Forgiveness brings relief to both victim, actor

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob is returning from Haran and pauses on the shores of the Jabbok River in fear of confronting his brother Esau. Jacob had left his parents and brother behind in the Land of Israel to go to Haran to escape his brother and to find a wife.
Well, he found not one but two wives, two concubines, 12 named children, large flocks and tremendous wealth. But in all the years he was away, he never had the opportunity to reconcile with his brother Esau.
As far as Jacob knew, Esau still wanted to kill him for tricking Esau out of his birthright and stealing their father’s blessing. That night before the confrontation with Esau, Jacob was visited by a man and they wrestled all night. Who was it? Was it an angel of God?
Was it his own conscience, his own guilt at confronting after 20 years his past actions? What the text tells us is that he was forever changed by the experience. His name was changed from Jacob, meaning the heel, to Israel, meaning the one who struggles with God. Also, his hip was wrenched and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.
In the morning, Jacob looked up to see his brother Esau approaching with 400 men, a large number for a welcoming party but not too large for an army. Jacob was understandably worried about Esau’s anger and he was afraid of what his brother might do. I love the language of their meeting because it’s filled with tension and release. Jacob “himself went on ahead and bowed low to the ground seven times until he was near his brother.”
I can just see him bowing and scraping and reluctantly drawing closer as if approaching a large and dangerous animal. The text continues: “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and, falling on his neck…” Like a predator? Like a lion biting the neck of its prey? “… he kissed him; and they wept.”
Granted it had been 20 years since they last saw each other, but they reconciled and forgave each other. Jacob, after all his worry and fear, exclaimed to Esau: “to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.”
How many have hurt and been hurt by those we love? How many of us struggle and wrestle with complicated and tangled personal relationships?
The problem when we have unresolved anger and hurt in our personal relationships, is that we end up like Jacob on the banks of the Jabbok River, emotionally limping from the encounter. When we wrestle, grappling with the damage in our relationships, who is it that ends up limping? It would be better to seek forgiveness when we have hurt loved ones, attempting to right the wrong.
It would be far better for us to forgive freely when we have been hurt by our loved ones, if not for their sake then for our own. When we freely forgive, we are able to release our own hurt rather than emotionally limping from the burden. Jacob and Esau never did become close, but they were able to come together later to mourn their father, Isaac, when he died.
Our damaged relationships may never be the same, but through forgiveness we won’t be left with a permanent limp.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Adat Chaverim in Plano.

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