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The Hand of My Brother

When Yakov impersonated Esau to take his blessing, his place at home was untenable, and he had to run away. After twenty years apart, their paths crossed once more, and Yakov was afraid of what Esau might do to him or his family, and he prayed for God’s help:

הַצִּילֵנִי נָא מִיַּד אָחִי מִיַּד עֵשָׂו כִּי־יָרֵא אָנֹכִי אֹתוֹ פֶּן־יָבוֹא וְהִכַּנִי אֵם עַל־בָּנִים – Save me, please! From the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, I’m scared he might come and strike me down, mothers and children alike. (32:12)

R’ Shamshon Raphael Hirsch notes that it was easier for Yakov to endure 20 years of injustice under a deceptive crook like Lavan than face Esau, the man Yakov had wronged, for just one moment.

The Beis Halevi highlights that Yakov was afraid of two aspects – the hand of his brother, and the hand of Esau – מִיַּד אָחִי מִיַּד עֵשָׂו. We know all too well about Esau’s destructive capacity for violence – מִיַּד עֵשָׂו, but Yakov knows that Esau’s warm embrace of brotherhood is no less of a threat – מִיַּד אָחִי.

For everyone who died in pogroms, Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Holocaust, there are so many memorials and prayers, so much history, so many resolutions of “Never Again.” But, in the words of R’ Noach Weinberg, there is a spiritual Holocaust taking place as we speak. How many souls do we lose to assimilation, to a friendly society that opens its arms to us and beckons to us so invitingly? What are we doing with our unprecedented freedom, information, and resources?

We may not live in a time of physical danger, but the spiritual danger is no less catastrophic, and for all the wonderful accomplishments of outreach organizations today, we still lose more than we save.

We like to think that if we were around then, we would have done all we could, and hopefully, that’s even true. Today, the cries are a lot more subtle, but the opportunity is there just the same – מִיַּד אָחִי.

R’ Chaim Shmulevitz would tell the Mir Yeshiva to cry for the assimilating Jews in Russia and the United States; that the students should not dare to ask for God’s compassion when they could not move themselves to show compassion for others.

Pharaoh had three advisors concerning his slavery and genocide program – Bilam advocated for it and is a villain; Yisro was against it, was forced to flee, and is a hero; and Iyov stayed neutral and said nothing and suffered immensely afterward. The Brisker Rav noted that Iyov’s suffering was because he became an accomplice by remaining silent in the face of such cruelty.

As R’ Noach Weinberg says, if a boy was drowning, you could ask his father for some rope to save him and be very sure he’d give you all the rope he had! We all encounter the unaffiliated from time to time – and if not, perhaps you should start there?

Yakov recognized the threat and asked for help.

If you recognize the threat, are you doing all you can?