Fearing Esau’s attack, he divided his family and entourage into two camps, so that if one was attacked the other would escape (Gen. 32:8).
The idea may have come to him from the two camps of angels, described only a few verses earlier at the end of last week’s sidra (Gen. 32:3).
The sages (Gen. Rabba 76:2) saw merit in the Jacob strategy, and they gave it a wider application: “A person should not put all his money in one corner” – or, as the proverb says, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.
The Ramban, utilising a Midrash in Gen. Rabba 76:3, sees this passage as an augury of what would happen in later Jewish history.
Jacob would be in danger from Esau in later generations. But Esau’s enmity would never wipe out the whole people. One camp would be attacked, but the other would survive.
No-one needs to tell us, centuries later, how grievously we have suffered from a succession of Esaus, whose hostility led to such hatred and horror and culminated in the Holocaust.
Rightly do we weep. Rightly do we mourn. But what we should never forget to do is also to celebrate the survival of the “other camp”, including those who arose out of the destruction and lived.
In a sense we are all survivors. Our lives, and Jewish history as a whole, remain for ever scarred by Esau, but we are alive, Israel is a reality, and Judaism refuses to die.
There are survivors of the Sho’ah who still feel they, too, should have perished. But they did not perish! Every day they should be like the Jew described by Emil Fackenheim who drinks a l’chayyim at the Western Wall and proclaims the day as a yom-tov because he is alive.
There is a message here for those who, rightly determined that the memory must not fade, have created Holocaust memorials and museums which commemorate, record, remind and warn. But no-one should be allowed to go away with the feeling that Jewish history more or less ended in 1945.
Since then there has been over half a century of magnificent achievement. Miracle has piled on miracle. Am Yisrael chai, says the slogan – “The people of Israel lives!” The faith, the tradition, the heritage of Israel also lives, and Jews are rediscovering it every day.
The other camp has survived. Not without its often serious problems. But whilst we have ample reason for concern, we have abundant reason for rejoicing.