Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jacob vs Esau: the Anticlimax

As a bar mitzva boy, I wasn't thrilled with my Torah portion, in which Jacob finally comes face to face with Esau, whose blessings he stole many years ago. Instead of a mano-a-mano fight-to-the-finish showdown, the two brothers simply cry and kiss (Gen. 33:4). Not much of a climax.

But then, Jacob isn't much of a hero. At best he's a crafty conflict-avoider, and at worst a cheating coward. His life is a catch-me-if-you-can of deceiving and being deceived, culminating in his sons' heartbreaking lie that Joseph was dead. Here, in a rare case where Jacob actually faces his fears, he finds that they were mostly in his head. Esau is happy with his lot, and has long ago moved past birthrights and blessings. One senses that Jacob has been punishing himself with worry all these years.

At the end of his life, Jacob complains that his life has been short and difficult (47:9). One is left wondering what would have happened if Jacob had chosen a different route, perhaps not tricked his father into giving him the blessing. Was it worth it? What if he'd cooperated with Esau instead of competing with him? The lesson I like to take away from all this is that life is short and love is precious. Give people the benefit of the doubt, and when in doubt, communicate. After all, a lot of our headaches are only in our head.

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