Taming the TigerNovember 13, 2013 - 5:00 am
” . . . then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’”—Genesis 32:18
The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” is from Genesis 32:3–36:43, and the Haftorah is from Obadiah 1:1–21.
Picture the scene: After decades of hunting his brother, Esau received word that Jacob was about to cross his path. The last time Esau had seen his brother, Esau had vowed to kill Jacob as soon as their father had died. One can only imagine what Esau was thinking upon hearing this news. And from all appearances, Esau was intent on exacting his revenge as he set out to meet Jacob with an army of 400 men.
However, the scene that Esau must have imagined for years never plays out that way. Instead, the brothers’ reunion was heartwarming as the two embraced and wept. Instead of slaughtering Jacob and his family, Esau found himself greeting them with open arms. He was eager to meet his niece and nephews and even offered them some of his own men for protection.
What brought about this 180-degree turn-around?
When Jacob realized that he would have to confront his brother, he did three things: He prayed to God; he divided the camp so that if one part of the family was attacked, the other would survive; and he sent Esau gifts. As Esau charged toward Jacob, sword in hand, he kept running into herds. Every herd was led by a servant of Jacob. Upon seeing the animals, Esau would ask to whom they belonged. Jacob’s men would reply: “They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau . . .”
Jacob instructed his men to space out the gifts so Esau would encounter them over and over again. We can imagine that the first time, Esau might have thought, “Thanks, but I’m still going to make mince-meat out of him!” The second time, he might have been a bit less dramatic. The third time, a little softer, and so on, until by the time Esau reached Jacob, his heart had melted and the ferocious tiger had become a tame kitten.
The way that Jacob successfully dealt with his adversary serves as a great model for our lives. Often enough, we encounter challenging people in our own lives. We may not have done anything wrong, but for whatever reason, a certain person may seem out to get us — or anyone for that matter. What are we to do?
Jacob teaches us to “kill them with kindness.” Jacob acted with humility, calling himself Esau’s servant, while bolstering Esau’s self-esteem by calling him master and lord. Jacob showered Esau with gifts and honor. It took time, but in the end, Esau was won over and Jacob was spared.
Next time you encounter someone out to get you, remember Jacob’s example and shower that person with kindness.