By Annette McCann
This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), focuses on Jacob in the days leading up to his reunion with his older, twin brother Esau. Jacob has returned home to Canaan after 22 years of living in exile with his uncle, Laban. He has acquired great fortune—wives, children, property—but coming back to the land of his forebears means Jacob must confront his past. He has no way to know whether Esau’s anger and desire for revenge have subsided or whether Esau still wants to kill Jacob for deceiving their father, Isaac, into giving him Esau’s birthright and blessing.
At first, Jacob sends messengers bearing gifts to Esau, hoping to smooth over his deceit; he believes the magnitude of his sibling rift is too grand and opts to protect his assets in preparation for a violent confrontation. He forges across the Jabbok River with his family and possessions, but for some reason, Jacob returns to the other side alone. There, in solitude, he wrestles with an unnamed, yet assumed divine, being until the break of dawn.
This encounter forever changes Jacob—he carries a limp and assumes the name “Israel” or “one who struggles with God.” It also addresses the long-ignored scars of his past that ultimately alter Jacob’s view of reconciliation. Esau is no longer an adversary—he’s a brother and fellow traveler—and only now is Jacob ready to face him.
As we reflect on the story of Jacob and Esau’s rivalry and forthcoming reunion, it’s important to pause and take stock of our own personal relationships. Are they where we want them to be? Do we have “enemies” in our lives?
Although my younger sister and I remain close to this day, over the years, we each have said things and acted in ways that caused a rift, a fight—and required time apart to mend our hurt feelings. Luckily, though, we always have managed to find our way back to one another.
Life, especially as we continue to experience the catastrophic effects of a deadly pandemic, sadly, reminds us all too frequently that it is short and should be cherished. We unfortunately never know when an unexpected turn may take a sibling, friend, parent, colleague or acquaintance—who may have “done us wrong” at one time.
Esau and Jacob’s evolution shows us that the potential for spiritual growth exists within each of us. No doubt, we all have long lists of things we mean to do “someday,” under what we think will be more favorable circumstances. Reconciliation doesn’t come without risk or sacrifice, but through it, we can emerge with newfound peace and blessings from places and people we may least expect to provide them.
Let today be the day we forgive, forgoing a little more for others, to do something worthy we have long postponed.