The eighth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayishlach (וישלח), which means “and he sent.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom” (Genesis 32:3 [verse 4 in Jewish-published Bibles]). Jacob prepares to meet Esau as he returns to the promised land, but first he has a mysterious encounter with an angel in the darkness, who changes his name to Israel. The portion follows Jacob’s adventures in the land of Canaan, including the loss of his beloved wife, Rachel.
Then Jacob sent messengers before him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. (Genesis 32:3)
After some twenty years of labor, Jacob was finally free from Laban’s mistreatment. Only God’s direct intervention saved him from Laban’s ire. As this Torah portion begins, the confrontation with Laban is over, and Jacob leaves his father-in-law behind in peace.
But something was still bothering Jacob. One angry relative was now behind him, but Esau was still ahead of him. He knew that Esau wanted him dead. Jacob must have felt like he had escaped the frying pan only to fall into the fire.
To escape Esau, Jacob had fled to the homeland of his mother, Rebekah. She had told him, “Stay … until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there” (Genesis 27:44-45). Rebekah’s message never came. Esau’s anger never cooled. Jacob knew he was walking into great danger as he returned to the land of Canaan.
Hoping that his brother’s heart had softened, Jacob sent messengers ahead to announce his homecoming to Esau. The messengers returned with bad news. “We came to your brother Esau, and furthermore he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him” (Genesis 32:6). Quite a welcoming party! Jacob’s heart sank. He felt certain Esau was coming with armed men to slaughter him.
This is what dealing with our past mistakes is like. Through the course of life, our sins and bad decisions leave broken relationships and emotional messes behind us. Ordinarily, we do exactly as Jacob did. We run from the problems and hope they will go away. We hope the passage of time will heal the hurts we have caused. Perhaps forgetfulness and distance will absolve us. It rarely works that way. Inevitably, the wheel of life brings us back around to confront our past. Sometimes the problems have not diminished at all. Instead, time and neglect has only aggravated them. When Jacob left Canaan, he had only Esau to worry about. Now, upon returning, he faces Esau and four hundred armed men.
The solution is to deal with our mistakes when we make them. When we do wrong to someone, we should immediately do everything in our power to make amends. When we make a mistake, we should acknowledge it, correct it, and do our best to fix it. Yeshua taught that you should “make friends quickly with your opponent” (Matthew 5:25) lest the situation escalate.
There is one opponent, however, that we can never mollify. The adversary, that old serpent haSatan, has a case against each of us. His job is to record our sins and transgressions and bring charges against us in God’s court of law. He does not take bribes, and he never forgets. No matter how long ago it happened, he remembers. He has a claim against us that we can never escape. Just as Jacob eventually had to face Esau, we will eventually have to answer to his charges. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We all face judgment.