The reunion went, by all accounts, in the best possible manner. Jacob, having fled for his life, returns home after 20 years, ready to face his brother Esau again.
Esau accepts the bribes of animals, and declares he is no longer angry, and they can proceed as brothers: “Let us journey and go, and I will proceed at your pace.” (34.12)
This offer is one that Jacob cannot counter. Attempting to raise his children as the future leaders of the Tribes of Israel, Jacob remembers Esau’s murderous tendencies, his association with idolatry and his marriages into tribes that proved bitter.
Rebuffing his brother directly – Esau was accompanied by 400 armed cronies – would be foolish, so Jacob suggests it would be prudent to proceed separately:
“My master knows the children are frail… Let my master pass ahead of his servant; I will travel at the slow pace of the cattle and children…”
This placates Esau, who swiftly departs. Of course, Jacob never makes it to Seir. Rashi points out that the only time we find another encounter is in the days of the Messiah, when “the saviours ascend Mount Zion, to judge Mount Esau”.
This comment, says Rav Hutner, encapsulates the depth of Jacob’s vision: he was always gazing to the future.
At the very beginning of the story, Esau sold his future for a bowl of lentils: immediate gratification at the cost of faith in the future.
Jacob does have to proceed at a slow pace, but these steps into the future echo deep for generations.
Rabbi Garry Wayland is a teacher and educator for US Living and Learning