When Yaákov found himself in a situation where he had to face Esau again, after many years of living in two separate worlds, Scriptures simply tell us: “And Yaákov was greatly afraid and distressed” (Gen 32:7). Over the centuries, the Jewish sages have come up with two very interesting comments on this Parashah, which includes the episode where Yaákov had a physical encounter with an unknown man at Yabbok and was told that his name was subsequently going to be changed to “Yisrael” because of the fact that he “wrestled with Elohim and with men and prevailed”. The first comment of the sages is that the “man” with whom Yaákov wrestled that night was in fact a messenger that embodied the spirit of Esau. Yaákov found himself engaged in many battles, throughout his life. Many of those were battles against Yahweh, in an effort to protect himself, his family and his people. Of course he wasn’t always right in trying to fight Yahweh, but he did so anyway and Yahweh did not condemn him for that. But Yaákov’s primary battle was against his brother, Esau. In this battle, Yaákov was just like all other human beings. He was afraid – he was scared to death. Esau was his brother, but Esau was also his opponent, and a fierce and dangerous opponent, at that. That is why we are informed: “And Yaákov was greatly afraid and distressed”. And it is at this point where the second comment of the sages was made: “He was afraid that he might be killed, and distressed that he might kill.”
This second comment serves as a reminder to us that in this world there is more to fear than just the things others may do to us. There is also the fear of what we may do to others. The distress of how our fear for others may change our own hearts, and make us just like our enemies, or even worse. We may become more than just fearful when we face difficulties and obstacles in this world. Gradually our own hearts may become filled with grudges and criticism and bitterness and even contempt and hatred. And if we do not fear this possibility, we are selfish and egocentric, only thinking about ourselves and how others may harm us, while not in the least concerned about how we may harm others and even give them reason to fear us! At least once before this reunion of Yaákov and Esau, Yaákov had already harmed Esau, by robbing him of his firstborn right, because he saw him as a threat and was afraid that Esau might harm him.
This past week we watched a two-part movie on Netflix, called “The Red Tent”. I thought the movie was an excellent portrayal of the Yaákov story in Scriptures, as seen through the eyes of his only daughter, Dinah. The central event in this movie is also part of this week’s Parashah: Dinah’s encounter with Shechem, the prince of the area surrounding the town of Shechem and the consequent killing of all the men of Shechem by the two sons of Yaákov, Simeon and Levi, after deceiving them into circumcising themselves. The entire story seems like a series of one unrighteous act after the other. Not one single party is without blame – the sons of Yaákov least of all! In the light of what the sages said about Yaákov when he was about to face Esau, one may also say in this instance: Simeon and Levi was afraid of what the people of Shechem might do to them (or to their sister), but the question is: Were they ever afraid of what they might do to the people of Shechem? They had every reason to be afraid of this last possibility, because what they did to the Shechemites in the end, cannot be condoned in any possible way. Scriptures reveal that Yaákov was beyond words upon hearing about their deceitful and shameless deed. And when he blessed his 12 sons in Bereshit (Genesis) 49, he treated the two sons Simeon and Levi as one and their “blessing” was the only one that included the word “cursed”: “Cursed be their displeasure for it is fierce, and their wrath for it is cruel! I divide them in Yaákov and scatter them in Yisrael” (Gen 49:7).
Fear is something that needs to be dealt with – as quickly and as efficiently as possible – before it becomes something that destroys us. Not only because of how we may harm and paralyze ourselves by living in fear day in and day out, but also because of how our fear may turn into suspicion and breach of trust and revenge and bitterness and, ultimately, causing others to fear us. For this very reason we need to find out exactly what Yahweh is saying about fear and what needs to be done to turn around that fear and come to a place where our fears are put to rest for good!
First of all, we should know why we have no real reason to fear:
Ps 46:1-2 Elohim is our refuge and strength, a help in distress, soon found. Therefore we do not fear, though the earth reels and mountains topple into the heart of the seas.
Ps 118:6 Yahweh is on my side; I do not fear what man does to me!
Isa 35:3-4 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the weak knees. Say to those with anxious heart, “Be strong, do not fear! See, your Elohim comes with vengeance, with the recompense of Elohim. He is coming to save you.”
Isa 41:10-11 Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not look around, for I am your Elohim. I shall fortify you, I shall also help you, I shall also uphold you with the right hand of My righteousness. See, all those who raged against you are ashamed and blush, they are as non-existent. And the men who strive with you perish.
Isa 43:1 But now, thus said Yahweh, your Creator, O Yaákov, and He who formed you, O Yisrael, Do not fear, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by your name, you are Mine.
Isa 54:4 Do not fear, for you shall not be put to shame, nor hurt, you shall not be humiliated. For the shame of your youth you shall forget, and not remember the reproach of your widowhood any more.
Dan 10:12 And he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to humble yourself before your Elohim, your words were heard, and I have come because of your words.
Dan 10:19 And he said, “Do not fear, O man greatly appreciated! Peace be to you, be strong now, be strong!” So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, “Let my master speak, for you have strengthened me.”
And secondly, we should know exactly what to do with our fear.
1. Replacing our fear for others with a genuine fear for Yahweh
Ps 34:8-9 Oh, taste and see that Yahweh is good; blessed is the man that takes refuge in Him! Fear Yahweh, you His set-apart ones, for there is no lack to them who fear Him.
2. Approaching Y’shua and learning about his meekness and gentleness
Mat 11:28-30 Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I shall give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your beings. For My yoke is gentle and My burden is light.
3. Focusing on the perfect love of Yahweh
1 John 4:18-20 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear holds punishment, and he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him because He first loved us. If someone says, “I love Elohim,” and hates his brother, he is a liar. For the one not loving his brother whom he has seen, how is he able to love Elohim whom he has not seen?
4. Believing that we are truly children of Elohim
Rom 8:15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”