Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
Why did Jacob drop his first plan of action (32, 8 - 9): “And he divided the people... into two camps. And he said: If Esau come to the one camp, and smite it, then the camp which is left shall escape.” Our Sages commented (see also Rashi ad loc.) that he prepared to employ three means of combatting Esau: gifts, prayer, and battle. Yet we do not find that he made any preparations for battle, nor did he divide the people into two camps. He divided his children according to their handmaids, each mother with her children. What was the reason for this change of plan?
On the night before the encounter with Esau, Yaakov wrestled with the mysterious “man” and prevailed. His name is changed to Yisrael by the “man”. From this event Yaakov emerged emboldened spiritually but wounded physically, with the socket of his hip strained. When the dawn appeared he was limping. In this kind of situation, Yaakov was in no position to do battle with Esau or to undertake any kind of battle strategy as previously conceived. In sending gifts, constantly bowing, being in a helpless physical state, Yaakov hoped to placate the wrath of his brother.
The fact that the memory of Yaakov’s wounded hip was perpetuated via the Halacha of Kashrut observance is a constant reminder that physical battle with one’s enemy is not necessarily the only option open to us.
What caused Esau’s change of heart - the gifts or something else?
Yaakov acted toward Esau as if Esau was actually the B'chor. Yaakov humbled himself toward Esau by continually bowing before him This led Esau to believe that Yaakov was "finally" accepting the reality that Esau is the B’chor in every meaning of the term. The gifts were really an embellishment to Yaakov's physical demonstration of subservience. At that point, with the score evened in his eyes, Esau was ready to relate to Yaakov as a brother.
Cf. Esau’s and Jacob’s remarks:
And Esau said: I have enough, my brother...
And Jacob said: ...because God hath dealt graciously with me, and because I have enough. (33, 9 - 11)
What difference can you detect and what does it teach you regarding their respective characters?
When an individual views his wealth as emanating from God’s providence, he is happy and satisfied with his portion. He views himself as having received his just rightful share. Thus he feels that he possesses "everything" that could be made available to him. Yaakov therefore declared, “I have everything” – “Kol”. Note: Yaakov’s promise before God in Parashat Vayetze (28, 20) “…and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear." The fulfillment of this modest material request would constitute in Yaakov’s eyes a bestowal of a full portion of God’s bounty on his behalf.
Esau on the other hand, does not factor in God’s involvement. He views acquisition of wealth through appropriating it by all means. Thus Esau has much (”Rav”) with the connotation being that more is yet to be acquired.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman
veteran yeshiva educator (USA)
now residing in Jerusalem