Friday, November 15, 2013

Parashat Vayishlach – Missing Frenemies

            I heard some very wise words not too long ago, passed on by a parent, though the words were actually from a clever child. The words of wisdom were, “Sometimes, you can miss someone even if they were mean to you.” We all have had experiences with people who were not nice to us. If you have not yet had that experience, you are very, very lucky, but believe me, your time will come. Now, sometimes, even when someone is bad to us, it’s hard to end that relationship. But sometimes, we manage to do so anyway, for our own good. Or sometimes, you may be separated from someone who was bad to you by happenstance, which can feel like a relief. Or sometimes, the leaving was the bad thing they did to you. But in all those cases, it is normal to still feel a loss. Even through all the harm they caused you, maybe they also showed great kindness at a time when you were in need, or maybe they are really fun sometimes, or any other number of reasons that make social interactions feel good.
            In the case of Esau and Jacob, the Torah shows only struggle. They are both mean to each other, and we see no proof that one was ever kind to the other in a time of need or that they ever had fun together. But it seems Esau still misses Jacob. After all Jacob did to him, he still wants to see him again. Of course, all the commentaries say that this is because Esau still wanted to kill Jacob, but the Torah just says Esau is coming, and bringing his whole camp, to meet Jacob and his whole camp. We know that Jacob is terrified and takes many precautions on the assumption that Esau is indeed coming to kill him, but we don’t see Esau’s intentions or preparations for the meeting. When they do meet, they embrace and cry, and it’s a very joyful reunion. Briefly. Then they go on their separate ways again. There is no intent to join camps, to spend extended periods of time together, they just want to see each other and move on.
            When it comes to missing people that were mean to you, family is a unique case. With most cases, you continue relationships with people who were mean to you, or miss them when they’re gone, because they had some redeeming qualities that kept you attached. With family, sometimes, just the fact that you are related is the redeeming quality. This is a really hard thing to admit, even abstractly, but I think it’s true that sometimes, family members who love each other, don’t always like each other. Jacob and Esau clearly don’t really like each other. They fought with one another their whole lives at home, and when they reunite as adults, they don’t seem keen to spend a lot of time together. But they do seem to love each other. Maybe it’s for the sake of their parents, or because they shared a womb, or just because of some biological pride in their genes that keeps them bound together, but they do. They missed each other. They embrace and cry. They make things right between them, and then they part ways again. Because loving and missing someone doesn’t necessarily mean that they belong back in your life.
            This is probably one of life’s harder lessons. Beside the fact that some people are mean and we don’t like them, there are also people who will be really mean and we do like them, for whatever reason: they’re nice sometimes, they’re funny, they take care of physical or material needs. Or sometimes we will find that the people we love just aren’t that likeable. And it may be healthy to separate yourselves from people like that. But it can be difficult, on practical and emotional levels, especially if it’s family, as with Jacob and Esau. May we find in ourselves the humility and forgiveness that Jacob and Esau are able to muster up for each other in this week’s parasha, but may also find the strength to know when it is time to separate again. And may we always find peace. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.

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