Ever since we were children we have been taught that the Torah’s description of Ya’akov’s encounter with Eisav and Ya’akov’s preparations for that encounter are meant as a model for how Jews throughout the generations should prepare for encounters with the adversaries of their own times. Just as Ya’akov sent gifts and tried to reach out to Eisav through diplomacy, so, too, we should reach out to our adversaries. Just as Ya’akov devised a strategy, dividing his camp into two separate groups, so, too, we should also think strategically. Ya’akov also demonstrated for us that even with all of our plans and preparations, we must also always turn to Hashem in prayer.
Regarding the division of Ya’akov’s camp into two, Ramban and others, based on a Midrash, inform us that Ya’akov’s idea was to ensure that if one part was wiped out by the enemy, at least the other half would survive and carry on. In the words of the Midrash (BeReishit Rabbah 76:3), “If Eisav will come to one camp and smite it… the camp remaining will survive harm.”
In his Sefer Darash David, Rav Dovid Hofstedter raises a question that sheds a whole new light on Ya'akov dividing his camp into two groups. The Pasuk in BeReishit (32:11) states, “Katonti MiKol HaChasadim UMikol HaEmet Asher Asita Et Avdecha Ki VeNakli Avarti Et HaYardein HaZeh VeAtah Hayiti LiShnei Machanot,” “I am undeserving of all the kindness and acts of truth that you have performed on behalf of your servant. I crossed the Jordan River with only my staff and now I have become two camps.” Rav Hofstedter asks on it, “If the only reason Ya’akov Avinu divided his family and livestock into two camps was the threat of being attacked by Eisav, why did he thank Hashem for giving him “two camps” when apparently all that Ya’akov had done was divide one camp into two parts?”
There must be more to the two-camp approach than simply a last ditch effort to try and save the lives of some Jews. Rav Hofstedter uses the continuation of that same Midrash cited above to help us understand why Ya’akov is praising Hashem. The Midrash goes on to say that although they escaped harm themselves, the first group fasted on Mondays and Thursdays on behalf of the second group that was undergoing difficulties.
As Ya’akov prepares for his encounter with Eisav, he divides his camp in two not only to try and spare the lives and safety of at least one group, but also to have one group free of hardship so that they would fast, pray, and do everything else in their power to help their relatives in the other camp. Ya’akov is turning to Hashem in gratitude for providing him with two camps that are so closely connected that should one fall into the hands of Eisav, the other would surely pray for them. One could also suggest that in addition to seeing this strong bond between the members of his two camps, Ya’akov may have also understood that this connection between different groups within the Jewish people would be a blessing that the Jewish people would benefit from throughout their long and often difficult history. Perhaps Ya’akov was thanking Hashem for generations of descendants who are so closely bound to one another with love, descendants who will understand that when a group of Jews on one side of the world is in trouble and there is another group of Jews which is not under threat at that moment, it is the members of that group’s duty to invest all of their energy into helping their brothers.
Think about the special prayer that Ashkenazi Jews recite before returning the Torah to the Aron Kodesh. “Acheinu Kol Beit Yisrael HaNetunim BaTzarah…” Our brothers who find themselves in a difficult situation, wherever they may be in the world, we ask Hashem to help them and rescue them from their pain and hardship. Living in an era that can best be characterized by the saying “every man for himself,” it is imperative that we as a Jewish community pause as Ya'akov did and thank Hashem for blessing us with the special ability to be in tune with the pain and suffering of our brothers and a willingness to help them in any way that we can.