Steve Rodan

Three Ways to Leave Esau

After 34 years, Jacob was coming home a rich family man. Waiting for him was his brother Esau, who never stopped hating him. Esau rounded up 400 fighters for a massacre. No outsider would dare stop Esau. After all, this was all in the family.

Jacob was in a quandary. On one hand, with 11 strapping boys by his side, he wasn’t short of muscle. But Jacob did not want to fight his brother. He did not want to spill blood.

The Talmud says Jacob formulated a response that has lasted throughout Jewish history. His first approach was to bribe Esau, a man who loved money and power. Jacob prepared a flock of his best livestock as well as a treasure of gold and silver.

 “I will appease his anger with the gift that is going before me, and afterwards I will see his face, perhaps he will favor me.”

The second step was prayer. Jacob beseeched G-d to save him as well as his brother. He didn’t want to be killed and didn’t want to kill. It was as simple as that.

Now deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, [and strike] a mother with children.

The third step was war. It would be the last option, but Jacob was not going to watch his family die without a fight. He divided his family so that those in the rear could flee while the frontline maintained the battle.

“If Esau comes to one camp and strikes it down, the remaining camp will escape.”

In the end, Jacob couldn’t avoid a battle — except it was with Esau’s angel than his brother. The angel was Esau’s guardian, and he and Jacob wrestled throughout the night. This was not a physical duel: It was a spiritual bout. Jacob came with his faith and devotion to G-d. Esau’s angel sought to protect the interests of his red-head client.

And he (the angel) said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking,” but he (Jacob) said, “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.”

The importance of the angel’s blessing could not be exaggerated. If the angel blessed Jacob then Esau would have no power over his brother and his 400 warriors. The angel’s blessing would serve as an admission that Jacob’s birthright and his claim to the Land of Canaan were just.

Finally, the angel issued a blessing. It would not be to Jacob but Israel, “because you have commanding power with [an angel of] G-d and with men, and you have prevailed.”

And everything changed. Esau still had his army. But instead of attacking Jacob, he ran toward him, embraced and kissed him. Then both brothers wept.

Jacob’s method worked. His prayers were answered: There was no war. Esau did not take Jacob’s gifts. Instead, there was love — at least for a while.

Is this crazy? No. Jewish history is replete with examples of how G-d changed the minds of the worst enemies of Israel. And Esau would prove to be the worst.

In 1955, Britain was a bitter nation, bereft of most of its empire. The worst loss was that of Palestine to the Jews, and London was hankering for revenge. Under the guise of a peace plan, the British government agreed that Israel must cede the Negev to Egypt. At the same time, the British military planned for war against the new Jewish state. It was called Operation Cordage and would be sparked by terrorist attacks from neighboring Jordan.

Over the next 18 months, the British prepared for all-out war. They planned massive bombing missions by the Royal Air Force that would destroy the Israeli military and nearby Jewish communities. The goal was essentially to wipe out Israel by late 1956 and ensure the return of British control.

“If we have to undertake this operation, our first aim will be to destroy the Israel Air Force and we shall employ the whole of our available Air Force on this task until it is accomplished,” a memo by Air Marshal Claude Pelly, commander of RAF’s Middle East headquarters, read. “This we estimate will take about three days until it is accomplished.” [The document can be seen in “The Failed British Double-Cross of Israel” Tablet Magazine.]

Somebody in Israel, however, was praying. On July 26, 1956, Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, owned by Britain and France. London now turned its attention toward the prospect that Egypt’s takeover of the Suez Canal would block crude oil shipments from the Gulf. The British and French turned Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser from a friend to a foe and planned an invasion called Operation Musketeer, which for several months competed with Cordage. In November 1956, Israel joined Britain and France in a brief war against Egypt.

“I must confess to the feeling that, save for the Almighty, only the British are capable of complicating affairs to such a degree,” Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Moshe Dayan said.

The war against Egypt failed. Britain returned home a second-tier power, never to threaten Israel again.

After the miracle of Esau, Jacob knew it was time to leave. Esau practically begged for an alliance. But Jacob pleaded fatigue and weakness. With his three-fold method, he knew that Esau could never defeat him militarily. But Esau and his descendants could weaken the Children of Israel through their culture of nihilism where G-d has no place.

So Esau returned on that day on his way to Seir.And Jacob traveled to Succoth and built himself a house, and for his cattle he made booths; therefore he named the place Succoth.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.