At the very beginning of this week's Torah reading, we see Jacob frantically trying to protect his family and himself from the threat of his brother, Esau. The Sages teach that some of the difficulties that Jacob faced later in his life were punishments for lowering himself to Esau's level, particularly by bowing. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that Jacob did not simply sin, but rather was trying to elevate Esau.

Shower the evil with positivity….

If you want to elevate something, changing it from bad to good, there are two ways: The easier to do - but less likely to succeed - is by what is referred to as "revealed light". You shower the evil with positivity that pushes away the evil, like being a good example to someone or by teaching about how they should behave. By definition, you are coming "from above" them and are not in danger yourself of falling. On the other hand, the results are far from guaranteed.

The other way is to actually lower yourself to or even to "enclothe" yourself in the evil and try to change it from within. Like being an undercover agent, or going to an unpleasant place to pull someone out. Through this method, just through the contact of good with the evil the evil is automatically elevated. The problem is that in order to accomplish this, you have to come in contact with the evil yourself, a significant risk.

Jacob elevated Esau in the latter way, by bringing himself down to his level, rather than trying to change him from above. Because of this, the Torah records Esau as saying, "What is yours is yours" (Gen. 33:9). Rashi explains that this not only referred to the gifts Jacob was offering Esau but even to the blessing Jacob received from Isaac many years before.

Yes, Jacob had to lower himself, but through this he created a situation where Esau was elevated, changing forever the course of world and Jewish history. Similarly in our own lives, when it is our mission to change something, sometimes it is worth the risk to lower ourselves. Let's at least remember that we have the choice.


There is an interesting question in Jacob's prayer to G‑d to save him. Why does Jacob repeat himself, saying: "Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau" - after all, Jacob only had one brother. The Zohar says this verse is proof that when praying we have to be very clear. Protect me, Jacob was saying, not only from Esau, but also from someone who might consider himself to be my brother.

Jacob was actually seeing the future….

The Beit Halevy says something different, but very beautiful. Jacob was afraid of two things: not only the possibility that Esau might be coming to kill him, but also that Esau alternatively might want to again be his brother. Neither was acceptable to Jacob. And we see that his prayer was successful. At first Esau did come to kill him, but later changed his mind and actually suggested that they travel together. Not only did this not happen, the verse explicitly says that Esau traveled on that day, not spending any further time with Jacob ever again.

The Beis Halevy explains that Jacob was actually seeing the future. In the beginning of the exiles, the nations try to hurt us, enacting evil decrees and even sending hordes to murder us. But this changes. The time comes when they will want to be our friends (like now). They will accept that there is one G‑d, even that the Bible is from Heaven. But they will say, just come a little closer to us, give up some of the things that separate you from us, as we have come closer to you. Jacob's strong position gives us, the Jewish people, strength even now to hold on to our Judaism, even when the nations want to be our friends. You can co-exist without being "friends" or "brothers". Today, study some Torah or do an extra mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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