For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"He commanded them, saying, "So shall you say to my master to Esau, 'Thus said your servant Jacob, "I have sojourned with Laban, and I have tarried until now." (Gen. 32:5)

'I lived with the wicked Laban, but I kept the 613 commandments and I did not learn from his evil deeds.'

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi: "have sojourned" - in Hebrew, 'garti'. I did not become an officer or a dignitary, but [I remained] a stranger ("ger"). It is not worthwhile for you to hate me on account of your father's blessing [with] which he blessed me: "You shall be a master over your brothers" (Ibid. 27:29) for it was not fulfilled in me. (Tanchuma Buber Vayishlach 5) Another explanation: "garti" has the numerical value of 613. That is to say: 'I lived with the wicked Laban, but I kept the 613 commandments and I did not learn from his evil deeds.'

Remez (hinted meaning):

Baal HaTurim: Jacob was telling Esau that "if you will say, 'Since you have kept the mitzvahs you should feel self confident, so come fight with me,'" know that I must linger until the time alluded to by the word 'ata' meaning: ayin — 70 years of Babylonian exile, tav — 400 years of Egyptian exile, and hei — 5 milennia, after which will come the 6th millenium and the era of Mashiach. After this we will merit the prophesy, "Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau."

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Ramban: Jacob showed respect for his brother by fearfully saying " my lord" and "your servant", as it is customary for the younger brother to honor the firstborn as if he were his father… That is, he is acting toward Esau as if the sale of the birthright was void as far as he was concerned.

Jacob used...flattery to avoid a possible war.

Ohr HaChayim: "He commanded them to say"
Why did the Torah use the word 'to say' since Jacob already said to the messengers: "thus you will say?" Jacob meant that they should tell Esau that they were instructed to say precisely the words they were about to say. Otherwise Esau might form the impression that the messengers related to him with deference and called him 'his master,' aware that he was the senior brother, but that Jacob never said the word 'adoni—my master' in relation to Esau. Jacob wanted to be sure that Esau realized that he called him master to remove any vestige of hatred and jealousy Esau might still harbor against him. Jacob used this word of flattery to avoid a possible war.

Lubavitcher Rebbe: Between the giving of the Torah and the final redemption we need to carry out two types of spiritual elevation: (1) the elevation of the objects found in the physical world by using them for holy purposes in the doing of mitzvahs and by dedicating non-religious acts for the sake of heaven, and (2) the elevation of the non-Jewish nations leading to the point where "I will convert the peoples to a pure language that all of them call in the Name of G‑d to worship of Him of one accord". (Zeph. 3:9)

These 2 were apparent in the life of Jacob. While in the house of Laban he observed all the 613 commands, as Rashi said above. Then too he attempted to spiritually elevate Esau who represents the non-Jewish nations with angels, gifts and words of appeasement. Only then was Jacob's spiritual mission complete, so he could then return back to his father's house with a true and complete redemption. (Sichot Parashat Vayishlach 5751)

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning): one had ever escaped the clutches of Laban of Aram...

Zohar Vayishlach 166: Rabbi Yehuda asked: What did Jacob have in mind when he sent Esau a message reading, "I have sojourned with Laban?" Did this message accomplish anything regarding his mission to Esau? A rumor circulated that no one had ever escaped the clutches of Laban of Aram, as he was well versed in sorcery and wizardry. He was also the father of Be'or, who in turn was the father of Balaam. As it is written: "Balaam the son of Be'or the sorcerer" (Joshua 13:22). Although Laban was the greatest practitioner of sorcery and wizardry, he could not overcome Jacob, whom he attempted to annihilate in several ways, as it is written: "An Aramian wanted to destroy my father". (Deut. 26:5)

Rabbi Aba said: Everyone was aware that Laban was the best at sorcery and wizardry, and he could use sorcery to do away with anyone he wished. All that Balaam knew came from Laban. Regarding Balaam, it is written: "for I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he whom you curse is cursed". (Numbers 22:6) Because everyone feared Laban and his sorcery, the first words that Jacob sent Esav were, "I have sojourned with Laban." In case Esau thought it was for a short period, perhaps a month or a year, Jacob advised, "and stayed there until now" — twenty years did I stay with him.

You may say that he gained nothing; "and I have oxen and asses". (Gen. 32:6) These are sentences of judgment. When these two collaborate, they cooperate to harm the world. For this reason, it is written, "You shall not plow with an ox and an ass together". (Deut. 22:10)
"Flocks, and menservants, and women servants," refers to lower crowns which G‑d slew in Egypt. They are called "the firstborn of cattle", (Ex. 12:29) "the firstborn of the captive" and "the firstborn of the maidservant". (Ex. 11:5) Esau took fright and came toward him; he feared Jacob as much as Jacob feared him.

...the knowledge he gained from dwelling near Laban could be used to save his life from his brother Esau.

BeRahamim LeHayyim:
All commentators on all levels agree: this was no simple message — it was rhetoric that aimed to affect Esau at all levels: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The choice of words, the word order, the delivery, all combine to convince Esau that his original plan to kill Jacob must be shelved. For Jacob seemed to learn as much of the dark arts from Laban as he did of holiness from Abraham, Isaac, Shem, and Eber during the time he "dwelled in tents." There is knowledge to be learned from all folks, as given over in the Mishna, "Who is wise? He who learns from every person." (Avot 4:1) How could Jacob know that the knowledge he gained from dwelling near Laban could be used to save his life from his brother Esau? Perhaps through prophecy. But more likely he was set to fulfill the Mishna above.

By learning from the Dark Side intimately, Jacob knew how to recognize its strengths, but also its weaknesses.

So too for all of us flawed and wounded folk. That you are reading this is in itself miraculous, to have survived the greatest assimilation in history and still be interested in your Jewish heritage, let alone Sod, bespeaks wonders of G‑d's providential plan as well as your own inner strengths. You have withstood extreme temptation to take the easy way out, but no, you have plunged ahead, and yes indeed, you must have used your Yetzer Hara/Dark Side to promote the workings of your Yetzer HaTov/Good side. Now, that said, the trick is to bring all of your tricks into explicit consciousness, figuring out which in your bag are available to do the job.

Yasher Koach!

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