"I stayed with Laban and delayed until now. I acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep, servants and maid-servants. And now I sending word to tell my lord, to gain favor in your eyes" (Gen. 32:5-6).
Jacob was clearly afraid of his brother's enmity and jealousy. Why then did he tell Esau of his great wealth, of his oxen and donkeys? How would this help him gain favor in Esau's eyes?
Gradual Wealth and Overnight Riches
Generally speaking, there are two ways that people become wealthy. The more common method is when people acquire wealth slowly, gradually building up a business, purchasing real estate, investing profits, and so on.
A few lucky individuals, however, are the beneficiaries of a sudden windfall. They inherit a fortune, win the lottery, find a valuable treasure, and so on.
If a merchant traveled to a faraway country to make money, and made his fortune over a period of several years, one would assume he acquired his wealth gradually, in the usual fashion. But if he returned home with great wealth after a very brief stay, then clearly he made his fortune in some unusually fortuitous circumstances.
Once there was a young man who spent many years in a distant land. Despite his efforts and hard work, he earned very little money over the years. He had already decided to return home, when suddenly he became rich.
Not knowing the full story, people assumed that the young man had run a successful business, and gradually built up his wealth. It appeared that this distant land was a good place to earn a living. But when he returned, the young man warned his friends not to seek their fortunes there.
"Don't make the same mistake I made! That place is not a good place to make a living. I worked like a dog for many years, and had little to show for it. My current wealth was only the result of a sudden windfall. And miracles can happen anywhere."
Not from the Blessings
When Esau saw that Jacob had returned to the Land of Israel laden with great riches, he became extremely jealous. All this wealth, Esau thought to himself, came from my father's blessings that Jacob stole from me!
Actually, the fact that Jacob succeeded in escaping Haran with even a small sum was miraculous. All the years that Jacob worked for his uncle, he didn't make a penny. When he parted from Laban, Jacob testified, "If God had not been with me, you would have sent me away empty-handed."
Rather, Jacob's wealth was nothing less than a miracle. It had nothing to do with his father's blessings, and there was no cause for Esau to be jealous. Therefore Jacob announced to Esau, "I lived with Laban and tarried until now." All these years I worked for Lavan - and I earned nothing! I would have returned home empty-handed, were it not for God's providence.
"Now - only now - I acquired cattle and donkeys." Only recently I became wealthy - by miracles, not due to our father's blessings. Therefore "I have sent this message to tell my lord, to find favor in your eyes."
(Adapted from Mishlei Yaakov, p. 74-75)