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Home » Vayishlach

Vayishlach: In Fear of his Brother

Submitted by on November 12, 2006 – 1:00 amNo Comment | 2,828 views

He was Worried

Hey, brother, can you spare a nickel? A penny or a dime? Jacob didn’t waste his time with such requests. His brother wanted to kill him and Jacob was desperate. He was afraid. He sent messengers asking, “Esau, can you spare a little love?” (1)
Why was Jacob worried? He knew that his brother was a dangerous man with a chip on his shoulder, but did he forget the prophecy given their mother before they were born? Did he forget their destiny?
The prophet told their mother Jacob and Esau would eternally vie for supremacy. “When one will rise, the other will fall. However,” he assured her,” as long as Jacob follows the call of Torah he will remain dominant.” All Jacob had to do was study the Torah and he would be protected from his brother’s evil schemes. Why was he worried? (2)

Constant Concern

Jacob explained, “I am humbled by the kindness and truth you have done for your servant. I crossed the Jordan with my walking stick and now I am the master of two camps.” (3)
Jacob knew that G-d had showered him with blessing, but he wondered if he deserved it all. He knew that he had studied the Torah and heeded its call, but was not confidant that his efforts were sufficient.
He was humbled by the truth. What is the truth? Our sages taught that when the Torah speaks of truth it refers to itself. Jacob was humbled by the Torah. The very Torah that secured him against his brother, humbled him and made him feel insecure. (4)
King Solomon declared, “Ashrei Adam Mefached Tamid,” praiseworthy is the man who is always concerned. Our sages taught that one must always be concerned about one’s Torah studies. we must constantly review our studies lest we forget the Torah. (5)
The truth, the Torah, humbled Jacob. The Hebrew word for truth is Emet. The Hebrew letters that comprise this word form an acronym for King Solomon’s phrase, “Ashrei Adam Mefached Tamid.”
Jacob understood that constant Torah study would protect him against his brother’s schemes, but he was concerned, as one should always be concerned, that if he paused for even a moment, he might forget his studies. Worse, he might break away from his study habits and eventually neglect the Torah.
Even one as diligent as Jacob cannot afford to grow arrogant in Torah observance for we are all subject to the vicissitudes of human nature. Our commitment today does not ensure our commitment tomorrow. We cannot afford to let down our guard.
In the face of Torah, in the face of truth, in the face of “emet,”we must remember the acronym, “Ashrei Adam Mefached Tamid.” Like Jacob, we must remain humble.

Trials of Prosperity

Following the words, “I am humbled by the kindness and truth that you have performed for your servant,” Jacob went on to say, “For with my stick I crossed the Jordan and I am now the master of two camps.”
What is the link between Jacob’s humility and his incredible financial success?
The reader will recall that the Torah warns us against temptation for wealth. in fear of his brother - innerstreamTo be fair, trials of poverty are exceedingly difficult. Just the same, trials of prosperity can be crippling too. Perhaps even more so than that of poverty. (6)
The Torah forewarns us that as our wealth grows, as our collection of gold and silver expands we may grow haughty and forget our G-d. We might forget our redeemer from Egypt and proclaim ourselves masters of destiny. Authors of our own success.
All too often, this is the unfortunate case. Blessed with prosperity, many are hard pressed to remember their humble origins. They forget those who raised them and invested in them. Those who helped them and believed in them. Those who supported them when they were down and assisted them on our way up.
The first victim is often, G-d. This is not true of every wealthy person, but every wealthy person is made to stand the trial. Some succeed and others fail, but all must take the trial.

The Ultimate Test

Jacob crossed the Jordan a poor man, all he had was his walking stick. But he returned, a man of means, a master of two camps. Alas, Jacob was not thrilled with his new found prosperity. He understood it would present him with a most serious test. His faith, his conviction, his very commitment to the Torah would be sorely tried.
He was concerned. He was humbled. The kindness of prosperity gave him pause. He understood that his loyalty to Torah, to the truth, would now be tested. In the spirit of King Solomon’s teaching, Jacob was concerned.
He would have been much happier without the wealth. His loyalty to Torah would not have been questioned and he would have no reason to fear his brother. Because of the kindness he was shown, the wealth he was given, he was now concerned with sustaining his devotion to the truth, to Torah. He now felt vulnerable and he prayed to G-d for salvation.
Jacob’s humility was just that. He passed his test with flying colors and when he finally met Esau he was greeted with love rather than hatred. Indeed, his loyalty to Torah assured his dominance over his evil brother. (7)


  1. Genesis 32: 6.
  2. Genesis 25: 13. See Rashi ibid. See also Bereishis Rabbah, 65: 19.
  3. Jerusalem Talmud, Rosh Hashanah, 3: 8.
  4. Genesis 32: 11.
  5. Proverbs 28: 14. See Bab. Talmud Brachos, 60a.
  6. Deuteronomy 11: 8-18.
  7. This essay is based on commentary from Divrei Yisrael (R. Yisrael Taub, Modzitz, Poland, 1849 -1920) on Genesis 32: 13.
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