Jacob’s secret weapons in his Battle with Esav
Esav had threatened to kill Yaakov after Yaakov received the blessings from his father Yitzchak. So on his mother Rivka’s advice, Yaakov fled the country to Laban’s home where he married Leah, Rachel, Bilhah and Zilpah.
Yaakov amassed a fortune and eleven of the tribes were born. He decided to return with his family to the Land of Israel where he met up with his brother Esav who was waiting at the border with a large army.
If Yaakov knew Esav still wanted to kill him, why did Yaakov think the time was right to confront Esav now?
Something curious happened in last week’s portion. Yaakov did not wait for all 12 tribes to be born until he returned to the Land. Immediately after Joseph was born, Jacob decided it was time to leave Laban’s house. (Genesis 30:25) What was so significant about Joseph’s birth?
Knowing that Esav was waiting at the border of the Land with an army, Yaakov sent messengers to tell Esav “I have oxen and donkeys…” (Genesis 32:6). In Hebrew it is “Shor veChamor”. Was that supposed to intimidate Esav?
Yaakov understood that his “right to the Land” was based on Yaakov continuing Avraham’s tradition of using the Land as an opportunity to be a light to nations and teach the world about the “One God.” Esav had abdicated that job to Yaakov and sold his birthright. After Yaakov spent so many years in Laban’s house, Esav assumed Yaakov had assimilated Laban’s evil ways and therefore had no more right to the Land than Esav did.
Yaakov wanted to send a message, that in spite of living in Laban’s house, he had raised his family with Torah-true values. The Midrash reminds us that the each tribe had a symbol…. Joseph is an “Ox” and Yissachar is a “Donkey.”
Yissachar’s role among the tribes is to be a student and teacher of Torah. Joseph’s role is to be the “Tzaddik,” the Righteous. To be righteous means to transcend the seduction of the physical world while being immersed in it and maintain one’s spritiual values. Joseph will be the one to resist the advances of Potiphor’s wife and ultimately become the viceroy of Egypt while never assimilating into Egyptian paganism.
The Midrash also tells us Joseph is the exact opposite of Esav. Joseph will be the one who will lead the Jewish people while in exile and fight the wars that will defeat Esav’s descendants. Those are the descendants of Esav who will rise up to prevent the Jewish people from returning from exile to their Land. We see this happen when the Jews leave Egypt on their way to the Land. Amalek (Esav’s descendant) rises up in battle to prevent the Jews from entering the Land. Yehoshua (Joshua) who is a descendant of Joseph leads the battle against Amalek and is victorious.
Yaakov knows that if he has Righteous Leadership (Joseph – Shor – Ox) operating according to Torah values (Yissachar – Chamor – Donkey) he has the ultimate secret weapons to merit the Land and defeat his brother Esav. Esav understands that as well and “stands down” when he hears Yaakov is bringing with him (Shor veChamor – Joseph and Yissachar)
Today, the enemies of Israel, the spiritual decendants of Esav, know that Israel, as a secular democratic state has no more right to the land than the Palestinians. Our secret weapon is to remind them that we have Joseph and Yissachar. Israel is not a democratic state of its citizens. It’s not even the Nation State of the Jewish People. We Jews need to understand our role is to create a righteous material Jewish state that lives by the values of Torah and remind the world that we are still committed to that goal.