Parshat Vayishlach 5784: When Does Diplomacy = Appeasement, and Military Decisiveness Appropriate?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua — Parshat Vayishlach is being sponsored by Tzvi and Shari Gherman and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh in honor of Vayishlach being Tzvi’s Bar Mitzvah Parsha and dedicated for Israel’s full and complete victory and the safety of all Chayalim and for a Refuah Shleima for R’ Shlomo Shmuel Ben Malka Sara. To Mishpochat Gherman, many thanks for your sponsorship and your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Vayishlach 5784: When Does Diplomacy = Appeasement, and Military Decisiveness Appropriate?

by Moshe Burt

In introducing our Parshat Vayishlach, this author has, in previous years, discussed Yaakov’s fight with the moloch, his preparations for, and his confrontation with his estranged brother Eisev. This Parsha always seems to bring to mind that old Four Tops tune: “If you bite My neck, I’ll turn to Stone…”

This author deems it appropriate, in light of the circumstances over the years leading up to the major war in which Israel is now involved, to repeat in part, citings from Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer, Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Breish’t, and from Rabbi Moshe Weissman’s commentaries in his sefer, “The Midrash Says,” Sefer Breish’t on our Parsha Vayishlach.

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin notes, in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Breish’t on our Parsha Vayishlach (page 191) that the meeting of the two (Yaakov and Eisev) was “a reunion which, according to the Rabbis, is actually more discordant than appears on the surface.”

Excerpting from Rabbi Goldin’s Parsha Summary (ibid, page 175):

As Yaakov approaches the border of his homeland, he initiates contact with Eisev by sending emissaries [Chumash on Perek 32, posuk 4: “…Yaakov sent angels ahead of him to Eisev his brother] with a conciliatory message. The messengers returned with word that Eisev was approaching with a vast military force.

Frightened by his brother’s apparent belligerence, Yaakov prepares for the looming encounter in three ways:

1. He sets up his camp for battle;
2. He prays to Hashem for protection;
3. He sends Eisev a vast array of gifts as an appeasement.

As morning arrives, Yaakov observes Eisev and his forces drawing near. He makes final preparations for the encounter and then approaches Eisev, bowing down seven times during his approach. Eisev, in an apparent display of reconciliation, runs to to his brother and embraces him, falls upon his [Yaakov’s] neck and kisses him. Both brothers begin to cry.

Indeed, Rabbi Moshe Weissman brings this commentary from his sefer, “The Midrash Says,” Sefer Breish’t (page 319):

[As Yaakov and his wives and offspring approached Eisev] Yaakov himself marched in front of all four groups, saying, “If Eisev will strike, let him strike me first.” (Rabbi Weissman citing Breish’t Rabba 78:11)

As soon as Yaakov saw Eisev. he ran towards him and bowed down seven times.

To the ordinary onlooker, it seemed that Yaakov was bowing to Eisev. However, Yaakov, the chosen one of our forefathers, never bowed to Eisev. He bowed in fact to the Shechina. (Rabbi Weissman citing Zohar Hodesh 171, Breish’t Rabbah 78:11)

Yaakov’s conduct must be understood on a dual level. Although, from a superficial viewpoint, his bowing to Eisev seemed to be the act of the weaker succumbing to the physically superior. In reality Yaakov rose above this external view. He never saw the physical oppressor in front of him. He saw the Shechina instead — he bowed to the will of the Shechina, perceiving that it was Hashem who had him placed in this situation of distress. (Rabbi Weissman citing Michtav MiEliyahu Perek 2, page 155)

Eisev’s heart was full of malice. “Rather than shooting Yaakov with my bow,” he thought, “I shall let him come close, bite him, and suck the blood out of his body!” They met and embraced.

Eisev sank his teeth into Yaakov’s neck to bite him, but Yaakov’s neck miraculously converted into solid marble. Eisev’s teeth cracked. Both wept, Yaakov because his neck hurt… from the bite and Eisev for his broken teeth. (Rabbi Weissman citing Breish’t Rabbah 78:12)

This episode was to be a sign for the future. Just as Eisev’s attempt to kill Yaakov had failed, so would Hashem protect his children from the onslaught in the future.

Aside from possible questions concerning Yaakov’s “bowing” before Eisev, there seems to be other questions regarding Yaakov’s meeting with Eisev, which Rabbi Goldin gets into as he discusses “To Appease or not to Appease” (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Breish’t on our Parsha Vayishlach, page 177) :

Was Yaakov right or wrong in assuming this subserviant posture towards his brother? Should a potential enemy be met with conciliation or strength? Where does diplomacy end and self-debasement begin?

The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash provides a commentary regarding Yaakov’s sending angels and gifts of appeasement ahead to Eisev:

According to the Zohar, Yaakov took the initiative in seeking a reconciliation while Yitzchak was still alive, because, given Eisev’s great respect for his father, it seemed logical that he would make peace with Yaakov to avoid saddening their father. Ramban notes that Yaakov could not avoid this potentially dangerous confrontation because the direct route to his parents’ home in the south of the Land took him through Eisev’s habitat of Edom. (The Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash, page 170)

Rabbi Goldin presents additional commentary regarding Yaakov’s actions vis-a-vis Eisev (ibid, pages 179-181) :

[There] are rabbinic authorities who do not only defend Yaakov’s conciliatory approach to Eisev but believe that he sets a powerful example of diplomacy which we are meant to follow.

…Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, editor of the Mishna and leader of the Jews in the Holy Land during the second century of the Common Era… developed a friendship with the Roman Emperor, Antoninus.

Using Yaakov’s behavior toward Eisev as a model, Rabbi Yehudah eschewed his own personal honor in his dealings with the Roman monarch. Through diplomacy and discretion, Rabbi Yehudah maintained good relations with the Roman authorities and was able to protect the interests of the Jews… under Roman rule.

Another Midrashic authority… suggest[s] that Yaakov’s approach to his… brother serve[s] as a model of appropriate behavior towards authority: “Rabbi Yonatan said: Anyone who wishes to placate a king or ruler but is unfamiliar with his ways and tactics should place this chapter [the chapter chronicling the encounter between Yaakov and Eisev] before him and learn… the arts of conciliation and appeasement.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Pesikta Zutrata on Breish’t, Perek 32, posuk 40)

…Sforno underscores approval of Yaakov’s behavior…. A reed survives by bending in the wind while a cedar stands firm and is uprooted. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Ta’anit 20a) Yaakov’s example teaches us, says the Sforno, that we must be flexible enough to bend — to humble ourselves in order to escape the sword of Eisev’s descendants.

Finally, the Talmud… frames the concept of diplomacy in halachic terms by… stating: “It is permissible to offer false flattery to evildoers in this world.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sota 41b) Reish Lakish traces the source of this legal ruling directly to Yaakov’s behavior towards Eisev. (Rabbi Goldin again citing Talmud Bavli Sota 41b)

In last year’s vort, this author cited Rabbi Goldin regarding an important point to ponder, particularly as Shabbos Parshat Vayishlach finds us in the midst of a major war with Yishmael: the wild beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other terror groups in Gaza and their unspeakable actions toward our brethren in the southern Israel border towns, as well, perhaps, as their fellow beasts of Hezbollah, Syria — all sponsored by Iran:

What is the correct approach to be taken in the face of hostility? Will conciliation avoid further conflict or be interpreted as weakness on our part and lead to increased danger? How far can diplomacy go in ensuring our safety?

….Each situation calls for its own response and, even then, we can never be certain we are on the right path. Constant ongoing assessment of the circumstances facing us, careful application of both the principles of strength and diplomacy… will… be necessary if we are to meet the challenges of our day.

It seems to this author that the bottom line is that the leaders of the Jews needed to follow the Yaakov/Eisev paradigm when dealing with authority while under the dominion or domination of the nations in order to attempt to maintain favorable relations and see to the protection and security of the Jews.

In this author’s view, the Yaakov/Eisev paradigm as applied to Israel, a sovereign nation of the Jews; the question can be seen either as far more simple or far more complicated. Is diplomacy by a sovereign Israel seen as appeasement, translated by our adversaries as a show of weakness? defines Diplomacy as a noun regarding the conduct by government officials of negotiations and other relations between nations,
i.e. the political echelons (noun: a level of command, authority, or rank).

The weekly Chabad publication “Living Jewish” for Parshat Lech Lecha 5784 gives an account of “the Rebbe’s Advice in War” :

The decision to accept a ceasefire in the Lebanon war was welcomed by some, but criticized by many others.

“Right before the ceasefire, Israeli intelligence received information that the terrorist organization was on the verge of collapse,” declared the General of the Northern Command, Amos Braam. “From a military perspective, it was a big mistake to agree to the cessation of hostilities.”

…The general set off a political firestorm and was harshly criticized for his statement… [by] the Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Tzipur [who] responded, “He mustn’t get involved in political decisions. G’d save us from a situation where generals decide the army’s next move.”

…The Rebbe spoke about the situation. The Halachic way to go about any war, the Rebbe explained, was to follow the opinion of the security experts. Politicians invariably have various interests in mind; they think about the next elections and worry how the war will affect their international relations. Army officials, on the other hand, have only one objective: accomplishing the objective with a minimum loss of life. Therefore, in a situation of pikuach nefesh (saving life), we must rely solely on their opinion.

History shows that Arafat and the PLO were virtually moribund [adjective: on the verge of extinction or termination] after the war. But the politicians let Arafat and the PLO escape from Lebanon. They subsequently rebuilt their numbers and influence leading to the Olso “agreement” in 1993.

Meanwhile, in Lebanon terrorist groups in South Lebanon led Israel to occupy South Lebanon along with the South Lebanese Army. For eighteen years, Israel and the South Lebanese Army created what was known as “the Good Fence.” When Ehud Barak, former general and chief of staff turned politician, abandoned South Lebanon in the dead of night in 2000, Hezbollah filled the void. With the help of their Iranian sponsors, Hezbollah fought Israel in 2006 leading to a haphazard ceasefire which enabled Iran to build up Hezbollah’s arsenal of hundreds of thousands of sophisticated rockets, other sophisticated military equipment and combat training.

Had the politicians permitted the IDF to bring about the extinction of Arafat and the PLO, and failing that, had the Barak and the political echelon of that time not abandoned South Lebanon, there very well may not be a northern front for Israel to contend with in this war.

In light of the atrocities perpetrated on a mass level against our brethren, Israel must flex its muscles for real and act decisively, by the Yad Hashem, for total, complete victory militarily in defense of Am Yisrael vs the Wild Beasts of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Islamic Brotherhood and other terror groups in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syrian terror militias — all the tools of their sponsor Iran, with its troops and weaponry, and, if it comes to it, against Iran itself. When these wild beasts do abominable acts on a mass level against our brethren, there can be NO diplomacy, NO appeasement, only their total, complete eradication from this world, B’ezrat Hashem, regardless of what Israel’s “mainstream media” or the world says, including the United States!

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently re-settled in Gush Katif, once the IDF, by the Yad Hashem, destructs and eradicates Hamas, Hezbollah, and if necessary Iran, and that our brethren be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them, that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes and the oft-destroyed Yeshiva buildings in Homesh be rebuilt, as well as the buildings of Yishuv Elchanan, all at total government expense. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is in his third year at home in Eretz Yisrael and has embarked on a new chapter in his life. May Esther Yocheved bat Yechiel Avraham have an aliyah in Shemayim and may her spirit and memory continue to lift Jonathan to at least 120 years. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nine years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we see, in 5784, the REAL Jews from the Ukraine and Russia make Aliyah enmass — via thorough review by Misrad HaPanim. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese Wuhan Lab corona virus pandemic and all like viruses and variants. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.