This is (hopefully) a daily series of short reflections in English on the daily chapter of Tanach in the (wonderful, wonderful) 929 Project. The initiative, and the ideas and opinions expressed here, are my own. If you haven’t heard of 929, you can learn more at 929.org.il
Yaakov’s encounter with Esav is not forced upon him; he initiates it, even while knowing the great risk. His message is not an apology, it’s even more extreme- a willing relinquishment of the blessing he stole. The sensitive reader will have noted that the difference between the blessing Yaakov receives and the one that Esav receives is the issue of dominion. Who will rule? This was the question that defined their relationship from the womb as a zero sum game of competition. Yaakov sneakily defeated Esav in the battle over the blessings, but now he seems to be handing back the victory. While Yitzchak had told him “you will be your brothers’ master”, Yaakov repeatedly refers to himself as servant and Esav as master, offering him tribute as proof. While Yitzchak had promised that “your mother’s sons will bow to you”, Yaakov and his family bow to Esav. Is Yaakov admitting defeat? Just the opposite. After all, in the win-lose dynamic, any victory is always only temporary- the promise to Esav, that he will overthrow Yaakov’s yoke, stands alongside the promise to Yaakov. Every win is the preamble to the next loss. But Yaakov has realized that, if he’s willing to pay the price, he can redefine the game as win-win. He can prevent Esav from throwing off his yoke if he willingly removes it. Yaakov’s mysterious night-long battle is the testing ground for this approach. His victory is gained not by defeating his adversary, but by reaching a stand-still which allows him to demand blessing, and to give it in return. He walks away limping, but victorious, no longer defined as Yaakov, perpetually stuck in the struggle to come out on top, but as Yisrael, a prince who defines his own terms of victory.