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    400 men – Vayyishlach

    After 20 years apart, Jacob and Esau are about to meet up once more (Gen. 32).

    Jacob sends messengers ahead of him to assure his brother that he wants to be friends. The messengers come back uncertain of Esau’s intentions.

    Will he reciprocate Jacob’s friendship and let bygones be bygones? Will he attack and try to destroy Jacob?

    His motives are not spelled out but what we do know is that Esau is coming with 400 men.

    Is this number merely an indication of a large entourage, whatever the precise number the group constituted? Or is there a special significance in 400?

    Without querying the number, some commentators think the large group is a mark of honour whilst others are certain that it cannot be a sign of amity but enmity.

    It is possible that the total of 400, if taken literally, represents four groups of 100 each.

    If we take the positive view and judge Esau charitably we can read the four groups as a mark of honour for Jacob as in the Seven Wedding Blessings with their four wishes, ahavah, achvah, shalom and re’ut: love, brotherhood, peace and friendship.

    On the other hand the four groups could be four corresponding threats, in which case we would take the negative opposite of the four good words we have quoted.

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