Parshat Vayishlach: Confronting and defeating our enemies (II)

In this portion Jacob continues his struggles with evil after leaving Paddan Aram, the first stage of many challenges. Now the unavoidable re-encounter with his brother and perennial nemesis, Esau, also the most dangerous for the survival of Jacob and his descendants.

We can get the impression that from the perspective of goodness, dealing with something different from it, is more than simply difficult. This seems to be the situation of Jacob and his fear of Esau as indeed a clear and present danger, and Jacob seems to downplay the power of goodness to overcome evil. No matter how much he tries to appease Esau, he knows that what his brother represents can’t be easily overcome or defeated.

“And ye shall say: ‘Moreover, behold, your servant Jacob is behind us’. For he said: ‘I will appease him [Esau] with the present that goes before me, and afterward I will see his face; peradventure he will accept me’.” (Genesis 32:21)

It is about negative traits and trends that we can eliminate only by changing their expressions and redirecting their purpose in human consciousness. Thus we understand the “conquering” and “subjugation” of the nations of Canaan the Creator commanded the children of Israel to remove from the Promised Land. We have said often that God created evil not as a choice but as a reference for us to choose goodness, hence we are commanded to remove all kinds of evil from our midst. These include from us as individuals and from our surroundings.

Let’s go back to the Torah’s narration of how Jacob approaches the re-encounter with his brother, and his fear. We questioned in other commentaries about this portion in this blog that Jacob’s fear was unfounded in many ways. God’s promised to be with Him in his way back to the home of his father Isaac, and still Jacob fears for his life and his family. Not only that, he submits himself to his brother by repeatedly calling him “my master”.

How is it possible that goodness can be submitted to evil, in Jacob’s view? Actually, goodness is preeminent to evil, for evil can’t sustain itself without goodness; and the latter transcends time and space. Still, Jacob fear evil beyond any consideration, including God being by his side. Why we are so afraid from evil as Jacobs does? Jacobs rather fears the destructive power of evil than his belief in the transforming, transmuting and redeeming power of goodness.

The question remains, and we realize that Jacob’s doubt and fear are about how much an evil consciousness wants to be redeemed and transformed into only goodness. How long does human consciousness take to learn from negative traits and their trends, and look forward to live in the delights of love’s ways and attributes as the source of goodness? Jacob responds to us with his night long fight with an “angel” he eventually defeated. He teaches us that it is a long and strenuous process to engage with people and situations that are against of who we are and what we stand for.

Jacob’s legacy for his descendants is his relentlessness and resilience to overcome and defeat enemies, including those who seem to be stronger than him as it happened with the angel. Our sages tell us that this angel was the spiritual nature of Esau, that Jacob successfully subjugated to the extreme of forcing him to bless and recognize Jacob’s spiritual nature and stature as Israel.

“And he said: ‘Your name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed’. (…) And he blessed him there.” (32:20-30)

Many lessons we can learn from our third forefather in his constant struggle to make goodness as his essence and identity prevail over the multiple expressions of evil in human consciousness and in the material world. The question remains after Jacob’s prevalence over Esau’s angel, why he is afraid of his brother? We indeed have to be afraid of evil, even is God is with us, for as long as He maintains evil in our midst He still commands us to remove it from bellow the heavens.

The only way to eliminate our fear of evil is to erase its memory and effects from our consciousness, even if it takes a night long fight to defeat and subjugate in order to bless us and be good to us, as Jacob made it so. He learned in that fight that evil is not stopped or appease by being good to it, or feeding it with the goodness camels, donkeys, caws, sheep and goats can offer to sustain life. Jacob also knew that Esau was not easy to defeat at the moment of their re-encounter.

“And he [Jacob] said to him: ‘My lord knows that the children are tender, and that the flocks and herds giving suck are a care to me; and if they overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die.” (33:13)

It takes many generations to learn from Esau’s traits, trends and ways, up until we become strong enough to face him off for the last time, and turn him into the destined servant of Jacob as the goodness God wants to prevail forever in His creation.

“(…) and I [Jacob] will journey on gently, according to the pace of the cattle that are before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my lord [Esau] to Seir’.” (33:14)

In this final encounter, Israel is destined to fulfill God’s will to make goodness prevail and rule in all levels and dimension of consciousness, and be reflected also in all expressions of the material world.

“But the house of Jacob has been a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble. And they [Jacob and Joseph] have burned among them, and they have consumed them. And there is not a remnant to the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken.” (Ovadiah 1:18)

“Redeemers have ascended in mount Zion to judge the mount [Seir] of Esau, and the kingdom [always] has been to the Lord.” (1:21)

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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