Parashat VaYishlach begins with Yaakov planning to confront his brother Eisav. Eisav’s pending arrival stirs tremendous fear in Yaakov. The Pasuk explains, “VaYira Yaakov Meod VaYeitzer Lo,” “And Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him” (BeReishit 32:8). Rashi comments that the repetitive language of VaYira (and he was frightened) and VaYeitzer (and he was distressed) indicates two different considerations. VaYira shows that Yaakov was concerned for his own life, while VaYeitzer Lo demonstrates that he was concerned for the lives of others.
Rav Avraham Twerski explains Yaakov’s great fear in a different fashion. Hashem had promised Yaakov protection at all times. Nevertheless, Yaakov was terrified and intimidated by Eisav. Rav Twerski writes that Eisav’s merits were the reason for this great fear. Yaakov feared that Mitzvot Eisav performed and the merits he received would be forceful enough to nullify Hashem’s covenant with Yaakov. On the surface, this statement is perplexing and seems to be contradictory to previous Parshiyot in which Eisav is described as a first degree Rasha while Yaakov is portrayed as a complete Tzaddik. In fact, according to the Midrash, Eisav committed acts which were more appalling and flagrant then all other Aveirot. It seems nonsensical that Yaakov should be worried about Eisav’s Mitzvot negating a covenant between him and Hashem.
Rav Twersky explains that Yaakov was primarily fearful of two of Eisav’s Mitzvot: living in Eretz Yisrael and fulfilling the Mitzvah of Kibud Av to Yitzchak. Yaakov had done neither of these two Mitzvot in over twenty years due to his prolonged stay in the household of Lavan. Therefore, although Eisav was a complete Rasha in comparison to Yaakov, the mere fact that he fulfilled these two Mitzvot was reason enough for Yaakov’s tremendous fear.
We see a similar type of fear expressed by Moshe Rabbeinu who was absolutely petrified when he went to war with Og, the king of Bashan. Although Moshe had a level of prophecy superior to that of any Jew, he was afraid of a gentile king. The Midrash states that Og was the messenger who informed Avraham of the capture of his brother-in law, Lot. Moshe was fearful that the merit of this one act would be enough for Og to succeed in battle against Moshe.
We can learn a most applicable and important lesson from these two instances. Tanach figures such as Moshe and Yaakov were distraught over an encounter with a Rasha who performed one or two righteous acts. We must acknowledge the potential ramifications of performing or not performing a single Mitzvah, and recognize that any Mitzvah can tip the scales in our favor.