Parshat Vayishlach opens with Jacob’s intense fear of Esau’s murderous intentions. Jacob fears, “he will strike me down, mother and child alike.” (32:12)
In traditional Jewish commentary, this encounter becomes paradigmatic; Esau becomes the eternal figure of the non-Jewish aggressor, powerful and murderous, whereas Jacob is the personification of the Jew, vulnerable and at the mercy of the gentile. In this spirit Ramban writes:
This Torah portion is written to tell us … that everything which befell our father (Jacob) with his brother Esau will occur to us repeatedly in our relations with the children of Esau. [Rome and the entire Christian world are seen as heirs to the title “Edom” and are thus seen as Esau’s “children”.]
When the great 2nd century leader Judah the Prince needed to lobby the Roman government, he based his mode of appeal on Jacob’s address to Esau. (Genesis Rabbah 75:5)
But how do the acrimony, fear and distrust between Jacob and Esau end?
Click here to download and print this week’s Parsha Discussion on Vayishlach: Antisemitism in a Tolerant Age.