And the angels returned to Yaakov saying, "We came to your brother to
Essav and he is also coming to greet you and four hundred men are with
him" And Yaakov was very afraid and it distressed him and so he divided
the nation that was with himů (Breishis 32:7-8)
He was afraid and distressed: He feared maybe he would be killed. It
distressed him that he might kill others. (Rashi)
It is easy to picture how Yaakov experienced fear of death when
confronting his enraged brother marching towards him with four hundred
men. How do we picture that he, Yaakov, the studious brother had any
chance for military victory?
In last week's portion a scene is described in which Yaakov approaches the
shepherds of Haran. They are squatting by a well of water which is covered
by a huge rock. That rock served as a communal safe. Three flocks had
already congregated there and they were waiting for all the flocks to
arrive before attempting to roll the rock off the well. We can only
imagine how big this rock must have been that a large group of people were
needed to roll it from its place. Keep in mind that rolling a rock or a
car or a piano or any large object is many times easier than to lift it
When Rachel appears with the sheep, the Torah records for us, "And Yaakov
drew close and he revealed the stone from on top of the well and he
watered the sheep of Lavan the brother of his mother." Rashi tells us
that he didn't even roll it. He pulled it out like one uncorks a bottle.
We see from here that Yaakov was enormously strong. He was not some pale
skinned weakly creature who avoided fighting with his brother because he
was afraid of being beaten up. It was rather a matter of principle for him
to dodge a violent confrontation by praying and sending gifts etc.
At a press conference in London in 1969 Golda Meir is reported to have
said, "When peace comes we will perhaps be able to forgive the Arabs for
killing our sons. But it will be harder for us to forgive them for making
having forced us to kill theirs."
We can easily understand how Yaakov was distressed by having now to face
the terrible option of exercising his own brute force. He would have
preferred not to have to manifest that ugly side of his self and he did
all he could to keep it hidden. It was not from weakness and vulnerability
alone that Yaakov our great Patriarch used paths of peace in dealing with
his arch enemy Essav. It may well have been a strategy born from strength.