Vayishlach, universalism and the non-Jewish world
Understanding Yaakov and Eisav is not so easy. In the text we have precious little information regarding the relationship of Yaakov and Eisav. For all the stories that revolve around them and the stories that medrashim give us, we have only two dialogs between the brothers. One, the selling of the bechorah and two the reconciliation in parshat Vayishlach.
In the reconciliation story, after Eisav accepts Yaakovs gift and things seem settled he makes Yaakov an offer. “Let us travel forth from here together” says Eisav. Yaakov responds that he can't travel quite as fast due to his children and flocks of sheep and tells Eisav that he will go at the pace dictated by his family but will catch up with him down the road in Sei'r. Eisav offers the services of his men, Yaakov politely refuses and Eisav moves on.
So Eisav really tried and tried to work with Yaakov. What was the issue? Why did Yaakov turn him down?
R' Aaron Leibowitz mentioned to me the Zohar's comments on this story and they are indeed worth sharing. The Zohar (172a) on these verses writes that this discussion has a subtext of world history. (The following is a paraphrase of the Zohar:)
Eisav (the nation of
What needs? These children and flocks are the mission of Yisroel in this world. The children are the people who do the job and the nation's continuity. The flocks of sheep are the work to be done. Yaakov has different priorities than his brother. He looks at this world and sees he has a job to do and must move at a pace appropriate for that job.
Yaakov tells Eisav that in the future they will meet up. The Zohar notes the place (Sei'r) and reminds us of the posuk in Ovadiyah (1:21) “Volu moshiim b'Har Tzion lshpot et Har Eisav – Vhayah la'Hashem hamelucha”. Har Eisav is Har Sei'r, his inheritance. This is a prophetic reference to the end of days when we can be together - Yisroel and Eisav.
The Zohar offers us here our response to the world around us. The world offers us assimilation and wants us to join forces with them. It's a good idea and there is a time and place for it but not yet. For now we go at our own pace with our own values. For now, as Jews, we still have work to do.
So that was the vort that I shared two years ago at Shir Chadash. I'm glad I am able to share it with you here as well. This blog is a wonderful little outlet for all my different sides. Thank you for listening. Whoever you are.