Parashat VaYishlah: We are the Answer to Yaakob’s Prayer
Parashat Vayishlah begins with Yaakob’s preparations for his feared reunion with his brother, Esav, who was coming to wage war against him. Yaakob offered an emotional prayer to G-d, pleading, “Hasileni Na Mi’yad Ahi, Mi’yad Esav” – “Save me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav” (32:11). Curiously, Yaakob refers to Esav here as both “Esav” and “my brother.” Why did he not simply say, “from my brother” or “from Esav”? Why did he emphasize that he needed protection from “Esav” and from “my brother” – which, of course, are the same person?
The Jewish Nation throughout its history has been threatened by two different forms of threats. The first is “Esav” – those who, like Esav, come against us with force to persecute us. Most of the enemies we are familiar with from our history fall into this category – Egypt, Babylonia, Haman, the Nazis, and so on. There is, however, a different kind of enemy – “my brother.” This is the lure of assimilation into a friendly and open society. Sometimes we are threatened not by anti-Semitism, but specifically by the “brotherly” kindness of foreign nations, which lures us to fully integrate into the culture and lose our tradition and our national identity.
It has thus been explained that Yaakob here prays for protection from both types of threats – from the threat of “Esav,” and the threat of “my brother.” We need G-d’s help to save us from both the threat of hostile enemy nations, as well as the spiritual threat of assimilation into a welcoming and inviting culture.
In our times, unfortunately, we see the devastating effects of “my brother.” Tragically, the vast majority of Jews today are not halachically observan – despite the fact that they live in countries where Jews enjoy the freedom to practice Judaism. The danger of “my brother,” of an enticing culture, has taken its toll. Today, when we enjoy religious freedom, our greatest spiritual threat is not anti-Semitic persecution, but rather the lures of our society to which the majority of the Jewish Nation has succumbed.
And yet, despite the widespread assimilation, we see with our own eyes how Yaakob’s prayer has been answered. The very fact that Judaism has survived, that there are still large numbers of Jews who are committed to faith and tradition, is the answer to Yaakob’s prayer. G-d has protected us over the centuries from persecution, ensuring the nation’s survival despite the efforts of our enemies, and He protects us in our time from the lure of assimilation. We, who remain loyal to our tradition, who enroll our children in Yeshivot, who attend synagogues, who keep Kosher, who study Torah and who obey the Torah’s laws despite the pressures of our secular study, are living proof that Yaakob’s prayer was answered. G-d has protected us from both “Esav” and from “my brother,” from both the enemies who have sought to annihilate us and the temptations that threaten to draw us away from our faith. We must continue working to protect ourselves from this threat, and to turn to G-d for the assistance we need to overcome the dangers of the modern world.