This portion, one of the most famous, begins with the story of the meeting between Jacob and Esau. After a generation away, Jacob returns to his home. He is told that his brother, Esau, from whom he rested the birthright, is coming to meet him with “400 men” (Genesis 32:7). Jacob is afraid. AFter all, so much has happened in his life. The story , like a drama, focuses on Jacob, alone, at the river Jabbok. He “wrestles” with an “ish”, sometimes translated as a man, or messenger. (Genesis 32:25). As a result, Jacob prevails in this encounter, has his name changed to Israel. He confronts Esau in Genesis 33. They meet. embrace. They observe that each has prospered. After a while, they go their individual ways. There is a sense that what took place years ago cannot be changed, but, life has treated both of them well. We may never be close, they seem to say, but we can agree to respect each other, forgive the past and move on with life.
Reconciliation, I suggest, is a key theme in this portion. It is a scenario that is played out in so many of our families. Children estranged from parents, siblings estranged from siblings. We carry past hurts with us, at times like badges of honor. Yet, often, as we age, something happens. We come to see that life is too short to hold this hurt within us. Indeed, the more we hold on , the more this hurt can infect us, our psyche and soul and even be transferred to others in the family. Maybe one of the messages of Jacob and Esau’s reunion is the need to practice the art of forgiveness. Forgiveness of what or who? Maybe to forgive our self! Jacob and Esau will never be close. Their past dictates that. But, they reach a point in life that speaks to them by saying that to copntinue to hold on to the past hurts cannot free you to be a fuller and more whole human being. We cannot change what was, but we can act in such a way today so that our future is less burdened by that past.
This act of forgiveness, maybe forgiveness with boundaries, is not easy. For some, it is impossible as the hurts are so powerful and, maybe even life altering. Perhaps it is more of a forgiveness via acceptance, an acceptance of the past and a committment to move forward with a sense of liberation. Forgiveness takes courage, it takes a sense of faith in ones self to be able to liberate a soul from the chains of previous actions. Jacob seems to be able to do this, as does Esau. We loose Esau in Torah, but, Jacob we keep as a patriarch; his position as a leader forged by the trials of real life and his ability to place what “was” in its propoer place and to move forward; never forgetting, yet made stronger by his forgiving.
Rabbi Rihcard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.