A trickling troop walks straight after troubled judgement, wrestling, weary, seeing and hearing, are joined by praise and paid wages, exalted in judgement over the sheep to whom HaShem adds.
Yaakov has wrestled with God and humanity and has overcome, not in his own strength but through the gracious undeserved favour of God’s blessing. Having been blessed by the Man Who is God with us, Yaakov has been given the name Yisrael (He who overcomes in God). Now, just as Avraham looked up and saw, so too Yaakov/Yisrael looks up and sees his brother Esav approaching, and with the certain knowledge that God is with him, he prepares his family and goes out to meet Esav.
33:1 And Ya’akov (Follows after the heel) lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, hinei (behold, wow, truly, at once), Esav (Hairy) came, and with him arba me’ot ish (four hundred men). And he divided the yeladim (Children) unto Leah (Weary) and unto Rachel (Ewe), and unto the two shefachot (Servants).
We ask, “Is it Yaakov or Yisrael who lifts up his eyes?” In fact he will continue to be seen from two distinct perspectives. From the perspective of the Man Who is the Malakh (Messenger, Angel) of HaShem and God with us, Yaakov will hence forth always be seen complete, redeemed and whole as Yisrael (Overcomes in Elohiym). However, in the working out of that journey of completion within time and space, the readers of the Torah look upon Yaakov, the man who yet struggles while his eternal identity is being refined by God.
2 And he (Yaakov) put the shefachot (maid servants) and their yeladim (Children) rishonah (At the first, in front), and Leah and her yeladim (Children) acharonim (behind them), and Rachel and Yosef acharonim (behind them).
The order of the wives and children denotes their standing in the family structure and does not mean that Yaakov was using the former as shields for the latter. If Esav had intended to wipe Yaakov out he would have attacked all of Yaakov’s retinue, in which case the order that they approached would have made little difference.
The wives and children approached Esav as follows:
A trickling troop walks straight after troubled judgement, wrestling, weary, seeing and hearing, are joined by praise and paid their wages, exalted in judgement over the sheep to whom HaShem adds.
3 And he (Yaakov) passed over ’p’neihem before faces, and bowed to the earth/land/ ground sheva pe’amim seven times (like a beat or a stroke), until he came near to achiv (his brother).
Why seven times? The p’shat (plain meaning) of the bowing down reveals Yaakov’s complete humility and reconciliatory intention. The significance of the Hebrew number seven, which means fullness, completion, rest, adds weight to the symbolic nature of Yaakov’s actions. He is not worshipping but placating. Nor is he repenting for wrong doing. After all, as we have already established in the previous chapters, Yaakov received the blessing that was rightfully his. Nowhere in this account does Yaakov admit to having taken what didn’t belong to him, nor does he confess to deceiving Esav. To the contrary, he is seeking to appease his brother Esav, who had formerly vowed to murder him (Gen 27:41, Gen 32:12).
4 And Esav ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his tzavar (neck), and kissed him; and they wept.
The Greek text of the Septuagint does not contain the word, “kissed” and the Hebrew vayishakeihu, translated as kissed has special dot pointings over every character to indicate that the latter scribes were possibly uncertain as to whether it should be included. Other views propose that the special pointing indicates an unusual meaning for the Hebrew word. Certain rabbinical commentary has suggested that the reason for the markings is that Esav’s kiss was disingenuous, while others affirm his desire for true reconciliation.
5 And he (Esav) lifted up his eyes, and saw the nashim (wives) and the yeladim (children); and said, “Who are those with you?” And he (Yaakov) said, the yeladim which Elohiym has graciously given your eved (servant).
Yaakov seems to be hedging his answer. He doesn’t mention his wives and refers to the children in general terms and with emphasis on their origin being from Elohiym. He also reaffirms his humble status as Esav’s eved (servant). Although Yaakov knows that God has made Esav and his descendants the servants of Israel.
6 Then the shefachot (maid servants) came near, they and their yeladim (children), and they bowed themselves. 7 And Leah also with her yeladim came near, and bowed themselves; and after came Yosef near and Rachel, and they bowed themselves.
It’s worth noting that the maid servants and Leah both approach in front of their children in a protective manner but Yosef (YHVH adds) comes before his mother, denoting that even as a young boy he had a sense of his future role as a protector and redeemer of Israel. This also acts as a poetic reconciling of the fact that YHVH has added all that have come before this meeting and that he will add all that will come after it.
8 And he (Esav) said, “Who are all these machaneh (host) which I met?” And he (Yaakov) said, “These are to find chen (grace, favour) in the eyes of adoni (my lord).
The servants of Yaakov have already explained the meaning of the droves to Esav, making his question somewhat dubious. However, Yaakov names Esav “My lord” and reasserts his desire to find favour (not forgiveness) in Esav’s eyes.
9 And Esav said, “I have enough, achi (my brother); keep that which you have for yourself.”
This seems to be a generous offer but culturally speaking may well simply be the banter of etiquette rather than a genuine refusal. However, Esav does use the more intimate term achi (My brother) rather than ach (brother).
10 And Ya’akov said, “No, now, if I have found chen (grace) in your eyes, then receive my minchah tribute at my yad (hand) based on these gifts I have seen your face, as though seeing the p’nei Elohiym (the face of G-d) vatirtzeini (and you have been appeased by me).
The reason Yaakov uses the phrase, “P’nei Elohiym” and thus connects the present meeting with the wrestling of the previous chapter, is that he wants to acknowledge that just as he had seen God’s face and lived, he has now seen his brother’s face and lived. Thus he is in literal fulfilment of the meaning of the wrestling match and his subsequent new name. In the case of the Man Who was God, Yaakov has lived through God’s grace and in the present instance it is through the provisions God has graciously given him that he has been able to appease (not pay back) Esav. In both cases Yaakov was sure he should have died and in both cases God provides for his redemption.
11 take up, now, bir’chati my blessing which has come to you; because Elohiym (Judge) has dealt graciously with me, and because yesh li khol (there is to me everything, my needs are met). And he (Yaakov) pressed him (Esav), and he (Esav) accepted.
These words show Yaakov’s gracious and humble character in that they impart to Esav the overflow of the blessing Yaakov has received from God. “Take now my blessing which has come to you.”
Note also that although Yaakov has given over a generous portion from his flocks and herds, he none the less says, “yesh li khol” I have everything. This everything is more than just human relationships, children, physical wealth and status. It is the realization that through humility and blessing God has purchased Yaakov an eternal home. HaShem is everything and in Him all things exist and move and have their being.
12 And he (Esav) said, Nise’ah (let us take our journey), and let us go, I will go next to you. 13 And he (Yaakov) said unto him (Esav), “Adoni (My lord) know that the yeladim (Children) are tender and the nursing tzon (small animals of the herds) and bakar (cattle) are upon me; and if men should overdrive them yom echad (in one day), all the tzon (small animals of the herds) will die. 14 Let now adoni (my lord), pass over before his eved (servant); and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the drove that goes before me and the pace the yeladim are able to endure, until I come unto adoni at Seiyr.” 15 And Esav said, “Let me now leave with you some of ha-am (the people) that are with me. And he (Yaakov) said, “Why do that? Let me find chen (grace, favour) in the eyes of adoni.” 16 So Esav returned that day on his derech walking to Seiyr.
We must ask why Esav felt the need to leave men with Yaakov. This has an ominous tone to it that suggests his mistrust of his brother had not subsided and that his appeasement may not last. Therefore, Yaakov again employs the title my lord and offers a reasonable excuse for remaining.
Yaakov may or may not have intended to eventually travel to Seiyr. Regardless, it seems his concern was with keeping to his calling to return to the land which the God of Beit-El had called him back to. He clearly had no intention of joining his brother. Yaakov knew that God had called him and his descendants to be set apart and had instructed Yaakov to return to the land of K’naan (Israel). Therefore, it’s likely that this is the primary reason for his using delay tactics with Esav.
17 And Ya’akov journeyed to Sukkot (shelters), and built a bayit (house), and made sukkot (shelters) for his mikneh (herds); therefore the shem (name) of ha-makom (the place) is called Sukkot (shelters).
It is interesting that Yaakov built a bayit (house) for himself rather than a temporary dwelling (sukkah). The building of a house is more permanent, and yet he had not finished his wandering. Of course, the Hebrew bayit (home) may simply denote the fact that he had settled and made a home for himself. The name of the city Sukkot seems prophetic of the future festival of HaShem and its connection to the wanderings of the people of Israel.
18 And Ya’akov came in/to shaleim (wholeness, safety, peace, completeness) a city of Shechem (Back, shoulder), which is in eretz Kena’an (land of Canaan), when he came from Padan Aram (field of exaltation); and encamped before the city. 19 And he (Yaakov) bought a chelkat hasadeh (piece of land), where he had pitched there his ohel (tent), from the yad (hand) of the Bnei (sons) of Chamor (Male Ass) Avi (father) Shechem (Back, shoulder), for a hundred pieces of kesitah (a currency).
The purchase of this parcel of land is one of three where the Torah vouches for Israel’s legitimate right of ownership. This is affirmed by the use of a common and uncontested currency. The other places are: The cave at Machpelah, brought by Avraham, and the site of the Temple, purchased by King David.
20 And he erected there a Mizbe’ach (Altar, from zabach: shed blood, slaughter, kill), and called it El Elohei Yisrael (God the God/Judge of Israel: one who overcomes in God).
As we have learned previously, an altar, when unqualified by other terms, is by nature an altar of blood sacrifice (zabach). Therefore, we can infer from the text that Yaakov also offered a sacrifice there, acknowledging through the shedding of blood that HaShem is El Elohei Yisrael. In doing so Yaakov takes ownership of his new name and the land that is attached to it.
© Yaakov Brown 2017
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.