This week, Jacob sets out toward home after 20 years away and must face his brother Esau, whom he deceived before he left. Jacob carefully approaches Esau: he gradually announces his arrival with gifts, has his servants explain to Esau that the gifts are from “your servant Jacob” and bows seven times as he approaches, so it is clear Jacob doesn’t mean to fight Esau. The approach works. Even though Esau could understandably rebuff Jacob or fight him, instead, Esau embraces his brother and kisses him, asking to know his children.
Reaching out to someone you’re not sure wants to be in a relationship with you is hard, especially if you have past difficulty between you. This is also true in reaching out across differences as communities. The Jewish community can, at times, be hesitant to form partnerships with other communities, especially those with whom we have had historical disagreements.
But as we saw in the aftermath of the murders in Pittsburgh, it is those cross-communal relationships that can bring comfort, protection and strength in difficult times. This was exemplified by the rings of peace organized by mosques and churches across the city, cards received by the University of Toronto Hillel from other faith groups on campus, presence at vigils and allies calling out anti-Semitism. I felt devastated by the tragedy, and then comforted that we are not alone.
These relationships come from hard work. We can learn from Jacob. We must approach each other by offering the gift of our care for the other group – enough care to explore our disagreements. We must approach each other with a desire to learn, to serve and to be guided, instead of assuming we know the answer. And we must be clear in our wanting to work together, building trust.
When we do this work of partnering and building a better society together, we not only draw strength in difficult times, but we are also able to celebrate our successes and joys together.