by Evan Wolkenstein: Director of Experiential Education; Jewish Studies Teacher

When I was a senior in High School, I wanted to go to Madison, Wisconsin for college… but I didn’t know it. In fact, I went to the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis for two years.

I went to Minneapolis, probably not because it was fascinating or big or far from home. My best friend went there, and not to go to Minneapolis would’ve closed a chapter in our lives together. Indeed, it seemed that my world would be bigger if my life continued to include him very, very closely.

Two years later, as a Junior, I transferred to Madison. I was angry about the time I’d “wasted” in Minneapolis, in an environment I didn’t love. And my relationship with my best friend had taken a toll; I was overly dependent on him in that faraway, big city. It took about eight years to restore our friendship. As it turned out, I went to Minneapolis for all the wrong reasons. Should I have chosen differently? One might think so, but the Parsha has a bit of wisdom on the subject.

In this week’s Parsha, we meet Yaakov and Esav, two very different brothers: “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents” (Gen 25:26-28).

And as the story goes, they go very different directions in life. The famous Midrash depicts, perhaps unfairly, Esav as an idol-worshiping roughian and Yaakov as a saintly yeshiva student. But that aside, Yaakov goes on, with the help of his mother to trick his brother into giving him his father’s blessing. Here is the blessing Yitzchak “accidentally” gives Yaakov – but which is meant for Esav:

28 Therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine.

29 Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee; be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be he that blesseth thee!”

Once Esav realizes that this legerdemain has taken place, he becomes angry and seeks to kill his brother, Yaakov. Now, before we get too angry at Yaakov for stealing this blessing from Esav, let us page forward in the Torah to an encounter between Yaakov and Yitzchak:

“And Yaakov lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau came and with him four hundred men…And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times until Yaakov came near to his brother [Esav]” (Gen 33:1-3).

Here, we see that though Yaakov supposedly received a blessing not meant for him, he proceeds to fulfill it, almost accidentally, for his brother, who has amassed a fortune, an army, and great power. Indeed, it seems that Esav has received everything from the world that he thought he’d been stripped of. The blessing came true, but not in the way anyone would have expected.

It wouldn’t be until a year or so after leaving Minneapolis that I realized that my time in Madison was supercharged — doubly exciting, doubly satisfying because I’d gone the “long way around.” And years later, my best friend and I reunited, our friendship more seasoned and mature for our rocky time in that “other place.”

Looking back, I am extremely satisfied with the big picture. Like Esav, I got everything that was coming to me…but in a way I did not predict. If only Esav had not gotten so angry, threatening to kill his brother, all the same things would have come to pass, but more peacefully. In our lives, we might learn a lesson from these two brothers. Let us make our choices, and then be at peace with the outcome. In almost every case, things work out “in the way they should.”