In this week’s Parashah, Yaakov prepares to meet Eisav, who is accompanied by four hundred men. Eisav comes to convince Yaakov and his family to join and travel with him. Yaakov responds by saying that he has his small children with him on his current journey, and it would be too much trouble, too difficult, to start a new journey. Once Yaakov leaves, the Torah states (BeReishit 33:17), “VeYaakov Nassa Sukkotah VaYiven Lo Bayit ULeMikneihu Assah Sukkot,” he settles in a place named Sukkot and makes himself a house and Sukkot for his animals. Most interpretations understand this Pasuk as stating that Yaakov makes a house for his family and farms of some sort for his animals. However, some opinions understand the Pasuk literally, saying that he actually does make Sukkot for his animals. This shows that not only does Yaakov care for humans, he also cares for and gives attention to animals.
When Eisav approaches Yaakov, the Pasuk states (BeReishit 33:4), “VaYaratz Eisav Likerato VaYchabbekeihu VaYipol Al Tzavarav VaYishakeihu VaYivku,” Eisav runs to greet Yaakov (since he misses him), and he gives him a kiss. When the Pasuk writes that Eisav kisses Yaakov, it could mean several things (some noted by Rashi ad loc s.v. VaYishakeihu). One approach is that he actually kisses him sincerely. Another opinion claims that he kisses him, but it is a very artificial kiss. The last approach adds onto this and offers a very important message. Hashem makes Yaakov a steel neck so that he won’t feel pain from the bite of Eisav when he “kisses” him. This understanding provides us with a significant lesson. It teaches that before Yaakov defeats Eisav’s angel and is given the name “Yisrael,” Eisav despises him, and perhaps the only thing that keeps him alive is the fact that he learns so much Torah. When the Torah mentions that Eisav hates Yaakov, this means that even when his name is changed to Yisrael, after his fight with Eisav’s angel, Eisav will still hate him, as will his descendants, for many centuries.
Why is the fight between Yaakov and the angel of Eisav so important? Why is it that because of a seemingly simple fight, we are not allowed to eat from the limb which Eisav’s angel damages? The answer lies within us. Before Yaakov fights the angel, he davens to Hashem and performs Mitzvot. We learn from here that without Hashem and without Torah, there is no hope for the future. We must always learn Torah so that we can succeed in life and defeat our Yeitzer HaRa. Once Yaakov defeats the angel, he is given the name “Yisrael” by Hashem. There is always hope and protection from evil for one who does Mitzvot, performs Chesed, and always learns Torah.
As the descendants of Yaakov, “Bnei Yisrael,” we must make ourselves a wholesome and learned people. By following in the footsteps of our ancestors, our holy nation can accomplish great things. We must make sure to act like Yaakov does when he is outnumbered and hated, and by that, may we merit the love and awe of all the nations of the world.