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		                                    Word Of Torah		                                </span>

Word of Torah

Written by: Rabbi Emily Segal

Parasha Vayishlach

Our Torah portion this week is Vayishlach, and within it we find ourselves in the middle of the story of Jacob and his family.  Jacob and his sizeable family are on the road to return to Jacob’s birthplace.  The last time Jacob saw Esau, he had not only duped him out of his birthright—forcing Esau to give up his inheritance for a bowl of stew when he was incredibly famished-- but Jacob also had tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing on Isaac’s deathbed that was due to the eldest son, Esau.  And blessings, in the time of the patriarchs and matriarchs, were thought to be very powerful and potent.
 
Esau, enraged, vowed to kill Jacob and so Jacob fled.  Fast forward a little more than 20 years, and that is where we find ourselves at the beginning of this week’s Torah portion.  Jacob doesn’t know how the reunion will go, and he is preparing.  Jacob sends messengers before him to Esau, bringing conciliatory words.  When these messengers return saying that Esau himself is coming to greet Jacob and is bringing 400 men with him (roughly the size of an army unit at the time), Jacob fears that Esau is preparing for battle.  Jacob is greatly afraid and distressed. 
 
He divides up his group—people, flocks, herds, camels—into two camps, saying “If Esau comes to the one camp and smites it, then the other camp can escape.”  And then Jacob prays to God for protection and favor. Jacob then also sends a substantial gift to Esau including goats, rams, camels, cows, bulls, donkeys and more.  Rashi, the prominent medieval French commentator, focuses on the three ways that Jacob prepared himself:  (1) sending a gift, (2) praying, and (3) preparing for war.
 
We can learn a lot from Jacob’s preparations.  Jacob does what any leader (or in fact, any individual) must do when preparing for the future:  considering the worst-case scenario, reminding ourselves of what is most important—our values, our goals -- and trying to create the best possible situation for ourselves and those we lead. 
 
Notably, that Jacob spends the least amount of time dividing his camp—he seems to do this just as a safety precaution and as his first gut reaction when hearing that Esau was approaching with a large group.  Many more verses of our Torah portion are devoted to Jacob’s prayer, and then even more verses describe gifts he was sending ahead to Esau and the specifics of how those gifts were to be presented.
This, too, can teach us something:  as helpful as it may be to focus on the worst-case scenario, on the nitty-gritty and the what-ifs, we should not get overly bogged down in them.  We should not allow them to distract us from trying to create the best situation, the best future for our community and our world, and we should certainly not allow fear to govern our decision-making, at least not overly so.
 
Rather, we should focus our energies as Jacob did, on prayer and on creating a positive situation for his camp.  That is, we should be sure to align ourselves with what is most important to us—our hopes and goals for our community that are based on our Jewish values.  And based on these goals and values, we should focus on the gifts we can give, the future we can join together and create for our community, remembering that our short-term decisions –over time—add up and become our long-term decisions with long-term consequences.
 
If we are able to do this – thinking through contingencies without getting stuck in considering the worst-case scenario, realigning ourselves with our values, ethics, and goals, and focusing on the positive future we can create for our community and for the world—then we can be certain that we will be a blessing all those we come into contact with, from our families, to our communities, and beyond. 
 
 

 

 

 
Fri, December 4 2020 18 Kislev 5781