By Rabbi Yitzchok D. Frankel
Agudath Israel of the Five Towns
“And the remaining camp will survive.”
— Bereishis 32:9
Yaakov Avinu prepared for battle and split his camp into two. If one of his camps would be severely attacked, at least the second camp would survive. The way Rashi explains the scenario, Eisav was already on the way, ready for battle, and the war was expected to take place right where they were. Yaakov foresaw a vicious war, and wanted to ensure that at least one group would be spared destruction.
“‘And the remaining camp will survive’—against his (Eisav’s) will, since I will battle with him.” (Rashi, Bereishis 32:9)
If this really was Yaakov’s plan, the course of events is mystifying. Who was in this other camp—the one granted highest chances of survival?
We might assume that Yaakov would have split his family and his property equally between the two camps. Yet we must admit that the most important thing to save was the family members themselves. The common notion is that he had half of his family in one camp and the other half with him in the other camp. However, if this is true, how are we to explain the fact that everyone was together in one place? Yaakov lifted up his eyes and saw Eisav coming, and he bowed to Eisav, and Eisav saw the women and children, and they all bowed to Eisav (33:1–7). None of the family members was in another camp; all the wives and children were there, bowing down and graciously greeting their mortal enemy Eisav. If everyone was together with Yaakov, then what or whom was Yaakov hoping to save through the other camp—his sheep and goats?
In order to solve this enigma, we could say that a great change occurred after Yaakov had the nighttime battle with Eisav’s guardian angel and triumphed over him. Let us posit that right away in the morning, when he no longer feared a war with Eisav, he brought everyone back together and that is why we find everyone in one place.
However, this easy explanation cannot be reconciled with the verses:
“And he arose that night and took his two wives and his two handmaidens and his eleven children and he passed over the Yabbok crossing.” (ibid., 32:23)
Long before there was any inkling of a coming confrontation with an angel, we find Yaakov Avinu together with the entire family crossing the Yabbok stream. It is clear, then, that even before meeting the angel, the entire family had remained together. Then we find: “And the sun rose for him as he passed Penuel . . . and Yaakov raised his eyes and saw, and behold, Eisav is coming.” (ibid., 32:32, 31:1)
Almost immediately after Yaakov parted with the angel, Eisav was upon him. So when did Yaakov Avinu split up everybody and then gather them back together? Except for when Yaakov was alone with the angel, they were together at all times. So if the entire family was continuously together, who did Yaakov place in the other camp?
Simply speaking we could answer as follows: Yaakov had originally planned to have two camps. One camp was to consist of the whole family with the sole exception of himself. Of course he would have wanted to save the entire family. Yaakov was going to fight Eisav alone and allow them to escape and be saved. That is what Rashi meant when he said: “‘And the remaining camp will survive’ against his (Eisav’s) will, since I will battle with him.”
At that point, Eisav was looking to kill just Yaakov. He came looking for him alone, not for anyone else. Eisav probably did not even know about Yaakov’s family, as we find later that he asks who all of these people are: “Who are these to you?” (ibid., 33:4).
It is clear that it would have been in everyone’s best interest to keep the family away from Yaakov in another camp. Yaakov would be alone, perhaps with servants, to face Eisav. However, once he emerged victorious over Eisav’s guardian angel, he then went back without fear and rejoined his family to greet Eisav. v
Rabbi Frankel can be reached at email@example.com. At local stores:
Machat shel Yad Bereishis, Sh’mos, and Vayikra.