In this week’s parshah we read about the confrontation between Ya’akov and Esav, which concludes with Esav suggesting “Let us travel and go and I will go with you” (BeReishit 33:12). Ya’akov refuses claiming that the children and his flocks cannot go very far. Ya’akov has an alternative suggestion “My master [Esav] shall pass before his servant and I will go slowly until I come to my master in Seir” (ibid. 14).

The Midrashim explain this final exchange between the brothers. “When Ya’akov and Esav were still in the womb Ya’akov said to Esav ‘Esav my brother, we are two brothers and there are two worlds, this world and the next world. This world is for eating and drinking and getting married and having children, but the next world has none of these. If you so wish, why do you not take this world and I will take the next world’. Esav took this world and Ya’akov the next world.

When Ya’akov came from Lavan’s house and Esav saw that Ya’akov had wives and children, servants, flock, silver and gold, Esav said to Ya’akov ‘Ya’akov, my brother, did you not say that I will take this world and you will take the next world? How come you are using the riches of this world?’

Ya’akov replied ‘This is the little possessions that God gave me for my personal use in this world.’

Esav thought to himself that if Ya’akov has no portion in this world, even so God gave him all of these, then in the next world which is his portion, how much more so.

Esav said to his brother ‘Ya’akov my brother, let us make a partnership, you and me. You take half of this world and half of the next world, and I will also take half of this world and half of the next world’.” (Tanna d’Vei Eliyahu Zuta 19)

Esav suggested that he and Ya’akov go together, that they should divide their riches between them. Not only their physical wealth, but their spiritual rewards as well. Ya’akov refused knowing that he could not share his portion in the next world with Esav.

Another Midrash expands on their conversation.

“[Esav] said ‘Let us be partners’.

Ya’akov replied ‘Please will my master go before his servant.’

He said ‘Are you not frightened of my ministers and governors and soldiers?’

‘I will go slowly’, I will go very slowly, as it says ‘The waters of the Shiloach that flow slowly’

Rabbi Abahu said that nowhere does it say in the Torah that Ya’akov went to Esav as he promised. Rather, this refers to the future, as it says ‘Redeemers will ascend the mountainof Zionto judge the mountainof Esav'” (BeReishit Raba 78:14)

Esav offers Ya’akov a partnership. This is obviously to Esav’s advantage, and so Ya’akov refuses. He is not willing to forfeit any of his portion in the next world to Esav. Esav then tries to convince Ya’akov by discussing what will happen if he rejects him. Ya’akov and his descendants will be persecuted by Esav for generations. Does Ya’akov not fear the rule and power of Esav? Ya’akov really has no viable alternative to Esav’s offer.

Ya’akov still refuses to make a pact with Esav. “I will go slowly” he replies. Like the waters of Shiloach that flow slowly. This is a reference to the verse in Yeshayahu. “Since this nation has rejected the waters of the Shiloach that flow slowly [1] will bring on them the waters of the great river, the king of Ashur and he will overflow his banks. He will flow through Yehudah” (Yeshayahu 8:6-8).

The waters of the Shiloach is a reference to the monarchy of David and his descendants. The prophet Yeshayahu notes that the people have a simple choice. Either they can choose David and the kings of Israel, or else they will get the rulers of Ashur, of Assyria, who will come and destroy them.

The Jewish kings are described as slowly flowing waters. The waters of Ashur are more mighty and impressive, but the slow flow will overcome the grand rivers of Assyriain the end. In our prayers we ask God “Cause the shoot of David to grow”. King David is described like a small shoot that grows slowly but surely. When we plant flowers we do not always see their daily progress and can be tricked into thinking that they are not growing at all. But one day the flowers bloom and we see that they were active the entire time, but grew slowly.

This is Ya’akov’s answer to Esav. My strength is in time and my tenacity. I will beat you not by power and might, but by slowly but surely growing and developing. Even if you kill some of my descendants and children, I will have more and start again. Quietly and with no fanfare, but I will determinedly grow and flourish. Then one day I will be strong and then I will judge you. One day the balance of power will be in my favor. It may be a long time in the future, but I am in no particular hurry.

Our strength against Esav is in our ability to hold on and be patient. If we reject the slow waters of the Shiloach we will get the destructive riverof Ashur. Ya’akov went slowly until he came to Shchem, “complete” (BeReishit 33:18) healed and fulfilled but separate from Esav. His alternative is simply to live and continue living and slowly to survive whatever Esav can throw at him. But survive he will until he meets Esav again in the future when he comes to judge him and establish God as King over the entire world.