Vayishlach: Apologize and reconcile

ReconciliationI know I should be writing about Dinah and the was she was attacked in this week’s parashah. In this extremely long parasha, Vayishlach, all of chapter 34 is devoted to her story. Dinah was Jacob’s daughter through Leah, the only one we know about. She “went out” to hang out with some other women. She was raped. Her brothers, led by Simeon and Levi, ended up slaughtering her rapist’s town, even though he and his entire town agreed to become circumcised to appease the sons, so Dinah could marry the rapist’s son.. Jacob’s sons waited until after they were at their weakest from the procedure, and attacked and slew every man in town.

Wait, I wasn’t going to write about Dinah. I wanted to write more about the meeting that took place between Esau and Jacob after twenty years of being estranged. Let’s remember why they were estranged. Back when they were boys, Esau came in from the hunt, Jacob was sitting by the tent, and when his brother said he was famished, Jacob withheld the stew he was cooking until Esau had “sold” (extorted?) the birthright from him, the elder brother by rights.

Then, when old blind Isaac lay dying, and asked his favorite son to bring him food the way he liked it, while Esau went out to hunt down dinner, Jacob put on a bunch of hairy skins to fool his dad into thinking he was Esau, and stole the first-son blessing out from under his older brother. And whose idea was this? None other than dear mom, Rebecca, whose favorite son was, of course, Jacob. After Esau realized what happened, Rebecca told Jacob to get out of town, figuring Esau would be out after blood.

Fast forward twenty years, and the brothers are about to meet again. Naturally Jacob is a bit nervous, given the mood Esau was in when last seen. Both brothers had become wealthy men, but Jacob made the first step, sending messages and gifts to Esau. Finally, they meet. Jacob ran ahead, and bowed to Esau. “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and falling on his neck, he (Esau) kissed him ,and they wept.” (Gen 33:4) They were incredibly civil to each other, visibly moved. Esau wanted to journey together, but Jacob declined the offer. They separated, and didn’t see each other until Isaac’s death.

I keep thinking there should be another line in the script: an apology from Jacob. Something like, “Esau, I did some terrible things to you when we were young, and I’m so sorry.”

Would that have shown weakness? Jacob had recently wrestled with God/messenger and received a new name, the God-wrestler “Israel.” Did he think that after that experience, he was too God-touched to apologize to his brother?  Was he entrenched in his behavior long past, feeling it was justified and part of the Divine plan, so he didn’t have to apologize to anyone, especially his own brother? How can there be reconciliation without an apology. There wasn’t; the brothers didn’t speak at Isaac’s gravesite.

Jacob’s future was a family that continued favoritism, dissension, and led to attempted fratricide. Might it have been different if he had been humble enough to really reconcile, to apologize?  Of course, I’m not suggesting that the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau could have had a different story if Jacob had simply apologized to Esau. But, perhaps a tone was set that can still teach us something today. It’s obvious we are in a time of almost constant need of reconciliation – we go around with our emotional dukes up. Maybe apologies would have saved another generation of brothers hating each other. Are we going to pass these fights on to our children, too?

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