Yaakov and Eisav’s meeting in parshat Vayishlach is fraught with tension. Yaakov has been dreading the reunion for the last twenty-two years, ever since he fled for his life. He prepares for this meeting with care, adopting three strategies. He sends gifts to Eisav, he prays to God for deliverance, and he prepares his camp for a physical battle. This battle with his brother Eisav is preceded by a night-long fight with a mysterious man who is considered to be the angel of Eisav. Yaakov is left wounded physically, but also blessed and awarded a new name, Yisrael.
The language used by Yaakov, when instructing the messengers taking gifts to Eisav, includes terminology usually used for the Temple sacrifices. Rabbi Yehuda Rapoport of Seattle Hebrew Academy highlights in the 929 project, the words kapparah (atonement), mincha (an offering/gift), panim (face) and yisa (to lift up). (32.21) He comments on the similarity between the encounter of the brothers and an encounter with God. Again we see this comparison when Yaakov meets Eisav face to face (33.10) and tells him that “I have seen your face-as one sees the face of God and He favoured me.”
Yaakov realised “that the way to God was through the face of his brother.” This beautiful and uplifting notion of Rabbi Rapoport’s is striking in so many ways.
Even with a relationship as complicated and challenging as it was for the twins Yaakov and Eisav, Yaakov knew that through his brother he could encounter God. At times, family interactions may be tiresome and demanding, but we are also encountering God. We engage with the divine in every encounter we have and in every relationship we share, as we are all made in the image of God. Even, and perhaps especially with the struggles. This encounter changed Yaakov, it even wounded him, but it also blessed him and awarded him a new name. We do not go looking for nor seeking struggles and challenges, but they are a part of parenting.
Any encounter, any relationship, requires work and preparation. Reading books, taking courses, listening to podcasts and consulting experts. The truly difficult part is implementing these theories! Yaakov prepared himself not only physically, but also spiritually, for this unavoidable struggle. Too often we forget the importance of prayer, another crucial component for raising our kids.
May we be blessed to find the face of the Divine in our encounters, frustrations and struggles, and though they may leave us wounded, let them also leave us blessed.