One of the more perplexing questions that is raised in this week’s Torah reading is why Yaakov sends agents and messengers to Eisav to inform his brother of his return to the land of Israel. King Solomon in Proverbs had already advised to let sleeping dogs lie, so to speak. So why should Yaakov place himself in a situation of anticipated danger and difficulty when it could have been avoided.
There are many insights and comments that have been expressed over the ages regarding this problem. I will take the liberty of adding my ideas to possibly explain this quandary. We all are aware that deep within each of us there is a psychological impetus to attempt to correct what we may deem to be a past error of judgment or behavior. In fact, the entire Jewish concept of repentance is built on this and can be mobilized for good and positive purposes. This impulse is usually sublimated when current events constantly impinge upon our lives.
We are busy making a living, raising a family, engaging in a profession or business, studying or teaching, and we have little time to think and recall all our past misdeeds and errors. In fact, we become so involved in our lives, that we almost forget our past behavior and less than noble life patterns. But, as is often the case, the past gnaws upon us, and eventually gives us no rest until and unless we attempt to somehow correct what we feel was wrong and even shameful.
Yaakov is aware that he obtained both the birthright and the blessings from his brother by questionable means. This matter has been discussed for millennia, and we have alluded to the many insights, interpretations, comments, and explanations for the behavior of Yaakov. Nevertheless, the issue remains basically unresolved, for the verses in the Torah remain explicit, unchangeable, and eternal. It is, perfectly understandable that our father Yaakov should try somehow to make amends to his brother for the past times that Eisav, wrongly or rightly, felt that he was taken advantage of and deprived of what was really his.
Considering this, it is perfectly understandable why Yaakov behaves in the way he did and bestows upon Eisav such exaggerated gifts. It may be his attempt to square things and to defuse the bitterness of the past. It is not so much that Eisav should be mollified, but, rather, that Yaakov should become refreshed and more at peace with himself regarding his eternal mission of building the Jewish people – a mission which requires that he possess the birthright and the blessings of his father Yitzchak.
Only people who are at peace with themselves can really be constructive and positive in life, for them and others. It is this realization that impels Yaakov to seek out his brother before establishing himself in the land of Israel and beginning to fulfill the mission and the blessings that were rightly given to him.
Rabbi Berel Wein