Rashi in this week’s parshah (33:4) quotes Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai who said, “Halacha (it is a fact) and it is known that Esav hates Yaakov.”
The war between Esav and Yaakov was seen as some kind of eternal struggle between two ideologies.
It seems that Yaakov’s strategy in this case was appeasement. he sent Esav gifts and hoped that Esav would let go of his anger towards him. Yaakov did not plead the righteousness and the justice of his cause the way that he did in last week’s Parshah against his other adversary, Lavan.
Perhaps this means that Yaakov felt guilty about tricking Isaac into giving him the blessing meant for Esav.
Or perhaps it means that Yaakov didn’t want to fight and thought that appeasement, even if there was no warrant for it, was a better alternative.
When the two brothers finally met face to face the Torah says that Esav embraced him and kissed him.
By embraced, Rashi comments, “Esav’s mercy tumbled forth when he saw Yaakov doing all of this bowing.
When the Torah says that Esav kissed him, Rashi quotes two opinions as to what was happening.
- The first opinion suggests that Esav kissed him but his heart was not really in it. This opinion suggests that he still harbored hatred for Yaakov and he was insincere. Perhaps he was not confident that he could easily defeat Yaakov in war. Perhaps he still hated him, but not enough to kill him.
- Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, quoted above, concedes that Esav does in fact hate Yaakov, but at that moment Esav was overcome with a feeling of mercy (or love) and he kissed Yaakov with all of his heart.
It seems that according to both opinions the strategy of appeasement worked.
This is a big point of contention today in how to deal with the threat of ISIS and other groups motivated by the ideology of radical Islam.
Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali was on television last night. She has been an outspoken critic of Islamic ideology and believes that, although there are millions of peaceful Muslims, Islamic ideology as a whole must undergo a reform if there is to be peace.
She also says that she understands that those who say that ISIS and other terror groups have nothing to do with Islam, in their hearts don’t really believe that. She contends that this is just a strategic position of appeasement. According to her, they are only saying this in the hopes that the large majority of the Muslim around the world will be appeased and they will not support ISIS.
She is adamantly opposed to what she considers a strategy of appeasement, and she thinks that the strategy with the Muslim world should be to confront the problem and to encourage and aid those Muslims who wish to reform the mainline ideology. To say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the ideology, she believes is a big mistake.
It made me think about this week’s parshah. I am convinced that Yaakov employed a strategy of appeasement as well. He did not want to fight Esav. But it seems obvious to me that even if Yaakov harbored regret that he tricked Isaac, that would not justify Esav wanting to kill him and keeping him on the run for 20 years. Yaakov tried a strategy of appeasement.
And I believe that both opinions that Rashi brings are saying that this strategy does not work. The first opinion asserts that appeasement only mitigates a problem. The second opinion believes that appeasement may even be effective in the moment. But both opinions agree that it is only a short term fix.
After Yaakov and Esav parted ways Esav continued to harbor his hatred for Yaakov, and eventually his children and grandchildren, particularly the tribe of Amalek, became vicious and violent adversaries of the Jews.
That is not to say that Yaakov should have fought Esav, but perhaps he should have put more effort into persuading Esav to do Teshuva.
In fact, Rashi says that Yaakov had hidden his daughter Dina away from Esav so that Esav would not see her and ask to marry her. Rashi goes on to say that Yaakov was punished for this as perhaps Dina could have gotten Esav to reform. And that would have been a true long term victory over Esav.