“The messengers returned to Jacob, saying, ‘We came to your brother Esau; he himself is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.'”
– Genesis 32:7, JPS 1985 Tanach
Jacob’s deference to his Uncle Laban, years earlier, and his forbearance of Laban’s poor treatment of him, foreshadow his self-imposed lowliness, when entreating his brother Esau. His strategy was a three-fold plan of prayer, appeasement by way of gifts, and defensive preparations. He sent his servants in waves with droves of cattle and sheep for Esau. “For gentleness allayeth great offences” (Ecclesiastes 10:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Jacob also divided his camp, so that if Esau attacked the first camp, the second camp would be able to escape. After all, it had been fourteen years since Jacob fled from the wrath of his brother Esau; yet, it seemed Esau still harbored ill will over the birthright that he lost to Jacob. And, Jacob’s most precious treasures were his wives and children, whom he hoped Esau would show mercy towards through their own deference. For when they met, his entire family bowed low to Esau, and Jacob himself approached him gradually bowing seven times prostrate on the ground as he approached. The result was a reunion of tears: “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Genesis 33:4, JPS 1917 Tanach).
Jacob’s profuse show of generosity towards Esau by way of the gifts he offered, and his magnanimous display of deference by bowing seven times to his brother, connote the genuine and humble appeal made to Esau to procure his forgiveness. Despite their differences “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents,” Genesis 25:27, JPS), Jacob and Esau were reconciled to each other for a brief moment in time.
Jacob’s example of humility, within his earnest appeal to Esau, shows that even the most intractable of enemies may be won over by gemilut chasadim (acts of loving kindness), encompassing the genuine attempt to bring resolution to the worst situation. The message of peace and hope is found in the hearts of the lowly and contrite. With a little kindness, the pride and wrath of the haughty may be brought low, while ill intentions are diminished like fire quenched by water.