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December 11, 2011 12:09 pm

Vayishlach – Success Is No Substitute for Familial Harmony

avatar by Yosef Y. Jacobson

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Happy Family. Photo: BV Photography.


“Jacob arrived whole to the city of Shechem,” the Torah states in this week’s portion, Vayishlach.

What a gift it is—to be whole, complete. To feel wholesome, unified, integrated, holistic. How many of us can claim to be whole?

How did this happen? What was the secret behind Jacob’s “wholeness” at this time? He had been married for years, he had many children, and was a successful man. He had garnered much wealth and had dealt successfully with many an adversary.

What transpired at this moment which conferred upon Jacob this condition of “wholeness”?

In fact, nowhere does the Bible describe a human being in such a way—that he or she was “shalam,” whole. It is an extraordinary description for a human being, who from the genesis of time, is characterized by duality, fragmentation and conflict.

Apparently, something extraordinary occurred in the life in Jacob, which made him whole, precisely at this juncture of his life.

The Preceding Scene

There is no escaping the juxtaposition between this statement—”Jacob arrived whole”—and the preceding scene in the Bible. In the previous scene, Esau finally made peace with his brother Jacob. After decades of estrangement, hostility and ire, and the fear of outright war between the brothers, they had at last reconciled, even if they would not live together.

It is a profound development. Twenty-two years earlier Esau vowed to murder Jacob, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother.” Now, as they are about to meet again, we stand posed anticipating a harsh encounter. Upon hearing that Esau is approaching him with a force of four hundred men, Jacob is “very afraid and distressed.” He devises an elaborate defense, including a strategy for war.

When Esau finally appears, something very different transpires. The Bible’s description of the meeting is unforgettable:

“Esau ran toward him, embraced him, fell upon his neck, and kissed him. And they wept.” There is no anger, animosity or threat of revenge. Peace has at last descended upon the Abrahamic family. The next scene in the Torah reads: “Jacob arrived whole…”

The message to us seems clear; You may be a wonderful, accomplished and successful individual, but as long as you are not on speaking terms with your own sibling, you will not be whole. As long as a family is torn by mistrust and conflict, none of its members can be whole. You may be right or wrong in your arguments, but as long as the conflict lingers, you will remain broken. We cannot make ourselves whole, nor can we mend the world, if we lack the courage and vulnerability to create peace within our own families. The family is the nucleus of civilization.

George Burns once quipped that happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. It is often easier to get along with the “whole world” than with your own family. But it is only through family harmony that we can achieve genuine wholeness in our lives.

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  • Kenneth

    The bible is rife and littered with one story of envy or jealousy after another, and another, and another, whether it is about the two harlots before king Solomon with the baby which one harlot would allow to be sliced in half, simply to see the other harlots child as dead as her own child, or the brother who deceives his father so as to rob his brother out of inheritance, to saul being jealous and envious in regards to david, to the jack— who has a man killed so that he can acquire one more piece of a–, baath sheba, and on and on and on it goes, there are probably at least a hundred examples in the bible, starting with the beginning, with sarah insisting that hagar and her infant go off into the desert, and most likely intending for them to DIE in their journey, Hagar, the handmaid, strange way to call the woman when she was a princess, the daughter of pharaoh, and sarah was, um, well, Abrahams wife…

  • frania kryszpel block

    How beautiful. The way of natural feelings,normal and whole. Unfortunately,as is seen from even the Bible, envy,greed,evil is in the nature of some who cannot feel. These aliens among us cause much heartache dividing loved ones from each other just for the sheer sport of seeing people suffer and to have control. Many people are victims of these disordered individuals. Siblings,children and parents divided from each other due to the machinations,lies and evil tactics used to separate normal loving people from each other. The Ten Commandments were made because they were needed. Unfortunately….look how many wasted years before Jacob and Esau came back together. Time wasted in such a way is a sin. Time can never be replaced.