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At the end of last week’s Torah portion (Vayeitzei), Jacob sought to return home. As he approached, he was met by a band of angels who escorted him back into Israel. But, before that could happen, Jacob had to finish off some last minute business. The business involved a struggle with his brother, Esau, who had been waiting to “settle accounts” with Jacob for thirty-four years, ever since he left Israel. Esau wanted to kill Jacob, who had cleverly and rightfully received their father’s birthright blessings. For this, Esau hated Jacob with a vengeance, and just waited for an opportunity to “do him in.”

In the end, the real struggle took place not with Esau himself, but between Esau’s angel and Jacob. Jacob prevailed in this extra-ordinary struggle, and that guaranteed that he would prevail in the ordinary, physical realm, as well. However, that didn’t mean that Esau had no power to harm Jacob, and for that reason, Jacob was afraid. He divided his camp into two, prayed, and sent presents to his brother. When Esau finally arrived on the scene, he was appeased by Jacob’s attitude and his presents. As the verse says, “and he embraced him…and kissed him and they cried” (Gen. 33:4). The question is; what turned Esau around? Was it only Jacob’s gifts and entreaties? A lot of evidence suggests that was not the case.

At the end of last week’s parsha, Jacob stole away from his father-in-law, Lavan, with his wives and children in order to return to Israel. In response, Lavan pursued and caught up with Jacob. He told him that if it weren’t for a dream in which G-d told him not to harm Jacob, Lavan had it within his power to hurt him. We know that Esau hated Jacob much more than did Lavan. As the Torah tells us, “And Esau hated Jacob…and said…I will kill Jacob” (Gen. 27:41). That makes it difficult to believe that gifts and entreaties alone could have transformed his hatred into positive feelings for Jacob.

Moreover, on the verse stating that Esau hugged and kissed Jacob, Rashi made two comments. First, he said that Esau didn’t kiss Jacob whole-heartedly. Secondly, Rashi said that even though in general it’s a “given” that Esau hates Jacob, in this instance Esau felt sorry for him and kissed him him whole-heartedly. But even in this comment, Rashi emphasized that the positive feelings were only in “this instance.” As a general rule, Esau hates Jacob. In fact, R’ Shimon bar Yochai in the Talmud states this opinion as a halacha, or Jewish law, meaning that the hatred that Esau feels toward Jacob is a permanent condition, unchanging and immutable. This makes it all the more difficult to understand why, in this instance, Esau changed his mind and failed to carry out his original intentions to harm Jacob.

All this leads us to the conclusion that in fact, Esau did not permanently change his attitude toward Jacob, and indeed returned to his original hatred. In fact, Jacob was worried about that very possibility, which is why he reminded Esau of the angel he had just subdued in struggle. After they embraced, Jacob said to Esau, “I see your countenance as the face of G-d” (Gen. 33:10). According to Rashi, this was a way of hinting to Esau that he had met and prevailed over his angel, thereby intending to instill fear in Esau. Furthermore, when Esau suggested to Jacob that he would leave some of his men to accompany him on the journey, Jacob misled him about his final destination. This was in order to throw Esau off his trail in case he was thinking of luring Jacob into a trap somewhere else. So, we see that Jacob himself was suspicious of Esau’s sudden “transformation,” and sought to distance himself. Which leads us back to the same question; why did Esau continue on his way after meeting Jacob, and refrain from trying to harm him as he originally intended?

In answer, Rashi comments (on the verse, “on that day, Esau returned to his journey to Se’ira” – Gen. 33:16), “Esau was alone, since the four hundred men that came with him slipped away from him on by one.” With this comment, Rashi explains why Esau didn’t harm Jacob – because Esau was alone, and by himself. And that, indeed, is the reason that he went on his way to Seir without hurting Jacob – because he was alone. By himself, without the four hundred men who came with him, he could do Jacob no harm. That also explains why Rashi adds the words, “one by one,” since at first glance what do they add to the commentary? Why does it matter if the four hundred men ran away all at once, or “one by one”? But, what Rashi wants to emphasize is that Esau’s men, just like him, retained their hatred of Jacob. If not, they would have run away openly, all at once. But, since they still hated Jacob and wanted to do him in, they slipped away only reluctantly and slowly, out of fear of him. Otherwise, they would have continued on their harmful mission together with Esau. And if his men still hated Jacob, all the more-so that Esau himself hated Jacob.

We can now gain greater understanding in something else that Rashi added to his commentary. When Jacob misled Esau as to how far he intended to journey (in order to throw him off the track), Rashi commented, “When will Jacob catch up with Esau? In messianic times, as the verse says, ‘and their saviours ascended Mt. Zion in order to judge Mt. Esau.” With this, Rashi meant to say that until the Jewish messiah arrives, not only Esau himself but also his entire nation (Edom, predecessors to the Europeans) will hate the Jews. This anti-semitism isn’t a passing phenomenon – it’s a permanent condition with which the Jews are faced, and something they would have to learn to live with until the meshiach arrives.

Rashi adds another element to his commentary. Since the four hundred men who came with Esau slipped away and did no harm to Jacob, they received a reward. Rashi asks, “how and where did G-d pay them back? In the days of King David, as it says, ‘except for the four hundred young men who rode on camels.” This comment refers to a story in Tanach (Shmuel 1, 30:17), in which King David defeated a group of men who came to fight against him. He killed them all, except four hundred who managed to escape on camels. But, why would Rashi mention this story? Rashi’s purpose was to explain the simple meaning of the text. What does this story from Tanach add to our understanding of the simple level of the text? The answer; it emphasizes what Rashi just explained; that the men who came with Esau, as well as Esau himself, did not regret their original intention. They still hated Jacob, but they were afraid and therefore ran away, as did the four hundred men on camels in the era of King David.

The four hundred men who escaped from David came initially to fight against him. Like Esau’s men, they came to fight against the leader of the generation. And also like Esau’s men, they were afraid, and so they escaped. Since they were on camels, they were able to get away (unlike the rest of the troops who were on foot). This was their reward for not harming Jacob. Even though the events took place generations apart, we already have a precedent for such a thing. As reward for her (relative) modesty in comparison to her sister, the younger daughter of Lot received reward. When? Much later, in the generation of Moses. From this, it is evident that even on the simple level of understanding the text, reward for the deeds of one generation may take place many generations later. In this way, Rashi reinforced his main point, which is that neither Esau nor his men really changed their attitude. They still hated Jacob and wished to do him harm, but were unable to do so. The men that were with him slipped away one by one, and Esau himself was left alone, unable to harm Jacob.

Since the forefathers were the first Jews, the events of their lives established a blueprint for the rest of Jewish history. In many historical instances (if not most), Jews have lived in an environment of anti-semitism and hatred. This is certainly true of Europe, though it may be less true of America. The actions that Jacob took to deal with this condition are the actions that Jews have taken throughout history to alleviate the hatred. They are the three steps that Jacob undertook; to fight, to appease, and to pray. But, even before that, it is important to realize that this is not something that Jews can control. It is a perpetual condition, not a result of a specific Jewish behavior or activity. Some Jews make the mistake of thinking that they are the cause of anti-Semitism, and if they change somehow, that anti-Semitism will disappear. To this, the Torah answers “it’s a halacha that Esau hates JacobŔ Antisemitism is a condition (as Harav Yisrael Meir Lau says, a “mental condition”) that will not change because the Jews take one action or another. But, what the Jews can do is to pray, attempt to appease the other side, and if necessary to fight. And then, when the scion of David (the Jewish meshiach) arrives, anti-Semitism will disappear and the world will live in peace, and the Jews will be involved in Torah while G-dliness permeates the creation, “like the waters cover the ocean bed.”

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ztz’l, vol. 35, pp. 140-149 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem