Secret Respect

[First posted on the Times of Israel at:]

Netziv Genesis: Vayishlach

Secret Respect

“What is told into the ear of a man is often heard a hundred miles away.” -Chinese Proverb

Jacob fears his upcoming encounter with his estranged brother Esau. Esau is on his way to meet Jacob with a force of 400 men. Jacob sends multiple delegations carrying livestock as gifts to his dangerous brother.

They finally meet in a dramatic and emotional moment with hugging, kissing and crying. Jacob then abases himself in a manner that is almost embarrassing. He calls his brother “master” repeatedly, while referring to himself as “your servant.” Whether Jacob was sincere or not in his abnegation is open to debate, but what the Netziv on Genesis 32:5 makes clear is that Jacob was thorough and consistent in assuming the servile role.

The Netziv points out that not only is Jacob subservient in front of Esau, but also when he is out of sight he shows his brother the same level of respect. In Jacob’s private discussions with his own servants, he likewise refers to his brother as “my Master” and to himself as “his servant.” The Netziv signals that we should cultivate the habit of referring to people with their proper names, titles and with respect, both in public and in private. Others will pick up on how we speak and use the names and terms we use, for better or worse.

May we speak properly of others and in respectful terms.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Rabbi Ariel Kleiner. A man for whom I have great respect, despite ideological differences.



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