Vayishlach: Are We Victims?


Lessons from Jacob on War and Peace

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 blown up.

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 situation?

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 his brother.

Why does Jacob need all three methods, especially considering that he prayed for help, why then would he need other approaches?

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 it takes.

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.


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