Thursday, November 22, 2007

Vayishlah I: Confronting One’s Past

(ה) ויצו אותם לאמר - צוה אותם ואמר להם כה תאמרון. והשלוחים לא ידעו דאגתו של יעקב:

עם לבן גרתי - כאשר ידעת במצות אבי ואמי. שלא יחשוב בשבילי ברח:

(ז) באנו אל אחיך אל עשו - ומצאת חן בעיניו כאשר אמרת, וגם הנה הוא מתוך ששמח בביאתך ובאהבתו אותך, הולך לקראתך וארבע מאות איש עמו לכבודך. זהו עיקר פשוטו. וכן גם הנה הוא יוצא לקראתך וראך ושמח בלבו:

(ח) ויירא יעקב - בלבו, שאעפ"י שהראה לשלוחים כי לכבודו מתכוין, הוא לא האמין שמחשבת עשו לטובה אלא לרעה:

(כג) ויקם בלילה הוא - נתכוין לברוח דרך אחרת ולפיכך עבר הנחל בלילה, כמו שמצינו בדוד בברחו מפני אבשלום בדרכים הללו של ירדן ומחנים שעבר יעקב ובלילה, כמו כן ויאמרו אל דוד קומו עברו [מהרה] את המים וגו' ויקם דוד וכל העם אשר אתו ויעברו את הירדן עד אור הבוקר עד אחד לא נעדר אשר לא עבר את הירדן וגו' ודוד בא מחנים ואבשלום עבר את הירדן וגו':

(כה) ויאבק - מלאך עמו שלא יוכל לברוח ויראה קיום [הבטחתו] של הק' שלא יזיקהו עשו:

Rashbam’s take on the encounter between Ya’akov and Esav is fascinating.

First, he emphasizes that there was no concrete evidence of Esav’s hostile intentions. In fact, all indicators point in the direction of reconciliation! When the messengers return to Ya’akov, reporting that they have met Esav, and saying, in Bereishit 32:7, וגם הלך לקראתך וארבע מאות איש עמו, they are reporting Esav’s benign intentions. Rashbam notes that the לקראתך is also used in Shemot 4:14 to describe Aharon’s loving greeting of Moshe in the desert after the revelation at the burning bush. The 400 men marching with Esav are intended to be a welcoming party to show Ya’akov honor. [This interpretation is not at all necessarily as simple as Rashbam claims, as the word לקראת is often used in hostile contexts—see Bemidbar 20:20 for just one of many examples. But he does open our eyes to realizing that it can be read the other way here.] And even though Ya’akov himself understands this, he still cannot believe that there is not a trap somewhere lying in wait.

Second, he casts Ya’akov’s nighttime crossing of the Yabbok stream—detailed in Bereishit 32:23-24—as an attempt to escape. Rather than read this story as narrating Ya’akov’s effort to keep his family out of the way while he braces for the inevitable moment of confronting Esav, Rashbam casts him as terrified and looking for any way out. ויותר יעקב לבדו—Ya’akov was the only one left, he being the last person to be evacuated, and at that moment, an angel is sent to cut off his escape route, to force him to have the encounter with Esav that he so desperately wanted to avoid.

This interpretation highlights a Ya’akov plagued by doubt, regret and fear. Despite the positive signs from Esav, he cannot believe that it will end well. He doubts the divine promises to keep him safe, and tries to turn tail and leave. Only an emissary of God is able to bring him back to his destined path. Ya’akov ends up projecting outward his own insecurities, and Rashbam’s reading gives us insight into the ways in which Ya’akov must have had remorse about his earlier behavior and a fear that he could never make it right. The story thus becomes as much about Ya’akov confronting himself and his own past as it is about his encounter with his brother. [For more thoughts in this direction, see Rashbam's comments on 32:29, where he suggests that the injury that Ya'akov suffers at the hand of the angel is in fact a punishment for trying to evade God's master plan.]


At November 22, 2007 at 6:48 PM , Blogger Ezra said...

Rav Yehuda Gilad has a shiur in which he shows that Yaakov's behavior toward Esav in this parasha is, in a sense, giving Esav the b'rakha that Yaakov stole over 20 years earlier. For example, Yitzhak blessed Yaakov by saying that he would rule over his brother, and Yaakov repeatedly (one might say excessively) refers to himself as "avd'kha" when speaking to Esav.


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