In this week's parashah, Torah portion, we are witness to a very human moment in the life of our patriarch, Jacob. Convinced by his mother, Rebecca, that he had alienated his twin, Esau, Jacob had fled to the land of his mother's birth and settled there. Years later, a husband and father, Jacob is on his way back home.
As he draws closer to his homeland . . . and to his twin, Esau . . . Jacob begins to worry about the welcome he will receive from his disaffected brother: will Esau wish him ill? will Esau attempt to attack him physically? will Esau turn him away? Jacob prays: "Deliver me, I pray, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau; else, I fear, he may come and strike me down, mothers and children alike. (Breishit/Genesis 32: 12)
The closer the brothers become, geographically, the more terrifying the figure of Esau becomes to his twin, Jacob. Jacob has convinced himself that his and his family may be in mortal danger from the hand of Esau and in order to preserve at least part of his family, Jacob divides his camp into two. At least one half of his family and his estate will survive Esau's attack.
Now within sight of each other, Jacob prostrates himself seven times and he approaches Esau . . . who embraces his long lost twin with passion. Not anger. Not jealousy. Just love.
How often have you found the anticipation to be worse than the event? How often has the voice inside your head convinced you that you are about to face the insurmountable . . . only to discover yourself in a situation that is easier, more manageable, less intimidating than you allowed yourself to imagine?
The imaginings of Jacob, compared with the reality of Esau, provide us with the encouragement to resist talking ourselves into fear. With some faith, some perspective, and some effort to truly understand the other, we can move through this world with a bit more confidence, a bit less of the fear that turns us into people we'd rather not be.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.