The verse above encapsulates the archetypical difference between the characters of Jacob and his brother Esau. 

Several verses before, Jacob had responded to Esau’s offer to take their journeys together: “Please let my lord [Esau] pass over before his servant [Jacob], and I will lead on slowly… until I come to my lord” (33: 14). 

Why does Jacob refuse  Esau’s generous offer? 

Esau and Jacob are opposites from the very beginning. Esau comes out of their mother’s womb immediately, while Jacob follows him. This, of course, is not by chance and is reflected in their names; Esau is “ready made” (from the Hebrew word asuy), while Jacob is a “follower” (from the Hebrew word ekev). 

Esau lives for the here and now and rejects anything that has to do with the future. He therefore discards the responsibility incumbent on him as the firstborn. In the future, according to Esau, we all die. “Eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die” summarises his philosophy. 

Jacob, on the other hand, understands that “the righteous shall flourish like the palm tree, grow like a cedar in Lebanon”. Tall and strong trees must develop deep roots and therefore take time to grow but when they do, they outlast and are much taller than any weed which hurried to sprout. Paraphrasing Tolstoy, Jacob’s strongest of all warriors are time and patience. 

Jacob declines to join his journey with that of Esau because the journey means something totally different to each of them. For Esau, a journey is merely an inconvenient obstacle on his way to a preconceived destination, while for Jacob, the destination is reflected by and shaped in accordance with the journey taken towards it. For Jacob, history is not only about the end of days but also about the history itself. 

Esau’s kingdom can be built at once while Jacob’s will only follow later. Jacob’s kingdom needs time to develop. 

A long historic process of moral development, of educating and shaping the human mind, must precede the Jacobian political entity, the state of Israel.

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