At the beginning of the portion of Vayishlach, Jacob sends messengers to his brother Esau in an attempt to make peace and to dissuade Esau from attacking him. Jacob instructs the messengers to begin his message saying, “I have sojourned with Lavan and have tarried till now” (Genesis 32:4). What is the significance of that statement?
In his well-known commentary on this verse, Rashi interprets: Im Lavan garti, vetaryag mitzvot shamarti − I have sojourned with Lavan and have kept the commandments, and I have not learned from his evil ways. Indeed, Rashi’s interpretation may contain a worthy lesson for us, Jacob’s descendants; but such a statement would make no impression on Esau. Why, then, would Jacob see fit to begin his message to Esau with such words? Also, if Jacob saw any significance to mentioning his stay with Lavan, why didn’t he state clearly what the significance was?
Lavan was a powerful man, and at one point he even says to Jacob, “It is in my power to do you harm” (Genesis 31:19). In fact, the Zohar points out that Lavan was known as a master sorcerer who would not allow anybody to get the better of him. And yet, Jacob had escaped from Lavan’s clutches! Let that fact be a warning to Esau.
The Zohar continues with a second interpretation, focusing on the words “and have tarried till now.” In fact, Jacob had lived with Lavan for twenty years, and, as Jacob says in the following verse, from his work with Lavan he had amassed great wealth: cattle, donkeys, sheep, slaves, and maidservants. Let Esau wonder whether in all that time Jacob had also acquired from Lavan the knowledge of sorcery. Let that also be a warning to Esau.
Indeed, the Zohar’s two interpretations are not mutually exclusive. Let Esau puzzle over the implication of Jacob’s message. Let him wonder what Jacob left unsaid. And let him therefore think twice before bearing arms against his brother.
© Copyright 2011 by Ben Roshgolin. All rights reserved.
Zohar I:166b. See also Zohar I:161a regarding Lavan’s being a sorcerer.