Parashat VaYishlach recounts Yaakov’s reunion with Eisav. Afraid Eisav will seek vengeance for his pilfering the Berachot years earlier, Yaakov decides to send Eisav a gift of many flocks of different animals, hoping that his show of magnanimity will assuage Eisav’s anger. Yaakov gives his messengers one peculiar instruction: “VeRevach Tasimu Bein Eider UVein Eider,” “And leave some space between each flock” (32:17). Why does Yaakov insist that his flocks be separated by species?
Rashi answers that Yaakov was trying to make his gift look more impressive. If all the animals came in one jumbled mass, Eisav would not be so influenced. Because he left space between different flocks, Yaakov made it seem as though his gift was much larger than it truly was, by which he hoped to better calm Eisav. The differentiation by species was convenient, so he divided them that way.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch proposes a different answer. He explains that Yaakov was making use of a “deep psychological insight” into anger management. If someone is angry, it is unwise to attempt to calm him down all at once. A better tactic is to attempt to assuage his anger piecemeal. As such, if Yaakov had sent his entire gift at once, it might have calmed Eisav somewhat but would not have assuaged his anger altogether. Therefore, Yaakov divided his gift into portions so that Eisav’s wrath slowly but surely would be cooled.
Rav Hirsch’s insight is true not only vis-à-vis other people, but also regarding ourselves. Rav Yissocher Frand explains that one of the most effective ways to avoid getting angry is to delay reacting to the slight or incident that is the cause of the potential rage. Be it for two minutes, two hours, or two days, stepping away from the situation is a good method to avoid flaring up. In fact, Rav Eliyah Lopian once waited two weeks to discuss a problem with his son, lest he burst out in anger during the conversation.
Rav Paysach Krohn points out that we daven every day that we be spared from situations that might lead to stress and anger. In every weekday Shemonah Esrei, we recite, “VeHaseir Mimenu Yagon VaAnachah,” “Remove from us sorrow and sighing.” If Chazal felt it important enough to include this prayer thrice daily, it must be a very significant point. Obviously, the best way to avoid anger is to evade situations that might involve tension or high emotions; we daven that Hashem not send us any tests (“Lo LiYdei Nisayon”). But if we are forced into such circumstances, we should be sure to remember that Yaakov understood that postponing our reaction is an excellent way to stay in control.