Peace with Strength

This past week we studied Vayishlach, the portion that contains a continuation of the narrative between the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. There has been enmity between them since the birthright incident. Jacob has now been told that his brother’s hatred toward him has softened a bit,  perhaps now it is safe to approach Esau.

Before Jacob will approach Esau directly, he sends messengers ahead. Now we can debate if these messengers are human or angels in human form, but that is for another day. Nevertheless, he sends messengers with gifts for his brother. Interesting here is that the message Jacob sends is that the Lord has blessed him with cattle and flocks and herds. The sages tell us the order of these things is done in a particular way for a particular reason.

If we look at this passage from a Chasidic view point, we can spiritualize it. Oxen are seen as a symbol of strength, while sheep, the flocks and herds, are seen as a sign of humility. The ancient sages of Israel tell us that these two things, strength and humility, are spiritual assets that Jacob possesses. Further, they say, Jacob knows that his brother will not be impressed by a show of humility, that this confrontation needs to be led with a show of strength and that’s why the cattle are listed first.

In our lives some of us would avoid confrontation at all costs but sometimes confrontation is absolutely necessary. Whether it is out of fear of the unknown, or of rejection, or something else – we avoid confrontation. This is not mature behavior, we sometimes need to face those that make us uncomfortable or perhaps repair bridges we have burned in the past. Sometimes we need to show humility out front, sometimes we need to lead with a show of strength. Jacob had both but rightly had the discernment to know which his brother needed to see.

The Lord can lead us in what we need to show in a particular situation. Maybe we need to come with a repentant heart, with humility, and sometimes with a show of authority, for example in a confrontation between parent and child in which we are the parent. In either case it takes that spirit of discernment in the moment.

We need to remember what our messiah Yeshua instructed us to do in the gospels; he says time is of the essence. He says that even when we go to worship, we should first repair with our brother and then come back and make our offerings to the Lord. The wording, again, is so important – if we are coming before the Lord and we realize our brother has something against us. The way it is worded, we might not be the one in the wrong! Like us in these difficult times when people are brash and bold behind their keyboards but a face to face confrontation might not have happened so easily. We need to remember that our words carry a lot of weight, and this should inform how we treat each other.

If you wish to study with me, click on the Kosher Pastor program link on this site. Or perhaps join me in the Uri program if you are in Africa or of African descent at

Shalom and Kol Tuv

Pastor Matt McKeown

Matt is the Senior Pastor at the United Brethren in Christ Church (UBIC) in Holly Hill Florida. It is his desire to see Jewish people recognize Yeshua as the Jewish Messiah and for Christians to recognize the Jewish foundation of their faith.

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