We seem to forget about the disputes within our own communities when our community is faced with a rival community. And we would rather focus on the conflict with the Palestinians (in Israel’s case) or with al-Qaeda (in the case of the West in general) than sort out our own internal conflicts. Truthfully both are important to deal with, and often dealing with an internal conflict helps in resolving the external one.
Often resolving conflict involves humility, revelation of personal vulnerability and possibly also giving up of power and autonomy. Few people are willing to do this - although they regularly demand it of others. Thus, until things reach a crises point, few people are willing to go the extra mile and resolve a conflict. And even then, unless one side is able to take risks for peace, major conflict often follows. The Torah gives us an example of how to resolve major personal conflict so that it ends in peace.
The Torah relates the adversarial relationship between Esau and Jacob. There were many very good reasons for them to hate each other. They both had serious and legitimate grievances. Esau felt that his birthright, and the superior blessings and status that went with it, was unfairly taken from him by Jacob. Simultaneously Jacob was on the run for many years because of Esau’s, from is point of view unwarranted, wrath.
What is most telling, however, is how they settled their enmity. As Jacob returned home and traveled into Esau’s territory he realized that he had to bury the hatchet with his brother. He did this by sending gifts to appease Esau. At the same time he prepared for the potential of conflict. It seems that Esau was also preparing for war. When Esau saw all the gifts that Jacob sent him the mood changed, and when they met face-to-face they embraced and kissed in a brotherly spirit.
There are many interpretations of this story but I suggest the following: Both Esau and Jacob felt distrust towards the other. They both thought that the other harbored hatred. Thus, they both felt that they needed to prepare for conflict. Nonetheless, despite Esau’s bravado and his army of four hundred men, war was not his first option, peace was. It took the courage of one of them to seek peace to get there.
Few people really want conflictIt was Jacob who had the statesmanship and humility and showed that he sincerely wanted peace and that broke the cycle of enmity. This then allowed Esau to lay down his weapons and make peace with his brother – which seemed to be his favored approach anyhow – he just did not have the character needed to pursue it on his own.
The reality is that few people really want conflict. Most of humanity would just like to live a peaceful life where they can enjoy the finer things life has to offer. Feuds and conflict always end in misery. To be sure, at times conflict is necessary, but since most of the time peaceful resolution is the preferred option all round, all prospects for peace must be exhausted before one embarks on all out conflict.
Within the Jewish community we are really all brothers and sisters, we have a shared history - much of which involves persecution, and, in many respects, we have a shared destiny.
Yet there is too much suspicion and enmity amongst us. In Israel, there is the massive and very disturbing religious and secular divide. Even within the United States there are many secular Jews who view religious Jews with grave suspicion and some Orthodox Jews see their counterparts in other sects of Judaism as, “Destroyers of our faith” and thus hold them in contempt.
Jacob and Esau did not share the same theology, ideology or any of the same values in life. In fact all indication shows that they were as far apart on these things as two people can possibly be. Despite this they managed to hug and kiss each other in the spirit of love and brotherhood. Clearly if Jacob and Esau can do it so can we. The real question is: Who has the humility, courage and strength of character to make the first move?
Rabbi Levi Brackman is author of Jewish Wisdom for Business Success: Lesson from the Torah and Other Ancient Texts
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