MeAm Lo'ez on Parashat VaYishlach
Yaakov Prepares to Meet Esav

32:4 Ya'akov sent messengers ahead of him to his brother 'Esav, toward the land of Seyr, to Edom's Field.

[Some People] read this entire chapter every Saturday night after Havdalah. This chapter has the spiritual power to cause its reader to be well-liked. When planning to travel by land or sea, reading this section is especially beneficial to protect one from his enemies. (Sh'ney Luchot HaB'rit)

This chapter also alludes to everything that is happening to us in our present exile. Everything that transpired between Ya'akov and 'Esav is reflected in the relationship between us and 'Esav's descendants.

This section teaches us that we must use three things in our relationship with 'Esav's children (the gentiles):

1. Prayer. We must pray to G-d to save us from our enemies.
2. Tribute. In order to stop them from denouncing us, we must pay tribute to them, just as Yaakov gave 'Esav.
3. Escape. We should try to escape from them and not be around them when they become angry. (Ramban; Bachya)

The Midrash relates that Rabbi Yehudah the Prince once traveled to Rome to meet with the Roman emperor [around 192 c.e.]. Before meeting with him, he read this account of Yaakov's encounter with 'Esav so as to learn how to approach a worldly leader. (Bereishit Rabbah; Ramban) Since our position is weak, we must use diplomacy, and not be aggressive. This chapter can supply one with many good lessons in dealing with the aristocracy.

After Yaakov left, Lavan summoned his seventeen-year-old son Be'or, (This was Balaam's father, see BaMidbar 22:5. The Zohar also makes this identification, zohar 1:166b, 3:192a; Zohar Chadash 54c, and this opinion is cited by the author. The Talmud, however, Sanhedrin 105b, states that Be'or was Lavan himself. Cf. Bereishit 36:32) and his cousin Avichoref, the son of Nachor's firstborn, Utz. (See Bereishit 22:21)

"You must have heard how Yaakov swindled me. He came to me naked and empty-handed. I was good enough to take him in and offer him hospitality. I honored him and gave him my two daughters and two slave girls as wives. On my account, he became extremely wealthy, acquiring gold, silver, slaves, and huge flocks. Once he was very wealthy, he duped me. I went to shear my sheep; and he, with all his family and possessions, fled to the land of Kenaan. Instead of letting me kiss my grandchildren good-by, he kidnapped them like prisoners of war. Not only that, but he also stole my household idols. He is presently camped on a mountain near the Yavvok River. You have the opportunity to attack him without warning and do as you wish to him. If you kill him, you will be doing me a favor."

When 'Esav read this letter, his anger toward Yaakov was rekindled. He started thinking again about how Yaakov had tricked him 34 years earlier by taking his blessing; and how he had previously acquired his birthright. He therefore assembled a troop of 400 men, 60 from his own household, and 340 warriors from the men of Seir. His army was divided into eight companies consisting of fifty men each. One of his lieutenants was his son Elifaz. 'Esav himself was in the middle of his army, giving orders like a general. Thus, he headed to meet Yaakov.

A number of 'Esav's acquaintances went to the land of Kenaan and told Rivkah of 'Esav's plans, advising her that Yaakov would need help. Rivkah sent 72 of her strongest servants, each one a trained soldier. With them, she sent the following message to Yaakov:

"My son, I have heard that 'Esav's grudge against you has been rekindled. He has recruited an army in order to kill you. My advice to you is to be nice to him and behave very humbly. Give him gifts to calm him down. If he asks you what you did since he last saw you, tell him everything. Do not omit even the slightest detail. Honor him; he is still your older brother."

According to another opinion, Yaakov knew nothing at all about the army that 'Esav had prepared to fight against him. His actions were the result of his own initiative. Yaakov realized that he would have to pass through Edom, which was 'Esav's home, since that was the only way back to Kenaan. He was afraid that 'Esav would attack him. He therefore took the initiative and tried to placate him.

Yaakov therefore sent a number of men to go ahead of him to 'Esav. They were to head toward Edom's Field in the land of Seir. Edom's Field was a city between Charan and the land of Kenaan.

[In Hebrew, the same word, malach denotes both a messenger and an angel. This is the word in our verse.]

Some say that the messengers that Yaakov sent to 'Esav were the angels that had been sent to him to accompany him to Kenaan. His men were terrified of 'Esav and refused to go; so he had no choice but to send angels.

Furthermore, G-d had sent Yaakov these angels for no apparent reason. Yaakov said to himself, "Providence is telling me that I must send these angels to 'Esav. He will be awestruck when he sees them."

Yaakov had to send these messengers because he knew that 'Esav's destiny was very great. Yaakov had to flatter him, to tell him he was considered a great king in the world. Although Esau was wicked, Yaakov had to honor him, because 'Esav was his older brother. Yaakov wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and be nice to him; after all, the two were brothers.

Yaakov said to himself, "I know that 'Esav showed great respect for Father. He never did anything to make Father angry. As long as my father is alive, I have nothing to fear from 'Esav. But this is a propitious time to placate him, so that he will not bear me a grudge later."

The Torah tells us that 'Esav lived in the land of Seir, in Edom's Field. This is to tell us what a spiteful person 'Esav was. He never wanted to forget what Yaakov had done to him. [Seir means goat.) 'Esav wanted to remind himself constantly that Yaakov had worn the skins of young goats so that his arms would seem hairy (seirot) when he tricked Yitzchak into blessing him. This would constantly remind him that Yaakov had stolen his blessing.

He named his city Edom's Field [Edom means red], the color of the stew for which Esau had sold his birthright (Bereishit 25:30). This was something else that he would never forget..

32:5,6 He gave them instructions, saying: This is what you must say to my lord Esau, "Your servant Jacob says, 'I have been staying with Laban, and have been delayed until now. I have acquired bulls, donkeys, sheep, servants and maids. I am sending malachim [messengers] to tell my lord, to gain favor in your eyes.".

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