"Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom." —Genesis 32:3
The Torah portion for this week, Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” is from Genesis 32:4—36:43, and the Haftorah is from Obadiah 1:1–21.
When it became clear to Jacob that he was going to come face to face with his brother Esau — the man who had wanted him dead just a few decades earlier – he got ready. The encounter could have gone either way. Esau could have embraced his brother with love and forgiveness, or he could have seized the opportunity to finally take his revenge.
Jacob did three things to prepare for the latter scenario. He sent Esau a lavish bribe, he prayed, and he prepared his family for war. And that is how this week’s Torah portion got its name. It is called Vayishlach, which means “and he sent.” The portion is named for the efforts Jacob made to ensure the safety of his family and their successful return to the Promised Land.
The Jewish sages ask: Wasn’t it enough for Jacob just to pray? In fact, perhaps prayers weren’t even necessary; Jacob already had a promise from God! When Jacob left Canaan, God told him, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land” (Genesis 28:15). Jacob had God’s word that he would be protected and that he would be brought back to his land. Where was his faith now?
Jewish tradition teaches that a person’s annual disposable income is decided on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. But it comes with a caution: don’t think that you can sit back for the next 364 days, do nothing, and the money will just show up. God will provide – provided we put in the effort.
The sages explain it this way: Imagine that someone wants to wire you a large sum of money. But they can only do it if you have a bank account! The money is there, but we need to take the action of opening a bank account in order to receive it.
Similarly, God has many blessings in store for us. But we need to take actions in order to receive them. Jacob had unwavering faith that God would come through for him. But he also understood that it was up to him to open the door for God’s provision.
God helps those who help themselves, the saying goes. Yet, sometimes we fail to put in the effort to help ourselves – not because we are lazy – but because we feel inadequate. Sometimes the mountain before us seems too steep to climb, so we hesitate to take the first step. But this week’s Torah portion is all about taking those steps anyway and having faith. In that order.
What challenge is facing you today? Have faith that God will help you. But first, put in the effort to help yourself. God will take it from there.