Yoni Mozeson
FInding God's hiding places

Esau offered to prevent the US from telling us how to fight, but Jacob declined

Esau offered to prevent the US from telling Israel how to fight hamas, but Jacob declined

As usual, the Midrash provides a psychological backstory to episodes in the Torah – and the confrontation between Jacob and Esau is no exception. After wrestling with the guardian angel of Esau, Jacob faces the real Esau. By the time they come face to face it seems that Esau’s intentions to harm Jacob have subsided. Before they finally part ways, there seems to be a fairly innocent exchange. Esau offers to accompany Yaakov on his journey. Jacob politely declines citing the negative impact the trip would have on his young children and his livestock.

“But he said to him, “My lord knows that the children are young and that the flocks and herds in my care are nursing and if they are driven hard a single day, all the flocks will die.” (Parshat Vayishlach – 33:14).

The Midrash tells a different story

The Midrash sees in that cordial exchange a critical ideological parting of the ways. Esau offered Yaakov assimilation. Jacob was invited to join Esau on his journey of world dominion, if only Jacob would abandon his spiritual path. Jacob responded that Esau should go ahead, without him. Although there are two opinions in the Midrash about Yaakov’s reference to “young children” there is no real contradiction. The commentaries say “young children” refers to great people who were not born yet. Moshe and Aharon or David and Solomon. Jacob was therefore referring to the uplifting and transformational destiny of the Jewish people. Receiving the Torah and our spiritual legacy from Moshe and Aharon. And living the Torah in our powerful sovereign nation under David and Solomon (Midrash Rabbah Vayishlach – 78:13).

However Jacob admitted that Esau’s dominion will take its toll. There are two opinions in the Midrash about the meaning of the frail “livestock.” Once again, there is no contradiction between them. Jacob was referencing painful chapters in Jewish history. The slaughter by (Roman) Emperor Hadrian’s generals of a huge number of Jews after the fall of Beitar in 135 CE which marked the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt. And the near slaughter of the entire Jewish people in the Purim story (Ibid).

What was Esau really after?

There is an opinion brought by the commentator to the Midrash, Eitz Yoseph, that Esau wanted everything. Esau wants Jacob to assimilate into Esau’s world and that Esau could “take part in some of Jacob’s world” (Ibid 78:14). Meaning that Esau could merit the “next world” that Jacob was surely to be rewarded with. Little did Esau realize that should Jacob agree to his offer, Jacob would not merit the next world. And this is precisely why Jacob turned Esau down.

One last try

According to the Midrash, Esau reiterated his offer that if Jacob would assimilate then the Jewish people can avoid “my ministers, my governors, and my officers” (Ibid 78:14). Rashi says that Esau was referring to evil men that would cause great harm to the Jewish people. For example, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus, Titus, Hadrian, the Grand Inquisitor of Spain, Khmelnytsky, and Hitler.

Today, Esau takes the form of Russia, Europe and the US. Which means we could have been free of their political pressure. But alas, Jacob chose a different path for Jewish destiny.

About the Author
(Almost 100 Midrash Video summaries can be found on my youtube playlist: After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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