Vayishlach 5777

Jacob’s trepidation before meeting Esau is understandable. His double preparations for war and for peace, and his ecstatic prayer, are ways of grappling with uncertainty. Finally, Esau runs over, “hugged him, fell on his neck, and kissed him.” The tension is relieved, almost. This ‘almost’ is expressed in the dots traditionally written over the word “kissed”. One explanation of the dots is that they imply doubt: he didn’t genuinely kiss him. Another explanation: although we imagine Esau hating Jacob, nonetheless, the kisses were genuine! Perhaps both are right – we have to learn not to fully trust the plain meaning of the text, yet also not fully trust our instinctive assumptions either. How much of our world is dotted like this!

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[Inspired by: Genesis 33:4, with Rashi but also Haamek Davar; Sifri Bamidbar 69; The Burnt Book by Marc-Alain Ouaknin; and Lover, lover, lover by Leonard Cohen, z”l.]

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