In the parsha for this week, Vayishlach (Genesis 32:4-36:43), we see the reunion of two estranged brothers. After coercing his starving brother Esau into giving up his birthright, Jacob tricked their father Isaac into bestowing upon him the blessing intended for Esau. After many years, Esau and Jacob are reunited—Esau, still furious with Jacob, intends to harm him. But the text describes the moment of their meeting as deeply poignant:
Eisav ran to meet him and hugged him. He fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. (Bereishis 33:4).
This seems like a tender moment. But the midrash tells us that Esau fell upon Jacob’s neck to bite him rather than to kiss him (Bereishis Rabbah 78:9). In that moment of violence, Jacob’s neck turned to marble, and Esau wept from the pain of his teeth connecting with marble rather than from joy at the reunion.
On the face of it, this is totally confusing. It seems like the parsha is describing a moment of forgiveness, where brotherly love triumphs over past cruelty. But then the midrash seem to say that Esau was unable to overcome his anger.
So while the tone of the text and the midrash seem to be contradicting each other entirely, as a sister, I’m completely on board with this confusion.