Jewish students studying Torah in Yeshivat Hesder, a program which combines advanced Talmudic studies with military service in the Israeli army. (Shutterstock) (Shutterstock)

The hand of friendship can make it very easy to forget that we stood at Sinai and are bound to God by an eternal covenant.

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

This week’s Torah portion is “Vayishlach” (Genesis 32:4-36:43), and it is the longest Torah portion in the book of Genesis. In it, we read about the reconciliation meeting between Jacob and Esau (after the really cool episode of Jacob’s wrestling match with an angel). Let’s see what we can learn from the meeting between Jacob and Esau.

In advance of the meeting with Esau, Jacob prays to God: “Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau….”. The commentators note that there are two oddities in this verse. The first oddity is that the verse specifies “my brother” and also “Esau.” This is redundant if not outright strange, considering that Jacob only had one brother! If the verse had just said “my brother” we would know it was referring to Esau. So why does Jacob use a double emphasis when mentioning Esau. So too, why is “the hand” repeated twice?

It is explained that Jacob was teaching us a lesson in Jewish survival. Our enemies, the Esaus of the world, will always try to attack us by means of a two-pronged approach. They have the “my brother” approach in which they come across as friends seeking to destroy us by assimilation and intermarriage (which is also an explicit theme in this week’s Torah portion vis-a-vis Mr. Shechem and the rape of Dina…check it out!). But there are also times when our enemies attack us with “the hand” – crusades, pogroms, inquisitions, holocausts, and terrorism.

And there’s more. Somewhat shockingly, Esau greets Jacob with a kiss! But not any kiss. The word “kiss” in the Torah has dots above it, a rarity in the Torah text. When such dots appear they are said to reveal a hidden message. Our sages teach us that the hidden message here was that the kiss was actually an attempt to bite-off-his-neck kiss! He tried to kill Jacob! The Midrash tells us that Jacob’s neck was miraculously turned into a pillar of marble, thereby saving his life. Hence, to onlookers, it appears as a warm kiss and embrace but really the motives are sinister.

The encounter of Jacob and Esau is meant to teach us that both “Esau” and his “hand” are equally dangerous. Both are bad. Intermarriage and assimilation are the spiritual deaths while the terrorism and the like are the physical deaths. We want nothing, no association whatsoever from the Esaus of the world. We must always be on the lookout. We must take precautions. We want peace and a good social relationship with all around us. But friendship must have its limits to ensure that the Jewish people continue and are able to fulfil the mitzvot of the Torah without any Esau distractions.

The hand of friendship can make it very easy to forget that we stood at Sinai and are bound to God by an eternal covenant. So let us treasure the awesomeness of our survival and protect our identity, our Torah, our Judaism with vigilance and love.

For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below:

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-jacobs-vision-for-the-jewish-future/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-those-who-bless-you-i-will-bless/

https://unitedwithisrael.org/living-torah-the-book-is-mightier-than-the-sword/

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