"Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?" -- attributed to Henry II of England King Henry II had problems with the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket. In frustration, he wished someone would remove the pesky priest as an obstacle to his plans. Four knights heard what their king said and acted upon his wishes. The result was that Henry was forced to undergo a humiliating penance for uttering words that precipitated the murder of clergy, and he lost a great deal of power over the English (then Catholic) church. The lesson of the story is clear. Sometimes we should get along with people, even if we find them profoundly distasteful. The ways of the Torah are the ways of peace. Wishing ill on another is rarely a course that will end well.
This week’s parsha opens with Ya'akov hearing that his brother Eisav approaches him with an army of 400. Alarmed and remembering Eisav's plan to murder him, Ya'akov takes three important actions. First, he divided his camp into two, so either half might be better able to flee if Eisav attacked the other. Next, he sent his irritable brother gifts, hoping to win back Eisav's favour. Finally, he prayed for deliverance.
Many wonder why Ya'akov was so worried and why he sent such generous gifts. Surely he had the confidence that G-d would protect him! Why was he so afraid?
These questions originate in a zero-sum view of reality. We approach this story as one of two adversaries. We long to see them fight and for the side of light and righteousness to emerge victorious from the battle. However, that is not what this story is about. It's about two brothers arguing, bickering, and fighting, but still brothers. Ya'akov didn't want to fight Eisav. It was worth it for him to send expensive presents and humble himself to bring peace back to his family.
We should all learn from Ya'akov's example. Often, our pride demands that we stand up and fight, and maybe we'll win. However, we often don't consider the cost. Many victories which come to our hands are ultimately Pyrrhic. We would have been happier giving in. Sometimes we are given the option to be right or at peace. Ya'akov chose to be at peace when presented with that choice. May we have the courage to walk in his path.