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By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

Jacob is about to meet his brother Esau after having been separated from him for many years. Jacob is fearful that Esau will attempt to kill him, his wives, and his children. Jacob pleads with God, saying: “Please save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, mothers together with children.” (Genesis, 32:12)

Our commentators question the redundancy in Jacob’s prayer. Why does Jacob say “…from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau”? He should have simply said: “Save me from the hand of Esau.” The Beit Halevi explains that Jacob was fearful of two possible outcomes from his encounter with Esau. One possible outcome was that Esau would attempt to annihilate him and his family. The other possible outcome was that Esau would attempt to befriend him and build a brotherly relationship. Jacob’s fear of physical annihilation is completely understandable, but why would he be fearful of Esau’s brotherly friendship?

The Beit Halevi quotes Midrashic sources, which explain that Jacob was concerned that Esau’s friendship would result in Esau attempting to influence Jacob to compromise on his spiritual ideals and values. This was, in fact, Jacob’s primary concern and, therefore, he prays: “Save me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau…” (emphasizing the brotherly aspect of Esau first). Jacob knew that Esau’s brotherly friendship would, very likely, lead to Jacob’s own spiritual destruction. He was much more fearful of spiritual death than of physical death.  

Jacob, who is later named Israel, is the father of the entire Jewish nation. His concerns and struggles form the DNA of his descendants, the Jewish people’s struggles. Purim is an example of an attempt to annihilate the Jewish People. There were no decrees against religious practice on Purim, simply an attempt “…to destroy and kill all the Jews from young to old…” (Esther, 3:13) Chanukah, on the other hand, was an attempt to assimilate the Jews into a hedonistic, atheistic culture. The Greeks never tried to physically destroy the Jewish people, but, rather, outlawed Torah study and practice.  

The pure light of the Chanukah candles reminds us to hold on to and, indeed, cherish, the pure Torah and the Godly lifestyle of Torah living. While our physical lives are so precious and important, our connection to God, our spiritual values, and our traditions, are even more important!

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782