"R' Yaakov bar Idi pointed out a contradiction between two
pesukim: One posuk reads, `And behold I am with
you and will guard you wherever you go' (Bereishis
28:15), but another posuk says, `Then Yaakov was
greatly afraid and was distressed' (Bereishis 32:8).
[R' Yaakov] answered: `[He was only afraid because he
thought,] Perhaps [his] sins would cause [his undoing]'
Rashi explains that Yaakov feared, even after Hashem's
promise, that perhaps he had sinned and therefore the Divine
promise would not be fulfilled.
This must be understood. Did Yaakov not hear that Hashem
explicitly assured his protection? Why should he be afraid?
We see, however, that sin has the power even to rescind
Divine commitments. That was Yaakov's great fear.
"I have dwelled with Lovon" (Bereishis 32:4) —
"and have fulfilled the 613 mitzvos" (Rashi, ibid.).
Yaakov is conscious of his superior cochos
hanefesh. When he was in Lovon's house not only did he
not learn from his wickedness, but he even elevated himself
daily to loftier spiritual levels. In Lovon's house he was
privileged to give birth to the shevotim — the
tribes of Israel.
Yet as significant as this was, it was nonetheless inadequate
to assure him that he was free from Divine criticism
afterward. "Who can comprehend errors?" (Tehillim
19:13). After leaving Lovon's house he was concerned that
perhaps according to his level he had not perfected himself
sufficiently — "Who can be justified before You when
judged?" (see Tehillim 143:2, Musaf Rosh Hashonoh).
Even when an explicit prophecy and promise have been given,
their fulfillment is still dependent upon Heavenly
considerations. Sin can tip the scale. Even a person as
righteous as Yaakov must fear that perhaps he has become
sullied by sin.
What must a person do? Is he helpless? No! The answer is
tefilloh. Yaakov pleaded to Hashem, "The Elokim
of my father Avrohom, and the Elokim of my father
Yitzchok . . . deliver me" (Bereishis 32:10,12).
Despite Yaakov's excessive fear, and although it was a time
of judgment when the attribute of strict judgment dominates,
tefilloh can tip the balance once again.
While Yaakov was in Lovon's house — despite his
terrible suffering, despite all the lies, deceit, and schemes
that surrounded him — Yaakov did not fear that the
Divine promise would not be fulfilled, for he was in the
midst of building Klal Yisroel. He cautiously examined
himself and concluded each time that he was acting properly.
He overcame the obstacles impeding his way and ascended step-
by-step in spiritual excellence. Klal Yisroel was
evolving and Yaakov beheld the promise as it was being
However, now that he was on the way to meet Eisov, he feared
that, "All these years he [Eisov] was living in Eretz
Yisroel. Perhaps he can attack me because of the strong merit
of his having been in Eretz Yisroel and, all these years,
having honored his parents" (Yalkut Vayishlach,
Eisov was also promised, "And it shall come to pass when you
shall break loose, that you shall shake his yoke from off
your neck" (Bereishis 27:40).
In addition, Yaakov feared that perhaps his zechuyos
had dwindled because of the abundant Heavenly kindness he had
seen — "I am not worthy of [lit., I have dwindled
because of] all the mercies, and of all the truth, which You
have shown Your servant" (Ibid., 32:11).
Then he was concerned that some imperfection could cancel the
Divine promise and Eisov would be able to defeat him. At the
present, Yaakov owed much to Hashem, and on the other hand,
Eisov had accumulated many zechuyos. Yaakov must find
a way to surmount this challenge.
We are not studying history or even reading stories of
tzaddikim in order to gain inspiration. The Torah is
coming to teach us vital principles for our own lives.
Although Hashem made promises to the holy Patriarchs and also
to us throughout the generations, we must remember that
nothing is guaranteed. We are always being judged as to
whether we are fitting or not. A person must be in continual
fear of the possibility of total loss, and must search for
ways to maneuver himself through the straits of life.
"He commanded them, saying: Thus shall you say to my lord
Eisov'" (Bereishis 32:5). "Rabbeinu said to R' Apas,
`Write a letter in my name to King Antoninus.' He went and
wrote, `From Yehuda the Nosi to King Antoninus.' [R' Yehuda
the Nosi] picked it up, read it, and tore it up. He said,
`Write, "From your servant Yehuda to the our lord, King
Antoninus." ' He said to him, `Rebbe, why are you disgracing
yourself?' R' Yehuda the Nosi said to him, `Am I better than
my grandfather? Did he not say, "Thus shall you say to my
lord Eisov"?' " (Bereishis Rabbah 75:5).
Rebbe had an ongoing relationship with Antoninus Caesar, who
even came to study with Rebbe and considered himself Rebbe's
student. Nonetheless, when he needed to write Antoninus a
letter he was careful about every word. Even though R' Apas,
the scribe, was not just anybody, Rebbe did not rely on him
and looked over his letter. Indeed, he found a problem: The
letter did not express enough humility towards the king. R'
Yehuda ripped it up. R' Apas wanted to understand R' Yehuda.
Although one must honor the king, why does Rebbe have to
write "from your servant"? Rebbe was the Nosi
of Yisroel and must preserve his own honor. Rebbe answered
him that Yaakov Ovinu taught him differently.
When Yaakov declared Eisov to be the king, it was not just a
one-time tactic, but also guidance for later generations on
how to act with Eisov. "It is a halocho that Eisov
hates Yaakov." This is the reality, even when it seems that
Eisov is Yaakov's friend. We will be able to act differently
only when "saviors ascend Mount Zion to judge Eisov's
mountain, and the kingdom will be Hashem's" (Ovadiah
1:21). When that happens they will be obedient to us, but as
long as we do not have the privilege of seeing that happen,
we must act submissively towards Eisov.
Moreover, Eisov has a special power. He is our watchdog
— "And it shall come to pass when you shall break
loose, that you shall shake his yoke from off your neck." Our
mission is to contend with Eisov, to assure that our control
over Eisov will be only according to our needs, so as to
bring the desired benefit. We must make efforts to insure
that we will not be harmed by any meeting with Eisov and
will, on the contrary, emerge strengthened. Yaakov Ovinu
especially directed us in how to accomplish this, through his
meeting with Eisov.
"He armed [his men] underneath their clothing, then dressed
them outwardly [in ordinary clothes], and prepared himself
for three things. For giving a present — `So the
present passed over before him' (32:22). For war — `If
Eisov should come to the one camp' (v. 9). For
tefilloh — `The Elokim of my father
Avrohom, and the Elokim of my father Yitzchok . . .
deliver me.' (Yalkut, ibid.).
Every detail of what Yaakov did needs to be studied and
reviewed. Chazal teach that although he prepared for the
possibility of war, he hid the weapons: `He armed them
underneath their clothing.' Before waging war other tactics
First comes tefilloh. A person must always fear that
there is some possibility that he has sinned. One cannot move
at all without tefilloh. "The elite of the Ovos
was Yaakov, as is written: `For Hashem chose Yaakov to be
His' (Tehillim 135:4). HaKodosh Boruch Hu said
to him, `Behold, I am with you' (Bereishis 28:15), but
he was afraid at the end — `Then Yaakov was greatly
"Yisroel would have deserved to be destroyed in the time of
Haman if they had not relied on their Elder's attitude. They
said, `If our father Yaakov, to whom HaKodosh Boruch
Hu had promised, was still frightened, we should
certainly be frightened'" (Ibid.). What Yaakov did
because he had a minute apprehension of sin helped his
offspring when they truly deserved to be given over to Eisov.
The path Yaakov paved during his struggle with Eisov helped
his children, because they learned from his ways. They were
stimulated to pray and to beseech Hashem, something that
should always be done.
"`To his brother Eisov' (32:4). Perhaps you will say that
Eisov acted like a stranger to him. The Torah teaches us that
he acted like `his brother,' but nonetheless Yaakov had to
send messengers before him. Surely, therefore, someone who
has a feud with a non-Jew should exert himself not to provoke
him. `And he commanded them, saying' (v. 5) — for all
generations, [warning us] that we should not stand,
unyielding, against the wave, since anyone who stands
unyielding against the wave is drenched by the wave. But
everyone who bends before the wave is passed over by it"
Even after tefilloh, a person still needs to know how
to act, how to speak. Chazal tell us that the way to act is
by being subservient to Eisov and bending before him. One who
tries to be stubborn is drenched. Only when one bends down
does the wave pass over his head. Afterwards a person can
stand up, continue, and wait for the next wave.
How should we talk to Eisov? "What did he do? He immediately
sent him a present, so as to influence him" (Bereishis
Rabbah 75:13). The language to use when speaking with
Eisov is money. Their life centers around the desire for
money — and not only for a small present. "He put a
space between each drove" (v. 17) — he will be
satisfied when it is a large present. His desire must be
And presents are not enough. He must be honored, and as much
as possible: "And he himself passed over before them and
bowed himself to the ground seven times until he came near to
his brother" (33:3). An entire ceremony showing extreme honor
and deference to Eisov — Yaakov and his whole family
bowed before Eisov.
Chazal write, "Chas vesholom, let no one say that
Yaakov bowed to Eisov. Actually the Shechinah appeared
to them — And He (meaning Hashem, according to the
Zohar) passed over before them" (Zohar
Vayishlach 171). The gesture of bowing was necessary for
Eisov, and for this the Shechinah appeared so that
Eisov would think that they were bowing to him while really
they were bowing to the Shechinah. We must be humble
even to such an extent!
An abundance of money is insufficient. Satisfying Eisov's
desires is not enough. The extravagant honor of being called
"my lord" seven times is still inadequate. Eisov must be
bowed down to by everyone. The sword must remain hidden as
long as possible. Every possible scheme must be used to
prevent its use.
The meeting between Yaakov and Eisov is the central issue
facing Klal Yisroel until Moshiach comes. Yaakov
showed us the way and laid the foundations. Whenever we are
faced with this problem we must act according to the rules he
The first thing is tefilloh. We must believe in
Hashem's power to help, and we must feel we have nothing to
rely upon except tefilloh. Perhaps even all the Divine
promises given to us have been annulled because of our sins.
By crying out to Hashem, "Deliver us!" we can accomplish what
we wish and awaken Divine mercy so that we will be privileged
to pass peacefully through any distress.
Rebbe used to study and review the episode of Yaakov and
Eisov before dealing with the gentiles, and he would make
sure to act exactly according to each detail of the story,
even during a meeting where there was no apparent
problem. Surely during a crisis we must study the
same episode and look for a present to send Eisov, whether it
is money or honor. We must do anything that will help cause
the enemy to keep his sword sheathed — even when we can
We always need to suspect that some personal interest is
preventing us from bowing before Eisov. Chazal teach us the
way to act, and that is the way we must act. It is the only
hope we have. As long as Moshiach has not come, we cannot
take Eisov's strength away from him. We can only handle him
in the way that Chazal have taught us.
It should be remembered that the only power Eisov has is that
he can force us to bow our heads. More than that he is
powerless to do; he has no permission to harm us. It is only
a wave that passes over us and if we bend our heads we will
not be harmed. Only when we try to hold our heads high can
the wave drench us. Only we can hand the sword over to Eisov,
and as long as we do not give it to him he can only force us
to bend once or twice — no more.
When we do what we are obliged to do, when we act humbly and
bend our heads before the wave and mind our own business,
Eisov can surely not hurt us at all. If we learn the correct
lesson from this wave, then no other wave will come and we
will be able to raise ourselves up and continue.
Let us strengthen ourselves in tefilloh and pray for
Heavenly assistance. We should do what we are obliged to do
and in that way we will pass safely through all the waves,
and the days of the Moshiach Tzidkeinu will come speedily, in
R' Meir Chodosh, zt'l was Mashgiach of Yeshivas Hebron,
Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel, and Or Elchonon.