by Tzvi Schnee

“For he will give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

– Psalm 91:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

G-d is faithful; he keeps his promises. “And, behold, I am with thee, and I will keep thee whithsoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of” (Genesis 28:15, JPS). Jacob was given G-d’s reassurance, at the beginning of his journey to Charan, where his Uncle Laban lived. Now, Jacob is returning with his family to the land of Canaan; however, he will encounter his brother, Esau on the final approach home.

Imediately, upon entering the land, he is met by a camp of angels sent by H’Shem to escort him: “And Jacob went on his way, and the angels of G-d met him” (Genesis 32:1, JPS). This exemplifies the continual protection that was promised to him by G-d. The company of angels sets the background for the encounter with Esau. It is only after the angels are mentioned, that the narrative concerning the apparently resentful Esau begins. For, Jacob’s messengers that he sent ahead to greet Esau report Esau is on his way with four hundred men” (32:6).

Jacob prays to H’Shem, rather than taking for granted the protection given to him. He divides the camp into two, so that if the first camp is attacked, the second will escape. Thirdly, Jacob sends gifts – droves of his herds and flocks – ahead of him to appease Esau. Even before Jacob meets and greets Esau, Jacob has an encounter with an angel, while he is alone. And the angel blesses him, after a struggle, wherein they wrestled with each other. “Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; {That is, He who striveth with G-d.} for thou hast striven with G-d and with men, and hast prevailed” (Genesis 32:28, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The blessing that he receives, in the form of his new name that denotes uprightness is a vindication of his deceitfulness of the past, when he reappropriared Esau’s blessing that was due to him as the first born. Yet, the tides are turned, for Jacob now offers Esau a lavish gift taken from his livelihood: many sheep, goats, cows, bulls, and donkeys. The first Hebrew word that Jacob uses to refer to this gift is minchah, meaning gift or tribute. Yet, Jacob makes his intent even more clear to Esau in the same gesture, saying a second time, “take, I pray thee, my gift (berachah) that is brought to thee” (Genesis 33:11, JPS). Here, the word that he uses is berachah, meaning “blessing.” In this manner, Jacob, in effect, restores the blessing to Esau, therein bringing upon himself and Esau the means for reconciliation.

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