Director of the Religious Zionist Shlichut Center
Our father Jacob is in the midst of his journey to the Land of Israel. Unlike his great-grandfather Terach, he will complete his journey, as did Abraham. However, unlike Abraham, who did not encounter difficulties (at least none that we know of) on his way to Israel, Jacob is presented with a serious obstacle. This obstacle takes the form of his brother Esau, who attempts to prevent him (at least from Jacob’s perspective) from reaching Israel.
The Midrash explains that Jacob’s fears revolve around two focal points. There are two mitzvah areas in which, during Jacob’s absence from the Land of Israel, Esau has excelled and accrued merits – honoring his parents and living in the Land of Israel.
As an initial attempt to solve the problem named Esau, Jacob splits his entourage into two camps (Genesis 32:8). This solution, according to the straightforward meaning of the text, would seem to be a tactical and local one.
If we attempt to enter the mindset of the group that is accompanying Jacob, it is relatively easy for us to sense that it will not be very challenging for Jacob to split them up.
We can imagine that at the moment that it becomes known that Jacob’s messengers “went to your brother . . . and he is coming to greet you with four hundred men” (32:7), and it becomes clear that entering the Land of Israel after years of exile (the vast majority of the group had never been in the Land) is not going to be smooth and simple at all, an argument begins in the midst of the group, which will split the group into two camps.
The first camp is undoubtedly in favor of entering the Land by force, while aware that it will involve fighting Esau and his men. The people in this camp (which may include Shimon and Levi, and possibly even Judah) refuse to compromise, refuse to be afraid, and refuse to get agitated about Esau’s “merit of living in the Land of Israel.” Despite the difficulties, they are convinced that the great privilege of entering the Land is greater than the immediate hardships facing them.
On the other hand, we can easily imagine the voices expressed by the second camp. The people in this camp (which may include Yissachar and Zevulun and their like) are deterred by the harsh reality. It seems that life in the Land, which they had heard so much about in their father’s house, is not going to be easy. Even the simple process of entering the Land is going to be complicated and problematic. They will need to make use of skills that they might not have needed to tap into until now.
Perhaps there are even voices which call upon the group to return to Haran. When they had lived there, they had flourished materially, and presumably spiritually as well.
Jacob himself is anguished as a result of this situation (which he may have created), and he turns to God in supplication. “And Jacob said: God of my father Abraham and my father Isaac, the Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your land and the place of your birth and I will be good to you,’ I am unworthy of all the kindness and of all the faithfulness which You have shown to Your servant; for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps” (32:10-11).
Jacob does not understand how this can be happening. God commanded that he return to his place of birth, a process which Jacob optimistically imagined would be joyful without any serious obstacles (just like Abraham, his grandfather’s journey). Suddenly he finds himself split into two camps. The group is divided in two regarding the process which was supposed to come naturally, and which everyone was supposed to be eagerly awaiting.
As the parashah continues, it becomes clear to Jacob that this process is not going to be so simple. Beyond the split in his group, there will also be a violent physical confrontation: “Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When he saw that he had not prevailed against him, he touched the socket of his thigh; so the socket of Jacob’s thigh was dislocated while he wrestled with him” (32:24-25). Simultaneously, Jacob’s identity undergoes a fundamental transformation from Jacob to Israel. “He said, ‘Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel; for you have fought with God and with men and have overcome’” (32:28).
Ultimately, despite the splits and notwithstanding the struggles, Jacob is able to overcome all the difficulties. He and his entire household arrive in the Land of Israel with shlemut (completeness). “And Jacob came complete (shalem) to the city of Shechem which is in the Land of Canaan” (33:18).
All that remains for us is to try to learn from the experience of our father Jacob. When he comes to retake possession of the land of his ancestors, he faces obstacles, which seem similar to those facing our generation. Let us hope and pray that we follow in Jacob’s footsteps despite the obstacles in our path, and that we attain the land of our ancestors with shlemut in every sense of the word.