So this last week the Parasha was Vayishlach. This is an exciting portion. It’s when Jacob/Yakov/Israel returns home from his exile working for his crooked uncle Laban. Yakov had fled his brother Esav’s murderous rage after Esav regretted having sold his birthright for a bowl of beans, lentils. Esav didn’t value his birthright in the least. Probably a message in there for those that would pressure Israel to give up land for peace. It never works, because like Esav, they just always want more and don’t keep their end of the bargain. So, Yakov is returning home with his wives, their handmaidens and 12 children, a passel of camels, donkeys, sheep, goats and some servants. Yakov has done well, he is a very successful shepherd. But, he is in a quandary, what will his meeting with his brother be like? Will Esav still want to kill him, or will time have mellowed him. Yakov sends angels to ascertain his intentions. Turns out Esav hasn’t changed a bit. He’s heading towards Yakov with 400 men. Yakov is way outnumbered.
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed (Gen. 32:8)
The fear is understandable, but his response contains an enigma. Why the duplication of verbs? What is the difference between fear and distress? To this a Midrash gives a profound answer:
Rabbi Judah bar Ilai said: Are not fear and distress identical? The meaning, however, is that “he was afraid” that he might be killed; “he was distressed” that he might kill. For Jacob thought: If he prevails against me, will he not kill me; while if I prevail against him, will I not kill him? That is the meaning of “he was afraid” – lest he should be killed; “and distressed” – lest he should kill.
And this brings us to self-defense.
One might argue that Jacob should surely not be distressed about the possibility of killing Esau, for there is an explicit rule: “If someone comes to kill you, forestall it by killing him.” Nonetheless, Jacob did have qualms, fearing that in the course of the fight he might kill some of Esau’s men, who were not themselves intent on killing him but merely on fighting his men. And even though Esau’s men were pursuing Jacob’s men, and every person has the right to save the life of the pursued at the cost of the life of the pursuer, nonetheless there is a condition: “If the pursued could have been saved by maiming a limb of the pursuer, but instead the rescuer killed the pursuer, the rescuer is liable to capital punishment on that account.” Hence Jacob feared that, in the confusion of battle, he might kill some of Esau’s men when he might have restrained them by merely inflicting injury on them.
Self defense is very definitely a Jewish concept, but unlike his brother Esav who delights in it, Yakov will do so if required, but he wants to avoid it. The taking of a life is not something to be done lightly. So what did he do to try to prevent needless loss of life?
He had a three pronged approach. Prayer, he threw himself on G-d’s mercy, he sent lavish tribute female and male goats, sheep, donkeys, camels all with the proper proportion for the most effective breeding program. Sort of a gift that keeps on giving. But then he prepared for battle. He divided his people into camps, his thinking was that if one camp was attacked the other might escape. Then he had the children with each of their mothers. Yakov knew the four women would fight for their children, so he left the children with their mothers, then he placed himself in front of them. Esav would have to go through Yakov to get to his family.
I’ve heard the opinion that if Yakov had really trusted G-d there would have been none of this battle preparation business. He would have just gone and met his brother. I don’t agree with this opinion. I think people are people and they have plans of their own. Plans I may not appreciate or agree with. I think if their plans concern me, I want a say in how they turn out. As Esav’s plans would have included Yakov’s family, I figure he felt the same way. There are cemeteries with those that refused to believe anything bad would happen to them. I’ve heard that there were Jews in the Warsaw ghetto that refused the chance to escape because they didn’t really think the nazis wanted to annihilate them, and perhaps, because they expected a miracle. I heard Rabbi Tovia Singer say in a lecture that while the Jewish nation will always be preserved, that promise does not extend to individuals. I’ve also heard it said that when you pray for help, you usually have to do something, expend some kind of effort for him to have something to help you with. And so, Yakov had his three pronged approach, which ultimately was successful. There was no battle between brothers, only a brotherly meeting, with quite possibly temporary brotherly feelings judging from Yakov’s refusal of Esav’s offer to escort them. It’s like having a black snake to guard your chicken house from mice. Yeah….the snake may eat the mice, but more than likely it is eating the chicken eggs, and/or baby chicks. I’ll pass, and Yakov did as well.
Yakov and concealed carry holders face a moral dilemma. More from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.
Moral dilemmas are situations in which doing the right thing is not the end of the matter. The conflict may be inherently tragic. Jacob, in this parsha, finds himself trapped in such a conflict: on the one hand, he ought not allow himself to be killed; on the other, he ought not kill someone else; but he must do one or the other. The fact that one principle (self-defence) overrides another (the prohibition against killing) does not mean that, faced with such a choice, he is without qualms, especially given the fact that Esau is his twin brother. Despite their differences, they grew up together. They were kin. This intensifies the dilemma yet more. Sometimes being moral means that one experiences distress at having to make such a choice. Doing the right thing may mean that one does not feel remorse or guilt, but one still feels regret or grief about the action that needs to be taken.
Even people of great faith, realize that there is a time to “Praise the L-rd and pass the ammunition”.
There is nothing about being prepared with a gun, a concealed carry endorsement if your state requires it, that says you don’t believe that G-d can and will keep you safe. We have fire extinguishers and spare tires, right? We have generators for bad weather, and carry an umbrella. The right tool for the right time.
That I think, is one of the things about concealed carry holders that leftists, politicians and the #FakeNews (sometimes one in the same) don’t understand about “gun nuts”. We are not anxious to kill, we don’t want to do that. What we do want is for us and our families to be safe.
Heat seeking bullets, who knew? Did BassPro have these listed in the Black Friday flier?
Self defense is not a spur of the minute deal. We put thought into what gun, training tactics, classes and tests to be able to live as free citizens. Just like Yakov had his three pronged approach for meeting Esav, we too plan our defenses.
These mixed feelings were born thousands of years earlier, when Jacob, father of the Jewish people, experienced not only the physical fear of defeat but the moral distress of victory. Only those who are capable of feeling both, can defend their bodies without endangering their souls.
Because like Yakov facing Esav, there can be bigger, stronger, mightier evil that hates us.