Yaakov prepared himself to confront his brother — a man who 22 years ago set out in a rage to kill him. Yaakov had no idea what this encounter would yield. All he knew was that his brother Esav was fast approaching with 400 armed men. And the prospects for peace were dim.
There was little to do. He prepared for war, but he also prepared to avert war by offering gifts to appease the wrath of his mighty kin. He sent messengers laden with sheep, cattle, donkeys and camels all as offerings of peace to Esav.
The bribe worked and the encounter that ensued was not confrontational at all. Yaakov greeted his older brother with great dignity. He bowed and called him, “my master.”
At first, Esav declined Yaakov’s generous gifts. “I have much, let what you have remain yours.” (Genesis 33:9)
Yaakov urged Esav to accept the offering. “Please accept my gift,” he pleaded, adding that “G-d has been gracious to me and I have everything.” (Genesis 33-11)
Ultimately Esav agreed, accepted the gifts and made a counteroffer. He asks Yaakov to join him or at least let his men accompany Yaakov and his family on their journey. Yaakov refused the magnanimous offer from his former enemy and the brothers parted ways. Esav left toward his destiny — Seir — while Yaakov traveled to a town he named for its symbolic transience — Sukkoth, meaning tents.
What are the roots of these brothers’ ideological differences. One refused generous offers from his former nemesis; the other accepted. One travels with an entourage, and the other only with family and some servants. One traveled toward his permanent home and the other names the resting place with a word that means huts.
The Rebbe, Reb Ber of Mezritch, was once approached by a chasid who had a very common problem.
“Rebbe,” he pleaded. “I never seem to have enough. The more I get, the more I want. I know it is improper to think this way and I need help.”
The rebbe told the man to visit Rebbe Zusia of Anipoli. “He can guide you with your difficulty.”
The man was shocked as he approached Reb Zusia’s residence. He saw a ramshackle wooden hut with boarded windows. Upon entering, the poverty was overwhelming. The man figured, “surely this is a man who is in constant need. He hardly has what he needed, and must grapple with new desires on a constant basis. He surely will be able to counsel me on my longing for the articles that I lack.”
The man discussed his problem with Reb Zusia, but Reb Zusia looked at him in amazement.
“What are you coming to me for? How can I advise you? I have absolutely everything I need!”
There is a distinct difference in how Yaakov and his brother Esav perceived their lot. Yaakov said he had everything. He needed no favors, wanted neither gifts or help from Esav, and was very happy to live in a tent city named Sukkoth. Esav only had most of what he wanted. If you push the right buttons, he could be bought, cajoled and swayed for a little more.
The vision of one’s future is determined by the essence of one’s present. One who believes he has only most of what he can acquire will not be satisfied until he has it all and he will never have it all. But one who feels he has it all, will be most happy — always.
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.