Why Ya’akov Waited for Eisav by Simcha Wagner


The first story that we encounter in Parashat VaYeishev is Ya’akov’s settling down in the land where Yitzchak had lived. In last week’s Parashah, the final matter related is Eisav’s descendants and how Eisav settled to live in Sei’ir. Rashi, in his first comment on VaYeishev (37:1 s.v. VaYeishev Ya’akov etc.), believes that this is done to highlight the contrast between Ya’akov and Eisav. He explains that Eisav and his sons were not esteemed by Hashem and therefore the Torah describes them in a concise manner. Ya’akov and his children, however, were beloved by Hashem, and hence the Torah describes what happened to them at great length.

I would like to suggest another explanation of the Torah’s juxtaposition. Perhaps the reason that the Torah tells us that Ya’akov settled down only after Eisav settled is because Ya’akov did so with intent. Ya’akov was too good a brother to begin to make a home before Eisav, despite the fact that Eisav was a Rasha. There is a well-known principle that one should share in the suffering of the community, even if he is not personally affected by it. Ya’akov was practicing the same concept on a smaller scale. If people in a person’s family is suffering, regardless of how well he knows them or likes them, he can’t allow himself to ignore their plight. Therefore, only once Eisav is comfortable does Ya’akov settle and become comfortable himself.

This may seem rather basic to most – it is obvious that one must aid one’s family. Why am I wasting time explaining something that any child can explain? The reason is because Ya’akov went far beyond the requirements of what he had to do. Let’s look at it with this theoretical situation: A man has a psychopathic brother who chases him away from home for 22 years, forces him to live with his backstabbing uncle, and then threatens to wipe out his family when he decide to come home. This man will probably not be his brother’s biggest fan. It would be rather miraculous if the man would say, “Hey brother, no problem, family’s family.” He certainly wouldn’t be inclined to do his brother any kindness such as send him some house-warming gifts. Nonetheless, selfless Ya’akov in parallel circumstances actually waited until his brother settled in until he started to settle in himself.

In last week’s Parashah, Ya’akov stopped traveling at Sukkot, so named because he set up only a small, temporary residence there. Bear in mind that Eisav already had a home at this point – Ya’akov went the extra mile and didn’t permanently settle until Eisav actually arrived at his home. This is what we can learn from Ya’akov through the juxtaposition of Eisav setting up a home and Ya’akov setting up a home.

As Jews, we cannot merely share in the suffering of our fellows. We must also share in their inconveniences. We must be willing to not only empathize and aid with the major challenges that life thrusts upon us, such as Hurricane Sandy, but we must also be willing to lend a helping hand for little things. Let’s say a student has enough cash to buy a soda but his friend does not. No one would fault the first student for buying a soda while the lacking friend is present; however, a Ya’akov would not buy a soda right then. A Ya’akov would see that his brother is discomforted. He wouldn’t care how minor the problem is; he would empathize with his brother and put himself in the same discomfort. So, please remember – the next time that you see a fellow inconvenienced, remember to show that you care. Remember to be a Ya’akov.

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