The first words that Jacob instructed his messengers to say to Esau provide an important lesson in dealing with enemies - make them afraid.

Rabbi Yehuda said: What did Jacob see [that made him] transmit [the message] to Esau that he had lived with Laban. What effect was this message he sent supposed to have on Esau [would it placate him]? Rather it was known throughout the world that no one succeeded in saving themselves from [the trickery of] Laban the Aramite.

The very name "Aramite", in Hebrew "Arami" can be rearranged to spell the word "ramai", meaning "swindler". Laban means "white" or "pure", so the name of Laban was famous in that everyone knew that he always seemed to be of pure intentions, but had devious hidden plans that would trick and trap his victims - even if they were forewarned. He was a very dangerous and devious person. He was a sorcerer who cast spells and a master magician…

He was a sorcerer who cast spells and a master magician. He was the father of Be'or who was the father of [the Jew hating] Balaam. Thus it is written: "Balaam the son of the sorcerer Be'or." (Joshua 13:22) Laban was learned in sorcery and magic more than anyone else [in his generation] and even with all that couldn't do any bad to Jacob even though he wanted to cause his destruction in several different ways, as is written: "An Aramite tried to destroy my father." (Deut. 26:5)

Rabbi Aba said: The whole world knew that Laban was head of all those learned in sorcery and magic, and whomever he wished to destroy with his magic was unable to escape from him. Everything that Balaam knew was received from him, and it is said of Balaam [when Balak sent for him to curse Israel], "For I know that he whom you bless is blessed [already], and he whom you curse will be cursed". (Num. 22:6)

The Sages point out that the grammar of this phrase in Hebrew shows that whomever he blessed was already blessed. That is, he could discern a person who had a blessing in store and would pretend to bless them. When the blessing came true he would demand his share. When he cursed someone however, his curse would take effect.

All the world was afraid of Laban [and his sorcery], so the first words that Jacob sent to Esau were: "I have lived with Laban". [He meant it to mean] "If you say that it was only for a month or a year, that is not how it was. Rather I have stayed [with him] up till now. I stayed twenty years with him, and if you say that I came away empty handed, [that's the reason for adding] that I had ox and donkey [when I left]. These are two are representatives of severe judgment. When they come together they only do so to cause harm to the world. The wealth of gifts…was proof of the fact that he succeeded in mastering Laban…

Jacob used the singular form of the words instead of cattle and donkeys, to show Esau that the physical manifestation of the wealth of gifts he was giving him was proof of the fact that he succeeded in mastering Laban. The ox is the primary example of the causation of damage in the Talmud, and the donkey symbolizes impurity and lust. When the strength of the ox is harnessed to the stubbornness of a donkey, damage is caused to the world. These are archetypal forces representing an unrestrained, self-centered ego driven power.

And this is the reason that it is written: "You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together." (Deut. 22:10)

Since everything we do in this world influences the spiritual realms, teaming up these two forces strengthens their spiritual counterparts and is therefore forbidden.

The words of the quoted verse are: "I have an ox, a donkey, flocks and menservants and women servants". Having analyzed ox and donkey, Rabbi Aba now looks at the other three categories and notes that G‑d struck them down on the night of the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt.

"Flocks and menservants and women servants" represent the lower crowns that the Holy One Blessed be He, smote in [freeing the Jews from] Egypt. This is as is written, "the first born of the animals" and "the first born of the captives" and the "first born of the servant woman." (Ex. 12:29 and 11:5)

These three forces represent of the lower sefirot of impurity. They are all captives of the higher sefira of gevura. Note that whilst they are captives to their master, he in turn is captured by them. He has duties and responsibilities that flow from his ownership and so in effect they also own him! G‑d smote these forces as a prelude to freeing Israel from the clutches of Pharaoh. Jacob mentioned them to Esau to hint at the fact that these powers were also subservient to him. Esau then became as afraid of Jacob as Jacob was afraid of Esau…

Immediately [on hearing this] Esau became fearful and set out towards him to make peace with him. Esau then became as afraid of Jacob as Jacob was afraid of Esau.

Note that Jacob represents the sefira of tiferet, which combines two opposites and also represents truth. Here Jacob said the truth; he did own all these. His words, however, had a double meaning. The wicked Esau, as Jacob foresaw, related to these words from within his cultural background of idolatry and superstition. The strategy worked and Esau became frightened enough to seek peace instead of war.


Based on Zohar, Parashat Vayishlach, p. 166b; translation and commentary by Simcha-Shmuel Treister

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