By Rabbi Chesky Gewirtz
Yaakov fears for his life as he’s preparing to finally meet his brother Eisav after 34 years, knowing his brother has been plotting to kill him all this time. The tension builds as the inevitable encounter approaches and Yaakov is preparing both physically and mentally. When they finally meet, the Torah tells us (Vayishlach 33:4) that Eisav runs towards Yaakov, hugs him, falls on his neck, and kisses him, and he and his twin brother cry together.
There is a discussion in the Midrash cited in Rashi (d’h Vayishakeihu) about whether or not Eisav’s hug and kiss were sincere. But all seem to be in agreement that his cry was genuine. While the affection in a hug and a kiss can be feigned, crying is a natural reaction to a deep-felt emotion that is difficult to fake. R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that despite the person Eisav became, the cry exhibits the fact that he was a grandson of Avraham Avinu. There was a humaneness to the wild hunter. We begin to see the “good” side of Eisav.
But how did Eisav suddenly change his course and decide not to murder his brother after all the years of planning to do so? What exactly was Eisav crying about? What internal emotion evoked such a response? Whatever it was, it seemed to relate to Yaakov as well, as the pasuk states “and they cried.”
Rashi cites an opinion in the Midrash regarding what caused Eisav’s mercy to become suddenly aroused. It was due to seeing the number of times Yaakov and his family bowed to him out of respect. Eisav saw how Yaakov still respected him despite the decisions he had made, and he could not hold back tears. Eisav was an apple that fell far from the tree but was able to feel connected again to his family, and it was the unconditional positive regard which Yaakov showed him that evoked such an emotional response. Unlike the first time Eisav cried, when he missed out on his father’s berachah, this time Eisav’s cry was heard. Yaakov joined in the cry with his brother, as he too longed for a rekindling of the relationship.
Towards the end of the parashah, the Torah tells us that Eisav left Eretz Yisrael with his family, not as a result of any hatred or conflict with Yaakov’s family, but rather due to practical considerations regarding living space. Furthermore, when his father Yitzchak dies, he joins his brother Yaakov to help with the burial. Despite the destiny of their children to be at arms for generations to come, it seems that Yaakov and Eisav are at peace as a result of this meeting.
Whatever the reasons were that Eisav chose the direction he did, despite their differences, Yaakov never gave up on his brother and continued to treat him with proper respect. May this be a lesson to all of us, as Bnei Yaakov, to realize that no matter what decisions others make, they always deserve our respect and we should always be ready to welcome them home. v
Rabbi Chesky Gewirtz is the rabbi of Congregation Beis Tefillah of North Woodmere. For questions or comments, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.