וירא יעקב מאד ויצר לו, “And Yaakov became very frightened, and it distressed him” (Bereishit 32:8).
In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, Yaakov hears that Esav is coming to greet him, and not knowing if this is for good or bad, Yaakov is afraid. How could Yaakov be afraid if Hashem just promised him that he would be protected? Rashi quotes Bereishit Rabbah, which explains that Yaakov was afraid of Esav because Esav had the זכות (merit) of living in Eretz Yisrael while Yaakov was in Charan at Lavan’s house. Perhaps because of this, Hashem would protect Esav rather than Yaakov.
Rav Shmuel Moholiver, one of the heads of the Chovevei Tzion (religious Zionist) movement of the 19th century, was puzzled by this. A few Pesukim earlier, Yaakov said עם לבן גרתי, “I lived with Lavan,” and Rashi comments, based on Gematria, that this means עם לבן הרשע גרתי, ותרי"ג מצוות שמרתי, “I lived with the wicked Lavan, and I still kept all of the Mitzvot.” Here, Yaakov, who has performed all of the Mitzvot, is afraid of Esav who has fulfilled the one Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael!
From this we can learn the importance of the Mitzva of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael. Yaakov realized that even when a רשע like Esav does this one Mitzva, he can be compared to a complete Tzaddik like Yaakov Avinu. If Esav lived in Israel, did not perform other Mitzvot, yet was equated to Yaakov Avinu, then imagine how much greater we would be if we would live in Eretz Yisrael and do keep all of the other Mitzvot!