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One of the basic questions raised by the commentators to the Torah as well as by all of Jewish history is determining the true relationship of Jacob and Esau.  Is Esau the implacable enemy of Jacob and so has he remained throughout human history? Or, is he only the wayward brother of Jacob who is capable of reconciliation and cooperation in building a better and more just society?

This question is been debated in Jewish sources for millennia. The Talmud itself records for us varying and even contradictory opinions regarding the matter. Over the long years of Jewish dispersion as history itself shows, especially in the countries of Europe, Jacob has suffered mightily at the hands of Esau. This fact alone naturally colors the mood and attitude of the Jewish people towards the non-Jewish and especially the Christian world.
In the nineteenth and the early part of the twentieth century, Jewish Europe sought to join Esau in all ways and endeavors. Hundreds of thousands of Jews converted to Christianity and millions more adopted the philosophy, worldview and behavior pattern of Esau while still officially remaining Jacob. This trend was rudely interrupted by the events of World War II and of the Holocaust.
To a great extent European Jewry was no longer the driving force behind Jewish life generally the world over. However, much of American Jewry, substantial in numbers, influence and wealth, continued to pursue the ways of Esau and his less than wise lifestyle. American Jewry, across its entire spectrum, views Esau as our brother, and to a great extent as our friendly and benevolent brother. We have to pray and hope that this assessment is a correct one.
However, it is undeniable that Esau in many respects remains our enemy. The non-Moslem world of Esau loses no opportunity to criticize, demonize and oppose Jacob at every turn. The Catholic Church constantly supports the Muslim narrative of the events in the Middle East, even though it is Christianity and Christians that are being persecuted and killed regularly by Muslim extremists.
It seems that the only thing that matters is that somehow Israel and the Jews should be deprived of legitimacy and security. So in that sense, it is certainly clear that Esau is not a benevolent brother but rather a most formidable foe. Over the long history of Jews in the Exile, neither assimilation nor acculturation has helped dissuade Esau from persecuting Jacob.  
In the Bible itself, Jacob attempts to buy his way out of trouble by temporarily appeasing Esau with wealth and money. But in the long run, this tactic also fails to solve the “Esau Problem” as far as Jews are concerned. After the creation of the State of Israel, Jews the world over hoped that Esau would finally reconcile himself with Jacob - and with Jacob’s new found resilience and accomplishments. Apparently that was too much to hope for.
So, the “Esau Problem” still looms large in Jewish private and public life. Apparently, the solution and removal of the problem is destined to occur only in messianic times. Meanwhile, we still continue to wrestle with Esau, whether he as foe or brother.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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