Lessons from Jacob on War and Peace
By Simon Jacobson
November 21, 2002
I feel guilty. When I finished writing last week’s
article and I heard about the tragic news from Chevron, I was
overcome with regrets over my own complacency. What are you
doing waxing philosophical about… sheep, when lives are being
torn from our midst, in a senseless madness that has consumed
the Middle East?
Insanity has become the norm, and we here in America
delude ourselves into thinking that this is not about us, as
we go about our ‘sane’ and organized lives, even as innocent
people – this time teenagers on a bus in Jerusalem – are being
Where is this headed and are we doomed to a desolate
future of more and more killings?!
And what are we to do about it?
Honestly, though I receive many compliments for
my weekly e-mail articles, I cannot bring myself to write about
anything else when this obvious crisis slaps us in the face
just when we thought were safe behind our complacency.
I for one do not want to be remembered for silence
and inaction in face of what is happening to our brothers and
sisters in the Holy Land. We are repulsed enough by the silence
60 years ago when our brethren were being exterminated in Europe…
What will I – and you – tell my (our) children
when they ask us: What did you do?!…
So this week I asked our editor, Neria, to perhaps
find something from our archives to send out in our weekly e-mail,
so that I don’t have to sit down and write misplaced ideas when
an uncontrollable fire is burning down the house.
But then I realized my own cowardice. “No way,”
I said to myself, “you cannot be silent. You must write and
express precisely these feelings. If nothing else, you will
at least leave a document that you cared.”
More importantly, believing that the Torah is
our blueprint for life, doesn’t the Torah have something to
say about how to deal with, and what we can do about, the current
Challenges always bring out the best in us. I
immediately realized that this week’s Torah portion speaks directly
to our situation today.
Jacob is faced with a formidable confrontation.
He is about to meet his twin brother and mortal enemy, Esau,
from whom he had to escape 20 years ago in fear of his life
after stealing the blessings from Esau. Frightened and distressed,
Jacob prays to G-d to rescue him from Esau. Jacob also prepares
for war with Esau. Finally he prepares a bribe to appease Esau
Why does Jacob need all three methods, especially
considering that he prayed for help, why then would he need
The answer: Faith and prayer are not just for
losers and weak people. Faith is not a mere crutch and escape.
True faith dictates that coupled and driven by your faith you
do everything in your power, in the natural realm, you use every
possible intervention to solve the problem.
Jacob therefore covers all the bases and scenarios.
He begins with prayer, but he also prepares for war, the worst
case scenario, one of last resort, yet still a distinct possibility
considering that Esau is marching toward him with an army! And
then he prepares a bribe, a gift that will appease Esau. Thankfully,
Jacob needs only the first and third interventions (prayer and
gifts) to cause Esau to reconcile with him.
Therein lies the lesson for us in facing adversaries
today, both personally and collectively.
The first thing we must do is pray. We must establish
our connection with G-d and recognize that the foundation of
any success lies in our absolute conviction that our cause is
right and Divine.
You can have all the tools and weapons in the
world, you can devise the best schemes, but if you don’t believe
in your cause, and you don’t believe that you can and will prevail,
you will not be able to achieve victory. Case in point: America
in Vietnam. Victory is for those that believe in it the most.
Persistence will always win over complacency. A committed individual
is more powerful than a hundred uncommitted.
Prayer is the foundation – to establish the absoluteness
of your cause, and turn to G-d with this firm belief and ask
G-d to ensure your success.
Faith then dictates and infuses you with the fortitude
to do whatever it takes, everything humanly possible to ensure
victory. Faith is not an escape into fantasy; as you look up
to heaven in prayer your feet remain grounded on Earth. You
aren’t naïve or in denial about the realities around you,
and you leave no stone unturned. You prepare for war if necessary,
in the worst case scenario. You also devise schemes that may
appease the enemy – without compromising yourself – and solve
the problem without having to actually go to war.
But you must prepare and be ready to do whatever
In Israel today the single most important foundation
(that sadly appears as if it may often be missing) is that our
cause is just. We are absolutely convinced that we belong in
the land and that the lands belongs to us. The only right that
the Jewish people have to Israel is the fact that it was given
to them by G-d (see the first Rashi in the Torah), and they
have historically lived there since the times of Abraham. Take
away this element and you have a very arbitrary claim.
We must all first establish the absoluteness of
our mission and cause. It would do us all well to begin with
a prayer – to connect to G-d and ask for His assistance in our
time of need. We pray not only that G-d should protect us -
that is a necessary prayer and one which we offer with our complete
hearts - but even before you begin to pray, before you have
the right to pray, you must be able to say that you believe
in the cause, or else the prayer is just words. We must feel
that what we pray for is right and should be granted to us.
And if you don’t feel that, perhaps you should pray that you
acquire that confidence.
Then, we must be prudent and realistic. As Jacob,
we must send out messengers to assess the intentions of our
adversary. Sadly today, we don’t need messengers; the intentions
are quite clear. And resultantly, we must do whatever it takes
to defend ourselves. If it’s war so be it. Not because we want
it, but because it’s been thrust upon us. What is unhealthy
is to delude yourself into false hopes of appeasement, when
war has been declared and waged against you.
If war is avoidable and you can in some way appease
your adversary – not by giving away precious land that is necessary
for security and puts you further at risk – but in other modes
of mutual cooperation, then of course, that takes precedent.
But once you have been attacked, and not once, but time and
again, and it doesn’t end, you must stop that threat. Once the
other side is ready to stop the war, you can find ways to appease
them that don’t put you at any risk.
Indeed, though prayer is the foundation, we find
that Jacob actually begins by preparing for war even before
his prayer. Because when life is at risk, protecting life is
the first priority. Then, when you have mobilized your army
and are ready for any possible attack, you can pray.
Jacob was not a victim and neither are we. We
free ourselves from oppressive circumstances by taking the bull
by the horns and initiating change. We MAKE a move.
And we make every move possible so that all possibilities
are covered. But it all begins with the absolute conviction
and commitment to your cause.
Let’s make our move.