Let’s Talk About It
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week’s parsha, Vayishlach, describes the reunion of Yaakov with his brother Eisav. This took place twenty years after Yaakov had left home to escape the wrath of his sibling. Much had happened in the meantime. Yaakov had married two sisters and with them and their handmaidens had sired twelve sons and a daughter. He had worked hard tending the sheep of his father in law, Lavan, and with Hashem’s help had amassed great wealth. Now he was returning to his father’s home and knew he would encounter Eisav along the way. The inevitable confrontation he had so long avoided could no longer be put off. He had no way of knowing what was in Eisav’s heart, whether he had long since dropped his grievances against him or still nurtured a need for revenge. Yaakov decided to send a delegation to Eisav in order to ascertain his state of mind. The messengers were instructed to communicate Yaakov’s intense desire to find favor and have a reunion with his older brother.
The Torah does not recount the meeting of this group with Eisav. The verse says that they returned to Yaakov and said, “we have come to your brother Eisav, and also he is headed for you and four hundred men are with him.” Upon hearing this report Yaakov was extremely fearful and distressed and prepared for the worst with a three pronged strategy of prayer, diplomacy, and, if need be, warfare. The question arises, what was it in the report of the messengers that so frightened Yaakov? Wouldn’t it be important to know how Eisav treated them and what he said in response to their words? Yet, the Torah omits any information on what took place in this crucial meeting. There is a big gap in their report between the words, “we came to him” and “also he is coming toward you with four hundred men.” Why don’t they tell Yaakov the details of what transpired in their meeting?
The great commentator, Nachmanides, takes up this issue. He suggests that the Torah does not record the meeting of Eisav and the messengers simply because it never took place. According to this understanding the delegation arrived at the camp of Eisav and sought a meeting but were refused. Thus their report to Yaakov was that we came to him, but he wouldn’t even receive us and also he goes forth to meet you with four hundred men. We can now understand Yaakov’s fearful reaction. Eisav’s refusal to meet and his advance toward him with such a large force could only mean that he had not forgotten the “offense” of Yaakov nor had let go of his anger. Indeed, the most telling indication of Eisav’s unabated hatred was his refusal to meet and talk. This is the way of the wicked who keep their anger within and are unwilling to even express themselves. This story contains a significant lesson for our lives. We all are subject to powerful feelings of anger and hatred when we believe that we have been deeply offended. The test of one’s virtue is how he reacts when these emotions have been aroused. The Torah prohibits us from harboring hatred in our hearts. Rather, no matter how convinced we are of the legitimacy of our feelings we are obligated to confront our “enemy” and be willing to talk things out. If this is too difficult then, at the very least, we should express how we feel to someone we trust who is neutral and can help us work through our emotions and gain some useful perspective. Experiencing the passions of anger and hatred is not a sin as we are all human. Making the decision to store it in one’s heart and not even talk about it is a major transgression. True holiness consists in the recognition that no matter how powerfully we feel we are bound to listen to reason and follow the dictates of wisdom.