When reading the pshat (simple meaning) of Jacob’s encounter with Esau it is interesting to note the words used, which are cluing us into hidden aspects that lie behind the obvious narrative. Esau was greatly distressed and desired to kill Jacob for deceptively taking his blessing. This was the immediate cause for Jacob’s flight to the house of Lavan. Jacob returns towards his homeland decades later and for good reason greatly fears his inevitable encounter with Esau.
Jacob plans a threefold course of action. He implements a military strategy by dividing his camp into three groups, prays to G-d and employs acts of diplomacy by sending gifts and bowing down seven times to Esau.
Esau’s response is quite surprising.
and Esau ran to meet him, and he embraced him and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.
This hardly sounds like a man on the verge of murder. Although it is highly likely that he previously had intentions of killing Jacob, it appears from the text that he had a dramatic change of heart. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said that although it is known that Esau indeed hated Jacob, his compassion was moved at that moment and he kissed him wholeheartedly. Esau then politely rejects Jacob’s gifts saying,
I have enough my brother, let that which you have be yours.
Jacob insists Esau take the gifts using the following words.
no, please, if I have found favor in your eyes, then receive my present at my hand for as much as I have seen your face as one sees the face of G-d, and you were pleased with me. Take, I pray thee, my blessing (birchati) that is brought to you…”
Jacob’s intention might have been that Esau should take these gifts in place of “birchati”, my blessing; ie that which I took from you. Jacob can not give over everything G-d has blessed him with, for that would include his wives and children. He humbly offers what he can while maintaining all (“kol”) that he truly needs. He, in essence, is saying please accept my gifts in place of all that I owe you for taking your blessing. “He (Yaakov) urged him, and he (Esau) took it.”
Now Esau says to Jacob,
Let us journey and let us go together and I will go with alongside you (lenegidicha).
The word neged is also used when referring to a spousal relationship. A woman is referred to an ezer kinegdo. She is meant to compliment the man and each one is to bring out and enhance the positive characteristics of the other. Jacob and Esau were twins that held the latent potential to work together in a similar fashion. Up until now they never realized that potential. Esau seems to be indicating that he is now ready to do so by saying “(I will) walk alongside you (Lenegdicha).” Sadly, Jacob feels he must refuse his brother and gives a lengthy excuse of how he must proceed slowly. He promises to meet up with Esau eventually in Seir, an event that never occurs.
Vayishav bayom hahu Esau lidarco Seir (so Esau returned that day on his way to Seir)
This could be understood that on that day he returned to (the) Esau and his ways of Seira. This brief encounter presented a window of opportunity to change, but when Esau got the message that Jacob was not at all interested in working together and cultivating that brotherly relationship, he understood that door was closed and he went back to the life he was living until now.
Jacob chose to keep his family isolated from the likes of Esau instead of coexisting with him and trying to influence him for the better. Ultimately they could have forged a bond bridging the gap and building a powerful peaceful partnership. It has been a long lonely road with too many years of dispersion and exile. Now that we have returned home and our Edomite brothers are extending their hands once again, maybe we can work together to bring a long awaited harmonious existence into being.