Seemingly incompatible temperaments can work together. My husband Duncan and I are a prime example of this. We could not be more different when it comes to our emotional response and tolerance. We compare ourselves to the way different materials react to heat. I tend to be like aluminum: I get frustrated very easily, but then I usually calm down and relax very quickly. I don’t hold on to my frustration for long periods, except on rare occasions. On the other hand, Duncan is like glass: he’s very patient, and it takes a lot of heat to really frustrate him and get him to combust, but once he’s there, it takes just as long if not longer for him to cool down. This means that when we have a disagreement, we’re often on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum. I’m already on my way to cooled off as he’s just reached his hottest point. I’m ready to forgive as he’s ready to blaze.
In our Torah portion for this week, Parshat Vayishlach, we read about Jacob preparing for his meeting with his brother Esau after their estrangement. Jacob struggles with an angel during his dream before their meeting, and then their meeting is uneventful. Jacob and Esau meet, they hug, they forgive, and they move on. The parshah ends with Jacob’s daughter Dinah having an incident in Shechem and a list of the final events in the life of his family before the Joseph storyline begins.
Earlier in our story, Jacob and Esau anger each other, they have some time apart, and in the buildup to this moment it appears that Jacob is not so sure whether his brother is glass or aluminum, whether he is ready to forgive or might need some more time. These twins are clearly as different as siblings get, and Jacob is fearful of a war being waged, so he prepares himself physically by separating his children to avoid mass casualties. His restless behavior shows his distress. Is he himself ready to forgive? Perhaps he’s not so sure of that either.
It turns out they were both ready to forgive. The brothers meet, they run to each other and embrace, and they forgive and move forward. Yes, for the time in between they carried the grudge, the fear, the concern with them, and it clearly messed with Jacob’s psyche, manifested in his crazy dreams. But in the end, it was family that really mattered to them.
These brothers carried around a lot of baggage leading up to this point. Their family dynamic changed dramatically when Jacob won the birthright, and then again when their parents picked favorites. They were estranged as they entered into adulthood. There was no obvious reason to forgive, but they discovered forgiveness simply felt right and helped them let go of the burden they carried for so long.
Vayishlach means “and he sent.” What is being sent away is not a person or an object, but rather anger and fear. The emotional baggage is being discarded in favor of love. Oddly enough, the more we can learn to let go of certain things, the more we can hold on to each other.