Rav Ronen Neuwirth
Former Central Shaliach of Bnei Akiva North America
Currently Rav of Kehillat Ohel Ari in Raanana, Member of Beit Hillel
וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ וַיַּחַץ אֶת הָעָם אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ וְאֶת הַצֹּאן וְאֶת הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת: וַיֹּאמֶר אִם יָבוֹא עֵשָׂו אֶל הַמַּחֲנֶה הָאַחַת וְהִכָּהוּ וְהָיָה הַמַּחֲנֶה הַנִּשְׁאָר לִפְלֵיטָה:
“Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed. And he divided the people that were with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels, into two camps. And he said: ‘If Esau come to the first camp, and strikes it down, then the remaining camp shall survive” (Breshit 32).
The strategic battle plan that Yaakov constructs while preparing for battle with Esau is quite perplexing. Is it really better to split the camps? A strong united camp will have a higher chance of survival. Even more so, once Esau encounters the other camp and discovers that Yaakov isn’t there, surely he’ll realize that there is another camp. How does Yaakov have the confidence that the second camp will survive?
One analysis of many of the narratives in our current Parashiot is the utilization of the principle of “Ma’aseh Avot Siman L’vanim” – the actions of the Patriarchs are a model for the actions of the descendants. This rule is understood by the Ramban as a predictive principle, the actions of the Avot and the consequences of those actions will be repeated in history.
The Ramban explains this matter in our Parasha according to the following Midrash (Yalkut Shim’oni):” ‘If Esau comes to the first camp and strikes it down’ – these are our brothers in the south, ‘then the remaining camp shall survive’ – these are our brothers in the Diaspora.”
The Ramban elaborates, “The intention of Yaakov was the following; Yaakov knows that not all of his offspring will be struck down by Esau. Therefore, one camp must survive. This implies for the future that the descendants of Esau will not decree to wipe our name out, but rather will torture part of us in some of their countries. One king decrees harsh laws in his land on our property or on our lives whereas another king has mercy upon us and rescues the survivors. This Parasha is a sign for the future.” (Ramban Ibid)
According to the Ramban, Yaakov’s life story is parallel to a specific time period in Jewish history. Just as Yaakov was exiled for the longest Galut of all our Patriarchs while escaping from Esau, we were sent to our longest exile, two thousand years, by the Roman kingdom, the descendants of Esau.
If that is the case, the scenario of leaving Galut and entering Eretz Israel in our Parasha, reflects the 3rd Geulah – our current redemption after 2000 years of Galut. On the eve of the redemption, Yaakov is getting prepared for a horrible struggle, for a horrifying situation, where one camp of Bnei Israel has the grave potential of being be totally exterminated. However, we have a promise and a guarantee. Never, ever, will any enemy succeed to abolish Am Israel.
“נצח ישראל לא ישקר – The eternal One of Israel does not lie and does not relent”.
Even in the worst periods in our history, when heavy darkness covers the world, always some of Esau descendants will help us to survive and to become rehabilitated as some others will try to wipe us out.
Our Haftora elaborates on the location of the refuge:
” כי בהר ציון ובירושלים תהיה פליטה – for on the mountain of Zion and in Yerushalayim there will be a refuge”.
Eretz Israel is the only place where there is future for the Jews