On Seeing the Face of God – Parashat Vayishlach

But Jacob said, “No, I pray you; if you would do me this favor, accept from me this gift; for to see your face is like seeing the face of God and you have received me favorably.” (Gen. 33:10)

Few narratives in the Bible have touched me as deeply as does the story of Jacob’s reconciliation with his brother, Esau, as recounted in this week’s parashah. Although rabbinical literature persistently gives Esau a “bad press,” the Torah text in this p’shat—its simple narrative—hardly does so. Here, even the words chosen to depict the scene are exquisite in their poignancy, for we find a parallel to Jacob’s exclamation “To see your face is like seeing the face of God” and his earlier declaration after prevailing over God’s messenger “So, Jacob named the place Peniel, meaning ‘I have seen a divine being face to face, yet my life has been preserved’” (Gen. 32:31). Perhaps it means that to wrestle with God and “prevail” is no more momentous an accomplishment than to look at one’s brother with whom one is estranged and become totally reconciled by swallowing one’s own pride and unconditionally accepting him in love.

Perhaps because the idolatrous kingdom of Edom, identified as descendants of Esau, became such a persistent thorn in Israel’s side in the years prior to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and left such bitter associations in the minds of the rabbis, Esau’s reputation was forever sullied. Whatever the case may be, here both Jacob and Esau display a nobility of character that is to be admired and emulated.

As Moses proclaims in regard to Eldad and Medad, two simple men found prophesying in the Israelite camp: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord put his spirit upon them!” (Num. 11:29). So might we proclaim, would that all of us were like Jacob and Esau in their triumphant reconciliation scene, discovering what is the essence of meeting God face to face!