Vayishlach: Brotherly Love
When we read about sibling relationships in Scripture, it seems there are more negative examples than positive. Starting with Cain and Abel, hatred and jealousy become sins which many fall into. Unlike this early story, however, Jacob and Esau are able to reconcile after years of separation. Reconciliation is important to God, and he requires that we make things right in our lives.
“Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. He also commanded them saying, ‘Thus you shall say to my lord Esau: “Thus says your servant Jacob, ‘I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed until now,'”‘” (Genesis 32:3-4). The first words which Esau will hear from Jacob are those of a humble servant. When Esau sends messengers back saying he will meet him, Jacob organizes several waves of gifts of livestock to send ahead of him, hoping to soften up his brother: “I will appease him with the present that goes before me. Then afterward I will see his face; perhaps he will accept me.”
Due to Jacob’s actions regarding the birthright, Esau was angry enough to kill him. After a long time of being apart, Jacob wanted to lay to rest any ill will between them, but he couldn’t be sure that Esau would feel the same way. Lots of time had passed, but the “stealing of the blessing” was a life-changing event which had lasting consequences. Jacob recognized that Esau may still want to kill him, but he was willing to extend himself in order to have one last chance at achieving peace.
We see Yeshua discuss the issue of anger against our brothers and sisters. He starts out in Matthew 5, saying, “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell,” (verses 21-23). There is a sort of escalation of both the level of anger and the punishment it deserves.
Yeshua continues: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” It is important to notice that it doesn’t say “you have something against your brother,” but the other way around. Even if you do not see yourself as the one at fault in the disagreement, it is necessary to extend yourself beyond what would be considered normal in order to achieve peace, even if it means possibly being subjected to the wrath of your brother. If we do not sacrifice our own will for the sake of peace, then how can we expect God to be pleased with any other sacrifice we make?
Jacob meets and parts ways with Esau without any ill consequence. Shortly after, God speaks to him: “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau,” (Genesis 35:1). Now that Esau’s anger towards Jacob was sated, he could go make an altar and meet God in the place where He had previously revealed Himself (Genesis 35:9-15). Likewise, it is only after we create peace in our own relationships that we can expect to be right with God. If it is not us who harbors this hatred, but rather the other party, we are still required to try to make things right. Just as Jacob presented himself as a servant and gave generous gifts to Esau, so too it is our duty to go the extra mile to try to live at peace. When we do this, we are not acting of ourselves, but we reflect the mercies and the peace which God has graciously bestowed on us: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”