This evening, Tuesday April 17, Susan and I are doing a live TV show in Akron, OH before a studio audience. Among other teaching, we will accept questions from people in the audience to which we shall respond by employing principles of ancient Jewish wisdom. This is what we do with our Ask the Rabbi feature that appears on our website each week. Except that tomorrow evening, we shall see the people asking and get to meet them after the one-hour show is done.
Imagine someone in the audience asking, “Rabbi, I want to get a divorce, but my wife who is here with me is really hurt and wants us to work on our marriage; what should we do?” There is, of course, no way to respond helpfully to all the pain oozing out of that question in the few minutes available in the show format. I know that both Susan and I would view it as a really inappropriate question to ask in a public forum.
A lawyer friend told me that, more times than he would have expected, he would be celebrating a family birthday at a restaurant when a client would approach him saying, “I know you’re in the middle of dinner, but…” What would follow would be some technical issue that could have and should have been addressed in an office environment.
As you roll down the track of life, with the exception of the very rare serendipitous incident, most positive events that improve your life occur only when you make them happen. In almost all cases, that means interacting with another person and coming to some agreement. It might mean a man persuading a woman to go out with him on a date. It might mean two business professionals agreeing upon a mutually profitable transaction. It might be a student getting a university admissions office to accept her application. In most instances, one of the people is the ‘seller’, the ‘supplicant’ or the ‘proposer’ while the other agrees or declines. Selecting the most propitious circumstances for the meeting is part of success strategy. Choosing the right place and the right time to discuss something with someone is an imperative. Yet so many seem oblivious.
Take a lesson from Jacob who had a very sensitive discussion looming with his estranged brother Esau. Jacob had received the blessing (Genesis 27:27) from Isaac which, he, Jacob, had purchased from Esau years earlier. (Genesis 25:33). Esau was furious and swore to murder his brother. Jacob escaped into exile spending 20 years with his uncle Laban whose daughters he married.
Now, returning home, Jacob dispatched messengers bearing gifts to his brother Esau.
Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau,
to the land of Seir, the field of Edom.
The obvious question that we are expected to ask is why Jacob sent messengers to intercept Esau during one of the latter’s visits to Seir? After all, it wasn’t until much later (Genesis 36:6) that Esau left Canaan and relocated to Seir. At this point in the narrative, Jacob could still have arranged his encounter with Esau in Canaan where they both lived.
To answer this question we need to remember that one of Esau’s wives was Oholibama (Genesis 36:2) who was from Seir and whose father, Anah, was a prince of Seir (Genesis 36:20). Now we understand; Esau was visiting Seir with his wife for a family get together.
Jacob carefully planned his rapprochement with his brother. What he wanted to convey in this long-awaited meeting was, “Look, family matters. We are connected as brothers and we need to live that way.” Jacob had two choices about the most propitious location in which to bring up this sensitive family matter. He could approach Esau at his home base in Canaan which was exactly where the original trouble that split them took place. Alternatively, he could approach Esau while he was far from his office, focusing on family in far-off Seir. Clearly that was the better choice. Since the meeting went as hoped and the enmity was put aside, we can see that Jacob strategized well.
When and where we schedule important meetings matters. The obvious may not always be the best choice. It nearly always warrants some strategizing.