For the last two weeks we’ve learned how to lie and steal from our parents. Let’s give them a break and discuss something almost as important: How to fight with our siblings!
First, let’s assess the situation in this weeks’ parasha, Vayishlach. Esau is mad at Jacob. Why? Jacob took something Esau wanted. Why? It belonged to Jacob. Why? Esau sold it to him because he didn’t want it at the time. However, now that his brother has it, Esau wants it. He’s so angry about his brother having something he wants that he intends to kill him. We’re not talking about a screaming child going to pummel his brother. Esau has weapons, trained soldiers, and experience and skill at killing.
Now that we know what we’re dealing with, we can form a plan. Step one: Play out the worst scenario. Jacob heard a prophecy from his mother, Rebecca, that he and Esau would die the same day. Knowing this, Jacob splits his family and servants into two camps and puts them a day apart. This way, even if Esau would destroy one camp, the other would not be harmed.
What’s the worst your sibling might do? First off, if you’re afraid of getting seriously hurt, remember you’re not two generals with armies. Tell your parents or whatever adult is immediately able to help you get out of danger. Most of the time, though, like when I fought with my brothers, nobody was in real danger. If you have a vengeful sibling who breaks things you own, lock up your most important things. If your baby brother is going to hit you, try to make sure NEITHER of you gets hurt.
Step two: Pray. Jacob understands that God has things under control, and the only guarantee of coming out of this fight unharmed must come from God. Even the grand, old Duke of York (he had 10,000 men; he marched them up a hill and then he marched them down again) will be victorious only if God allows. When He says you’re up, you’re up, and when…you know.
Prayer is talking to the One Who is in Charge. It’s also good to talk to the one who is in charge (lowercase letters) like a parent, teacher, or Scoutmaster. Notice that in case of physical danger, you go straight to this step, just like we did on Purim. Ahashverosh decreed violence against all of us at once, and our response not preparation for battle but fasting and davening. Jacob had time for other things like splitting his camp in addition to prayer, so he took action as well.
Step three: Improve the situation. Esau is mad because Jacob has something he wants. Jacob’s first move is not to talk to Esau and work out the problem, but to send someone else to say, “I’ve had a bad time since we started fighting, and I don’t want you to be mad at me.” Then, after these kind words, he gives Esau something pleasant to focus on rather than let him stew and recover his anger.
He sends 200 she-goats, which Jacob had worked hard for, and a message saying it’s a gift to “his master” Esau (“my favorite brother/sister” or something like that would go better today) and that Jacob’s coming to see him.Then he sends more gifts one at a time, each with the same message.This way, Esau has time to enjoy receiving the gift and anticipating the next gift instead of focusing on his anger.
When they finally meet again, they hug, and Esau offers to return Jacob’s gifts, noting that he already has plenty. That may be the most powerful part of Jacob’s plan. With each gift, Esau will have thought about how he’ll add the new herd to his own herds and how they compare with what he already has. Maybe these sheep are fatter or have more wool. Maybe his own sheep are better, but it’s a lovely gift. Either way, Jacob causes him to focus on what he already has.
Hopefully, you and your siblings have some common interests. Let’s say you both do Lego Star Wars, and you’re having a Jacob and Esau situation. Go back in your mind (or closet) a few years and think of what Lego you two used to enjoy. Then roll your catapult into his room with a note from Sir Brian to the Duke of Jordan (use your own names, not mine and my brother’s). “Whoa!” he’ll think. “I haven’t thought about Lego Kingdoms in forever!” Then he’ll remember how much fun you had together and all the amazing stuff he already has.Chances are he’ll suddenly want to play with you.
Finally, don’t refuse him. Esau wants to travel with Jacob to the city of Seir. Esau has his army. Jacob has his family and herds, so he tells Esau go on ahead because the army can move much faster. However, Jacob does say he’ll meet his brother there later. If you can’t play right then, make an appointment to play later. Rashi says that Jacob will go to Seir to be with his brother in the days of the Moshiach – a time when there will be peace in the whole world. Let’s keep the peace among our own siblings, and may we soon see Jacob and Esau reunited in peace as well.