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    My minders & your minders – Vayyishlach

    The meeting of Jacob & Esau, by James Tissot

    Heads of state work in stages. Only after their officials have hammered out an agreement do the principals come together with the television cameras watching, shake hands and have an official signing of whatever treaty is on the table.

    One might say this is a practical way of dealing with matters which must have been worked out at some point in the history of diplomacy. The earliest precedent, however, appears to be in the Bible, in this week’s sidra.

    Jacob sends messengers (the Midrash, followed by Rashi, says they were angels) in advance of his fateful meeting with his brother Esau (Gen. 32:4). He wanted to ascertain how Esau was likely to receive him. If an angry, hostile reception appeared likely there was still time to pull back and escape.

    The sages see in the Biblical text an indication that Jacob had three options: prayer, gifts and weapons. He prayed that God would make things go well, but if this did not succeed he was ready to load his brother with presents. As a last resort he was willing to fight.

    Fortunately the first method worked, and Esau was prepared to greet him with some cordiality. The gifts were now unnecessary, though later they were accepted. The fighting was forgotten.

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