Now, remember, this is the Esau who had vowed to murder Yaakov in retribution for “stealing” his blessing and birthright (27:41–42). Indeed, it’s because of this vow that Yaakov has spent twenty years in exile from the promised land, hiding from the wrath of his brother. But now we see a different side of Esau. He asks about the droves of livestock that Yaakov had sent to him to precede his own arrival:
“What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “To find favor with my lord.” But Esau said, “I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.” (Gen. 33:8–9)
The Jewish sages tend to distrust Esau’s behavior here, and suspect that he’s up to no good, but I disagree. Esau is an impulsive, passionate man. That leads to his failings, especially his greatest failing, when he despises his own birthright and sells it on the spot to Jacob for the privilege of gulping down a bowl of stew (Gen. 25:34). His passion is evident in his cries to Isaac when he realized that Jacob has received the blessing intended for him: “Bless me, me also, father!” (Gen. 27:34, 38). And this same passion makes his threat to kill Yaakov all too believable.
But now, at Esau’s reunion with Yaakov, his passion is transformed into a nobility of character as he welcomes his brother with a kiss and tears and refuses his gift of appeasement. What transforms it? Three words in Hebrew—yesh li rav, “I have plenty”—which make up the basic cry of gratitude. When Esau utters these words he rises above his own sorry role in the saga of Genesis. For the moment, at least, he forgets all that Yaakov has supposedly taken from him, all that he has lost, and declares, “I have plenty, I have enough, and I’m grateful for that!”
I’m basing my practice of mussar this year on the Shema, including the great commandment, “V’ahavata, you shall love Hashem your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” As I wrote in the last cycle, “When I’m wholehearted in my love for God, it doesn’t leave much room for worrying and kvetching. I realize that these are really just different forms of ingratitude—lamenting what I’ve lost, or never had, or might not have much longer, instead of being thankful for what I do have.” Gratitude is a product of wholehearted love for God, as rav Shaul instructs us, “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Messiah Yeshua” (1 Thess. 5:18 TLV).
In everything give thanks: We don’t know whether Esau maintained the habit of saying yesh li rav, but we can make it part of our daily practice of gratitude. If we have HaShem in our lives, no matter what else we may have or not have, we can always say, Yesh li rav—I have plenty!