Yaakov: The Exiled Twin Embodies Teshuva/Repetance through Savlanut/Bearing the Burden and Hakarat Hatov/Recognizing the Good
Welcome to Awakening: Torah Mussar MIndfulness, where we at The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar meet weekly at 15:00/3pm EST on Sundays to learn from the Torah/Hebrew Bible portion that we just observed yesterday on the Jewish Sabbath/Shabbat. You may join us on Zoom (link here) or LIVE on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube, all under our Founder & Director’s social media pages at Rabbi/Rabba Chasya Uriel Steinbauer. All sessions are recorded and can be found at our website (www.kehilatmussar.com) in the Blog section.
Before we begin delving into the weekly Torah/Hebrew Bible portion/parasha, this week being Vayishlach (https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.32.4-36.43?lang=bi&aliyot=0), we pray our Intention/Kavannah that our practice be of learning Torah, Mussar, and the Dharma together and practicing Mussar Mindfulness. We engage in an act of self-care, a radical one, where we commit to learn and practice together once a week to strengthen our Middot/soul-traits and souls, to be of service to others and God/Hashem; indeed, to bring God’s Good to others.
We always begin our practice with our Kavanah/Intention for today’s practice, to do this type of practice and care is a radical act of self care and to connect us with the Divine, and ultimately to connect us to other people. So, before doing this engagement of learning and practice together we say: this is something I am doing to strengthen my own soul in order to be of benefit to others in the future; and then our last paragraph: this is something that I’m doing to strengthen my relationship with the Creator so that I can be a better conduit of God’s Good to others when they need me.
We use the first and third Kavanot/Intentions listed below for today’s learning and practice:
Today’s practice is dedicated to the memory of Eliyahu David Kay, may his memory be for a blessing, who was just murdered in a terrorist attack today. It is my intention that our practice together today really raises up everyone, and in particular Eliyahu David’s family, and all those who fear violence. May all beings be safe and free from harm.
Onto our learning today: We are in the parasha/portion called Vayishlach. We make sure to pay close attention to what the text is trying to teach us, how we are triggered by the text, what comes up for us. I’m going to share from a Mussar Mindfulness practice what I see going on in this text that speaks to us for our own practice that we may benefit from it in order to benefit others.
So, we were told at the onset that Yaakov, our ancestor, third in line and set to become the next patriarch in the Jewish tradition, is returning to the land of his birth family. And he is extremely fearful of Esav, his older twin brother, that he has not seen in twenty years. As you may recall what happened in the previous parasha, Yaakov was dishonest, manipulative and exploitative toward Esav in order to acquire his birthright and paternal blessing. And we witness unwise, unhealthy behavior from Yaakov, who then must flee as an exile because Esav was planning to murder him. We witness suffering from Esav and Yaakov’s father, Yitzhak. We are dealing with family trauma and suffering.
We invite an investigation of the WHY after twenty years is Yaakov fearful of reuniting with his brother, Esav. He is now thirty five years old; he last saw his brother at age fifteen. Why would any of us fear reuniting with a sibling, someone we haven’t seen in twenty years. What does this signify for us?
So, it signifies a Yaakov who has not taken responsibility for his past behavior. It signifies that Yaakov has not sought forgiveness; has not been forgiven, and has not forgiven himself. It signifies that he has not done what we in the Jewish tradition call Teshuva/Repentance. Teshuva is taking responsibility for one’s behavior when we have caused harm or suffering; of seeking forgiveness; of committing to not repeating the behavior; and if the opportunity arises again to repeat the behavior that one refrain from doing so.
Esav has borne the burden of Yaakov’s lack of responsibility, lack of teshuva, for twenty years. He has borne his brother’s distance, his silence, his fleeing. Yaakov has borne this burden with his guilt and lack of responsibility for twenty years. So what does Yaakov do to finally prepare for his encounter with his older twin brother? And is his behavior a form of teshuva? Let’s go through this together: the first thing he does is divide his family, half in one location and the other half in another location. This is an act of preparing for war. Why? Yaakov has received word that Esav, his older twin brother, is coming to meet him with 400 men. We learn from the Jewish tradition tradition that when someone travels with 400 men, they serve as a militia (1 Samuel 22:2, 25:13; and 30:10, 17). So, Esav too is doing his own planning, preparing for war, violence, or perhaps self-defense after all these years.
Yaakov then proceeds to engage in this second act of preparation: praying to God for protection. His third act of preparation to encounter his brother is to send 550 animals to him, in droves, as a way of offering multiple gifts as a mincha offering. This is doing anything but taking responsibility, of doing teshuva. We witness Yaakov doing much but lacks acknowledging what he did to this brother, or so it seems. Let’s investigate what he does.
Yaakov only assumes the specter of a vengeful Esav. Perhaps Yaakov’s preparations show us more how he imagined he would have behaved had he been Esav, had he been in Esav’s shoes. Yaakov’s behavior reflects how he feels he deserves to be treated by his brother: with a lack of forgiveness and violence. We are witnessing Yaakov’s troubled conscience. He imagines and prepares for the worst.
Now we will look more closely at the language that is used by Yaakov when having his messengers address Esav on his behalf: as a servant does to his master, saying “My Lord” (https://www.sefaria.org/Genesis.32.5?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en). Yaakov is submitting himself to Esav. He is using this language with kavanah/intention. Aviva Zornberg in The Beginning of Desire (p 154) shows how Yaakov placates Esav by insisting that one of the main issues of their father’s blessing has not been realized. Yaakov has no power, he is marginalized in society, he has been essentially an indentured servant for 20 year to his father-in-law, Lavan.
“I have not become powerful or important but have simply been a stranger (ger). It is not worth your while to hate me for father’s blessing, since he blessed me, ‘Be master over your brother’ and you see that has not been fulfilled in me.”
Then, we witness Yaakov sending these animals, 550 of them, to show that (I have acquired much) he has that which to pay off his brother, to compensate for acquiring Esav’s birthright under conditions of duress and exploitation. Sending massive amounts of animals to another is what a vassal sends as a tribute to a king in the Hebrew Bible.
Then we finally get to what might be called the reconciliation verses in chapter 33:1-11, and 12-17 with the process of disengagement from each other. We are witness to a Yaakov who has been injured from a wrestling match with self-angel-man-Esav-God-conscience, who will now be called Israel, who will limp and be disabled for the rest of his life from a dislocated hip, perhaps a damaged sciatic nerve. And Israel limps toward his brother, Esav: now a 35 year old man, worn down from years with four wives, over 12 children including the daughters, and difficult labor as a shepherd. One can imagine that he does not look 35 but rather 55.
And Israel bows to Esav. Not once, but seven times. Not bent-knee but rather full prostration, face and body flat to the ground, getting up and down while disabled. Seven times. This from someone who ran away from responsibility at the age of 15 is now bowing toward responsibility, bowing in submission. Yaakov/Israel’s behavior is an exact reversal of the blessing that his father, Yitzhak, had given to him that his brother, Esav, would be bowing to him.
Esav receives this younger twin brother’s behavior as it is intended, and any anger or violence he held or had planned melted away: he runs to greet Israel, embraces him, kisses him and weeps on his broken body. Gunther Plaut in The Torah (p 222) teaches that
“Esav expected to meet the old Jacob, the hated sibling who had overtaken him with cleverness and guile. He was prepared for violence. But in the brothers’ fateful meeting all is suddenly changed. The reconciliation occurs because it is Israel, not Jacob, whom Esav meets, and Jacob is a new man who asks forgiveness, if not in words than in manner, who limps toward him with repentant air and not deceitful arrogance…The essentially simple and uncomplicated Esav, who himself has matured, senses this at once and runs to kiss his newly found brother.”
The acceptance by Esav of the 550 animals does not occur until Yaakov/Israel changes what he calls this gift: from mincha to bracha/blessing. Recall that Yaakov had stolen Esav’s paternal blessing. It’s only when Yaakov says these 550 animals are a bracha that Esav accepts. Israel/Yaakov is signaling to Esav that these 550 are a reparation for the birthright, essentially what Esav would have received from this father, Yitzhak, as his birthright, as the first born male once the patriarch passes.
There is silence from Esav after Israel/Yaakov changes the language of what he calls the gift of the 550 animals. We must pay attention to the silence. In the silence, we learn a lot. In this case, Esav does not reciprocate with a blessing, with a gift. This silence shows that he accepted the bracha/blessing/gift. Thereby, what took place between Israel and Esav is essentially a settlement of what happened 20 years earlier. That acceptance is an act of reconciliation. They are able to restore relations.
We practice with an awareness of what is our experience in the body right at this moment. What is the felt sense in response to learning this Torah? How many of us have acted just like Yaakov, not lived in the present moment, but rather remained frozen in time, with a sense of stuck-ness? Roberta Hestenes in her book Genesis, (p 297), teaches that:
“One of the realities of a broken relationship is that if there’s no move to healing, if what you do is run away from it, then the moment gets frozen in time and perhaps even amplified. Jacob has had twenty years to replay Esav’s hatred.”
So, we recognize this and we allow ourselves to witness our own past unwise behavior.
In conclusion, strong inner states can arise in us when doing this Torah study, when engaging in this encounter with our ancestors each week. Strong inner states can be a source of turbulence that affects the calmness of the soul. It is our Insight Mindfulness practice to recognize and accept these states and to know that they are just states that will pass with time; that we need not cling to them or avoid them. It is through our daily sitting mindfulness meditation practice that we develop the capacity to witness our inner states.
It is also our Mussar practice of the Cheshbon Hanefesh journal to develop awareness into what inner states occupy us and cause others and ourselves suffering. It is also our Mussar practice to respond to these internal storms by developing the capacity for inner distancing. This inner distancing is the ability to bear witness without reacting. Mussar teachers, like Reb Eliyahu Lopian, teach that this inner distancing can be developed through prayer; others teach through Torah study.
This is what we have begun to do right now: develop the capacity for inner distancing through our Torah study. And for those of you reading this, we also develop this capacity together through our sitting meditation practice, which is available in the YouTube video embedded above.
Finally, we engage in a daily practice of forgiveness. We attempt to forgive Yaakov for his unskillful and unwise behavior. We recite the following to God, usually before bed:
We honor God, our practice, our ancestors, our community, our Torah, and Dharma. I am honored to be your teacher and to be here together in order to enable offerings like this. We rely on your donations of any amount to offer these teachings and sitting. This donation is called Dana in the Pali, a tradition of Insight Buddhist Meditation, and Terumah in Hebrew, a tradition of Judaism. On behalf of The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar, I thank you for your donation.
We also accept sponsorships for our weekly teaching and sitting that are in honor of someone or in memory of someone, may their memory be for a blessing. Sponsorships are $50 to sponsor one day of teaching and we include your honoree or deceased in the announcements and teaching so that we may lift up their souls and merit our practice together to make this a better world.
Any questions, comments, or concerns, please do be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org. We value hearing from you about how this practice is going for you, how it’s working.
Shalom Shalom Shalom
We practice and ask ourselves:
- Can we bear the burden of our ancestors, particularly when they act out with unbalanced middot?
- Can we extend compassion and less judgment?
- What can our ancestors and the Torah teach us?
- And can we integrate and be mindful of these lessons and what was handed down to us by our ancestors, like Yaakov, so that we can use this wisdom to make sure that we do not cause more harm and suffering?
Podcast Audio Below:
AWAKENING BEHAALOTEKHA 5783: TORAH MUSSAR MINDFULNESS, 33rd SITTING – Mussar Mindfulness with Rabbi Chasya of The Institute for Holiness: Kehilat Mussar
- AWAKENING BEHAALOTEKHA 5783: TORAH MUSSAR MINDFULNESS, 33rd SITTING
- AWAKENING NASO 5783: TORAH MUSSAR MINDFULNESS, 32nd SITTING
- AWAKENING BEMIDBAR 5783: TORAH MUSSAR MINDFULNESS, 31st SITTING
- Awakening Behar-Bechukotai 5783, Torah Mussar Mindfulness, 30th Sitting
- AWAKENING EMOR 5783: TORAH MUSSAR MINDFULNESS, 29th SITTING
We kindly accept your donations for today’s teaching and sitting. We also welcome your sponsorship for future sittings, in honor or memory of someone. Dedicate your practice today and reach out to us at email@example.com.
Donation for Today’s Teaching and Sitting