Vayishlach

The Correct Approach to Happiness

After 22 years of estrangement, Jacob prepares for his historic meeting with his brother Esau. Our sages point out that Jacob prepared three strategies to deal with Esau — a gift, prayer and war. His first strategy was to avoid confrontation by sending a gift to appease Esau. His second strategy of prayer was his effort in the spiritual realm. And his last strategy was war — if worst comes to worst, Jacob would not hesitate to defend his family, including preparing for the possibility of combat with his brother.

We know that “the deeds of the Fathers are a sign for their sons.” Jacob's actions showed the way for all following generations. When there is an encounter between the Jewish people and another nation, we have to conduct ourselves like Jacob: to try to solve the problem peacefully, and only as a last resort to choose a confrontation. In all cases, prayer to the Almighty should never be neglected and we should ask Him to provide us with a solution to the problem.

Jacob and Esau eventually meet amid a feeling of affinity and affection. Esau asks Jacob: “What is all this camp of yours which I encountered?” Why did you send me all these sheep and cattle? Jacob tells him that he wanted to please him. 

Esau rejects the gift: “Esau said, ‘I have plenty, my brother, take whatever is yours.’” But Jacob insists on giving him the gift and tells him, “Please take my blessing that was sent to you, because G-d has been gracious to me and I have everything.”

The sages note the difference between Esau’s words and Jacob’s. Esau uses the phrase “I have plenty” while Jacob says, “I have everything.” Esau may feel he has a lot, but he does not have everything. Something is always lacking and he is not satisfied with whatever material acquisitions he has now. Jacob on the other hand says, “I have everything.” I am not missing a thing.

This is the difference between a person who trusts in G-d, and a person who trusts in himself. A person without faith feels that he is missing out in life. If has a hundred — he wants two hundred. And if he does not get what he wants, he becomes depressed and bitter. He can’t bear to see his friend succeed, and he suffers from feelings of envy and dashed hopes. A person who doesn’t feel how the hand of G-d governs the world, will easily find himself in constant insatiable competition with everyone else.

But when a person trusts in G-d, he knows that the Creator of the universe cares about his well-being. G-d is not limited in what He can give. So, if G-d did not give me what I want, there must be a good reason. In His great wisdom, He knows exactly what is good for me, and that is exactly what He is giving me. 

A person with this mindset is a happy man because he always feels that he has everything. Of course, it goes without saying that he has to expend efforts to earn his livelihood, care for his health, get married and achieve every other thing he needs if he wants G-d’s blessing to fall upon him. But this person doesn’t need a big bank balance to feel content. 

Our sages teach “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.” When a person feels he has everything, he is truly a rich man. This was Jacob’s way, and this is how all righteous individuals feel. Their attitude is “G-d has been gracious to me and I have everything” in contrast to Esau who said “I have plenty” but not “I have everything.” Whatever I need, I have. 

I wish all of you to live a good and content life, full of joy and satisfaction, Amen. Shabbat shalom.

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