TORAH MINUTE - VA-YISHLACH
Just a few weeks ago we witnessed the defeat of a sitting president by a challenger who convinced the electorate to focus on the incumbent's failure of domestic policy and ignore his record in foreign relations. Now that the election is over, I suppose it is safe to talk about foreign policy again and what better place to start than a discussion of the portion of VAYISHLACH where we are presented with the fundamentals of international relations.
VA-YISHLACH opens with the account of Jacob's return to "the land of his fathers", Canaan, after many years with Laban. Jacob exceedingly fears the inevitable meeting with his brother Esau, who has probably not forgotten the loss of his birthright some twenty years earlier. Jacob's preparation for this meeting forms the foundation for all relationships between peoples, a lesson as useful to us today as it was to Jacob almost four millennia in the past.
Jacob prepares for Esau in three ways. First, he hopes to win the favor of Esau by sending emissaries ahead bearing a series of gifts. Second, he tries to enlist the assistance of Hashem through prayer. Finally, Jacob prepares for battle should his efforts at pacifying his brother fail. Diplomacy, prayer and military readiness, in various proportions, have been employed by every nation to deal with every other nation since the beginning of history - and since the beginning of history, the debate has raged over which is the most effective method of settling disputes.
Jacob's use of diplomacy consists of a tribute of cattle and jewels. The amount of riches Jacob prefers upon Esau is actually rather small, but Jacob magnifies its effect by presenting it to Esau in small amounts over time. There are many times when a small gift provides a great deal of goodwill. For Americans, tribute and appeasement are surely the least palatable diplomatic tools. However, we should not lose sight of the fact that this ancient, but still commonly used technique, teaches us that in any negotiation, something must be conceded in order that something else might be gained. An effective diplomatic solution must result in both parties emerging with a fair portion of their goals accomplished. Should one party feel clearly on the short end of the agreement, such as Germany at the end of the First World War, the inevitable result is conflict at some later date.
In the midst of preparing his elaborate tribute, Jacob's practical realism compels him to prepare his party for the possibility of war. Jacob employs an interesting defensive posture which has more than military implications. He divides his party into two camps which he hopes will result in preserving at least part of his possessions should one camp be captured. The lesson we get from this division is the Golden Rule of investing - always diversify. The only practical method of assuring a constant rate of return and insuring against complete ruin is to divide our investments over many instruments.
Jacob's march toward Canaan leaves us with a classic philosophical dilemma - is war the failure of diplomacy or an extension of diplomacy. Should our view of foreign policy be focused through military might or diplomatic skill. The Torah's answer to this question, given through the story of Jacob and Esau, is simple. There is no answer. Like our father, Jacob, we, and our brothers in Israel, should learn to excel at the diplomatic game of give and take, while simultaneously employing the necessary resources to perfect our war making capability. realize that what I have just said begs the question, is there no way for us avoid wars as a means to settle our differences? To begin to find an answer, we are compelled to look beyond our humanity, to contemplate the Creator of Humanity, as Jacob did in his third preparation for Esau - prayer.
Jacob, like all of our patriarchs, was human, possessing and understanding human weaknesses. His closeness with Hashem however, gave him the insight that with the inclination towards war so deeply rooted in the human psyche, the very idea of peace must emanate from Hashem. Look at the paradox human peacemaking efforts have brought us to. Peace, such as it is, has been maintained by military force too terrible in its effect to be used. Predictably, even this tenuous stalemate will soon crumble as more nations such as Iraq learn the simple process of triggering nuclear fission. Thus, like our father Jacob, we still look to our Creator for both the gift of peace and the skill to prevail in war. In the words of the Psalmist (29:11), "Hashem will give his people strength, and will bless his people with peace."
VAYISHLACH states that Jacob's prayer was answered. His meeting with Esau does not result in war - at least for the time being. Esau kisses his brother, however in the text of the Torah, the word for "and he kissed him (vayishakehu)" has dots over each letter. These dots indicate that Esau's kiss is much like Vito Corleone kissing the heads of the Five Families. We will meet with Esau again, and in this meeting is the hope, finally, for peace for the Children of Israel.
That the final battle with Edom, the descendants of Esau, has yet to be fought and won by the descendants of Jacob, is prophesied in this week's Haftorah (reading from the Prophets). The last sentence (Obadiah 21) states "Deliverers will come up to Mount Zion, to judge the mount of Esau, and the Kingdom will be the L-rd's". We pray then for the strength to prevail in the coming battle with Edom, and for Hashem's gift of peace in our lifetime. Quoting the last sentence of the Kaddish (prayer), "Oseh shalom bimromov..." May He who creates peace in His celestial heights (peace between the celestial beings, between the angels of mercy and the angels of retribution, peace between the forces of nature which allows the earth to sustain us,) may He, grant peace to us and to all Israel.