).

And what was Ya’akov’s authentic Jewish American response?

– He realised that this is not the time to make Aliyah. Obviously he was premature, it is forbidden to hasten the redemption.

He understood that – as so many Rebbes in America today teach – there’s no mitzvah to make Aliyah in a time of war. He would have to fight, his children would have to fight, their children after them would have to fight, and that’s no way to live a Jewish life.

When there’s peace, then we can talk again. But until then, better, far better, to return to Paddan Aram where he and his family could live in peace.

Also, after all, he had become wealthy in Paddan Aram. No need to jeopardise his standard of living by making Aliyah. He had no guarantee of parnassah (income) in Canaan; not like he did back in Paddan Aram.

Maybe when he’d retire, he could think of Aliyah again. But in the meantime, it’s forbidden to rely upon miracles, he must live in a country where he knows how to work for a living.

And what of his father-in-law? How could he force his wives to abandon their aging father in his latter years?

And what of his children? Eleven sons and a daughter, and a twelfth son yet to be born – it was surely unfair on them to force them to leave their known and familiar home and surroundings, and relocate to a foreign country in which they’d have to learn a new language and make new friends.

And the new neighbours they’d have in Canaan certainly wouldn’t be a good influence on his children. Idolaters all, most of them violent, unpredictable, there was a reason, wasn’t there, that all the Patriarchs insisted on their sons marrying girls from outside of Canaan.

So better live in Paddan Aram, far from the spiritually harmful influences of the denizens of Canaan.

And anyway, in Paddan Aram he could live a full and satisfying Jewish life, keep all the mitzvot, and even teach the locals about the One G-d. He could do tremendous good by combatting polytheistic idolatry in Paddan Aram; he didn’t need to be in Canaan to do that.

And maybe he could actually do more for Canaan from Paddan Aram than he could inside Canaan itself. After all, living in Canaan he’s be just one G-d-fearing Hebrew among all the idolaters – who’d listen to him? What changes could he possibly make?

Whereas in Paddan Aram, he could use his wealth and influence for the benefit of Canaan, for the future generations of Jews who would one day go there.

And who was ruling Canaan? Eisav, Yishma’el, disgusting characters like Chamor the prince of Shechem. Who could possibly want to live under such an evil anti-Torah government?

Whereas in Paddan Aram, Ya’akov and his family were free to worship Hashem as they saw fit.

Sure, Ya’akov and his family loved the land of Canaan. But that didn’t mean they’d have to live there. Alright, maybe one day, when Mashiach comes, they’d make Aliyah.

But in the meantime, there’s no obligation to live in Canaan. Particularly not when making Aliyah would perforce necessitate fighting in wars.

Let Mashiach make the Land of Canaan free and peaceful, let Mashiach institute a proper Torah-government, and then will be the time for Aliyah.

And so, in accordance with the teachings of so many Rabbis in contemporary America (and Canada, Britain, France…you fill in whichever other country you care to), Ya’akov went back to Paddan Aram…

Except that he didn’t. For some inexplicable reason, our father Ya’akov didn’t hold by modern American Rabbis.

As various Midrashim (such as Kohelet Rabbah 9:1 [18] and Tanhuma Yashan, Vayishlach 6) note, Ya’akov prepared himself for his impending encounter with Eisav in three ways.

First, he prayed to G-d:

“O G-d…, Hashem Who said to me ‘Return to your Land and to your birthplace and I will benefit you’ – I haven’t deserved all the loving-kindnesses…which You bestowed upon Your servant…Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Eisav, because I am frightened of him” (Genesis 32:10-13).

Second, he sent lavish gifts in hope of appeasing his brother Eisav (Genesis 32:14-22).

And third, he prepared to stand his ground and do battle and defeat his brother Eisav in war (Genesis 23:8-9, 33:1-3).

What he most emphatically did not do was to surrender, to give way to despair, or to abandon his quest for the Holy Land.

He knew perfectly well the physical dangers, the temporal threats, and the spiritual obstacles that he, his family, and his descendants would face and would have to overcome in their Homeland.

But that was precisely the point: they would face and overcome all those physical dangers, temporal threats, and spiritual obstacles – in their Homeland.

Yes they could have avoided them all by going back to Paddan Aram. But they could also obey the will of G-d and build Jewish future by building their national lives in the Land which Hashem had promised them.

Just as his descendants today can avoid all kinds of issues by staying in America.

And they can also obey the will of G-d and build Jewish future by building their national lives in the Land which Hashem had promised them.

Daniel Pinner is a veteran immigrant from England, a teacher by profession and a Torah scholar who has been active in causes promoting Eretz Israel and Torat Israel.