Rabbi Yair D. Robinson

Parashat Vayishlach 2021

So, an interesting thing happens after the wrestling match, after Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” That moment passes, and the real moment of confrontation occurs: Esau finally encounters his brother Jacob. Except instead of the conflict, the violence, Jacob anticipated and feared, instead, Esau embraces his brother, and they weep. And, after receiving copious gifts from Jacob, Esau comments words that close readers of the text perhaps never expect:

וַיֹּ֥אמֶר עֵשָׂ֖ו יֶשׁ־לִ֣י רָ֑ב אָחִ֕י יְהִ֥י לְךָ֖ אֲשֶׁר־לָֽךְ׃

Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; let what you have remain yours.”

And Jacob responds with some of the most beautiful words of Torah:

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יַעֲקֹ֗ב אַל־נָא֙ אִם־נָ֨א מָצָ֤אתִי חֵן֙ בְּעֵינֶ֔יךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ֥ מִנְחָתִ֖י מִיָּדִ֑י כִּ֣י עַל־כֵּ֞ן רָאִ֣יתִי פָנֶ֗יךָ כִּרְאֹ֛ת פְּנֵ֥י אֱלֹהִ֖ים וַתִּרְצֵֽנִי׃

But Jacob said, “No, I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.

It’s a profound statement for Esau, especially given how many conflicts he and Jacob had over what they had or deserved, and all the posturing both have shown over the previous chapter. Rashi sees this as Esau admitting finally that Jacob deserved the blessing and the birthright and relenting from his desire to have either, and our Italian friend Sforno applauds his response, as a gentle chide to Jacob that brothers—family—don’t necessarily need to pull out all the stops. But something more is happening with both. After so much conflict over who deserves what, after Jacob wrestling with—whoever—and demanding a blessing as a result of the encounter, at the end, in this moment, they both express satisfaction with what they have, and even gratitude. As we are reminded in Pirkei Avot, who is rich, the one satisfied with what they have, satisfied with their lot.

So, we approach our holiday of Thanksgiving, modeled after the Biblical Sukkot, and we have a moment to pause and be grateful for what we have. Which doesn’t mean we stop seeing the lack in our community, the profound needs in our city, our world, as we recognize so many who struggle in this world with depravation, with trauma, with hostility due to who they are. It would be profoundly un-Jewish to see this as a moment of self-satisfaction, or to turn aside from our sacred task. And we all recognize that these last two years haven’t exactly given us what we wanted or deserved. But in this moment, we have an opportunity and an obligation to offer our thanks for the gifts in our lives: our families, our friends, our community, warm homes, full bellies, and we pray, good health.

Who is rich: the one satisfied with what they have. Let us not only be satisfied but grateful, and offer our thanks, our gratitude, in this moment, for what we do have, and be inspired by our own gratitude to do for others. Amen.