Parashat Vayishlach

While reunions are often celebratory occasions, they sometimes evoke mixed emotions. Yaakov is one person who certainly knows from pre-reunion anxiety. As Yaakov’s reunion with his twin brother Esav approaches, he is plagued by fears about how this reunion will play out. After all, the last time Yaakov and Esav were in the same town, Esav wanted to kill him!

The very title of this week’s Torah portion, Parashat “Vayishlach,” demonstrates Yaakov’s first step in dealing with this reunion as Yaakov “sent” messengers to Esav in advance of Yaakov’s own arrival. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 75:11 explains that by sending these messengers ahead, Yaakov was trying to prove to Esav that he had become strong and hoped that Esav would not attack him. It is troubling that Yaakov’s precautionary measures were needed. After twenty years, could the conflict between Yaakov and Esav still be so raw?

While the Torah details Yaakov’s life in Charan, from building a family to acquiring livestock, the Torah does not specifically indicate that Yaakov took the time to process the birthright fiasco. Perhaps Yaakov’s lack of internal reflection led to the wrestling match that is featured in our Torah portion. Some commentators believe that the mysterious figure who wrestled with Yaakov was an angel, while others believe that the figure mentioned in Yaakov’s dream represents Yaakov’s inner tensions. Yaakov experiences this inner struggle in order to enable himself to face the reality of his life, rather than run away from it (as he did when he left his parent’s house).

For us, it is sometimes easier to move on after a fight, rather than to explore the underlying issues and dynamics of relationships that caused the difficulty to arise in the first place. The trouble with that coping mechanism is that tension often builds up inside of us and inside of the person with whom we are in conflict. Rather than pushing things off until the next reunion,  let us learn from Yaakov about the power of addressing conflict with our loved loves.

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