The Path of Submissiveness Works, and Saves Lives

Rashi, Biblical and Talmudic commentator (1040-1105)
The Torah says that Esau hugged and kissed Jacob. His mercies were aroused after he saw Jacob bowing to him so many times. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said: It is a law that Esau hates Jacob, but his mercies were aroused at that moment and he kissed Jacob with all his heart.
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Rabbi Kalonymus Epstein, Rabbi of Cracow (1753-1825)
The acts of our forefathers serve as a model for our behavior in exile. If we follow his example, then just as Jacob’s bowing and gifts softened Esau’s heart and transformed him into a friend who did him no harm, the same will be true of any nations who wish to harm us. When they see that we humble ourselves before them, not using belligerent words but rather words of appeasement, accepting their rule upon us, they will sweeten and be unable to harm us at all.
(Maor Vashemesh, Parshas Vayishlach)

Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno, Italian Biblical commentator (1475-1550)
Although Esau had originally been coming to destroy Jacob and his family, his heart was turned around by the humble approach Jacob took. If only the zealots of the Second Temple had followed this example, the Temple would not have been destroyed, as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai testified when he said, “The zealots among us did not allow me [to surrender to the Romans].”
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Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (Maharsha), Talmudic commentator (1555-1631) 
The Jews at the end of the Second Temple period refused to humble themselves and be servants of Rome, and that is why the Temple was destroyed. But because some Jews, such as Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai, did humble themselves to Esau the same way Jacob did, and many other Jewish sages agreed to be humble before Titus, there was a small-scale salvation in this bitter exile.
(Commentary on Bava Basra 73a)

“He scattered the nations, they wanted war” (Psalms 68:31). Why were the Jewish people dispersed among the nations of the world? Because they wanted war with them (Talmud, Pesachim 118b). This is referring to the First Temple period: if they had made peace with Nebuchadnezzar [which naion?], they would not have gone into exile at all. Even more so in the Second Temple period, if the militant Jews had listened to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and the Sages of that generation, and made peace with Titus, they would not have gone into exile, as is explicit in the Chapter Hanizakin, Gittin 56a.
(Commentary on Pesachim 118b)

Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, Leader of Sephardic Jewry and major Biblical commentator (1696-1743)
When the Babylonians besieged the city [Jerusalem] and Yirmiyahu announced clearly that it would fall into their hands, and similarly when the Romans besieged the city and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai announced that it would fall into their hands, the Jewish people did not take the advice of their sages. G-d gave them a chance to save themselves and the Temple by surrendering to the enemies, but instead they fought back and lost everything. G-d’s decree was only that the Jews should be subservient to Babylon, not necessarily that they should go into exile. G-d would have found a way to punish them in their land. But because Jerusalem stubbornly refused to give in, the destruction of the Temple resulted.
(Commentary Rishon Letzion, Eicha 1:7-8)

Rabbi Eliyahu, the Vilna Gaon (1720-1799)
The cause of the destruction of the Temple and our exile was that the Jewish people did not listen to the voice of Jeremiah when he told them to surrender to the king of Babylonia (Jeremiah 27:12). And similarly, the Second Temple was destroyed because of the wickedness of the militant Jews who did not listen to the voice of the Sages who said they should surrender to Rome, as is written in the Talmud (Gittin 56) and the book of Josephus. All the more so when it comes to the benevolent kings under whom we live today, that we must accept their yoke with love and pray for their welfare, as the Jews did even in Temple times: “So that they would offer sacrifices and pray for the life of the king and his children.” (Ezra 6:10) And the same is stated in the Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah on the verse, “I have placed an oath upon you, daughters of Jerusalem” – that G-d placed an oath upon the Jewish people not to rebel against their governments.
(Even Shleimah)

Rabbi Yisroel Meir Hakohein, author of Chofetz Chaim (1839-1933)
If the activists of our time were wise, they would understand that they must not provoke the nations or fight wars against them. Rather they must first study the parsha of Jacob’s meeting with Esau, the Parsha of Golus, and then follow in the footsteps of our wise ancestor. Then they would succeed in improving the lot of the sheep among the seventy wolves.”
(Chofetz Chaim Al Hatorah, Shmini)

Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk, prominent Chassidic rebbe (1717-1787)
The Torah is teaching us how to relate to gentile governments during this bitter exile, in which we are forced to accept the exile lovingly until G-d has mercy on us and redeems us in everlasting redemption. As long as we are in exile, we must humble ourselves before them and call them masters, just as Jacob called Esau “my master.”
If we fulfill our decree of exile by acting humbly, we will not need to pay heavy taxes. If the gentiles do tax us heavily, it will be considered as stealing on their part, and this will arouse G-d’s mercy on us, for it is enough that we are acting humbly and showing respect.
(Noam Elimelech, Vayishlach)

Rabbi Aharon Berechiah of Modena (d. 1639)
Although G-d had promised Jacob that he would not desert him (Genesis 28:15), still Jacob was afraid of Esau (32:8) because he thought that perhaps due to his sins, G-d had rescinded His promise (Berachos 4a). We, too, were promised by G-d that the nations will never completely destroy us in exile (Leviticus 26:44). Still, when they are angry at us, we must not refrain from taking steps to save ourselves.
The first step to safety is to keep a low profile. While in the gentile lands, we must not make ostentatious displays of clothing, houses or furniture. We must know that we are in exile, they are our masters, and through our humility the Divine Attribute of Justice and the Heavenly Court, which assist the nations, will be appeased – in the same way that Jacob defeated Esau’s guardian angel by virtue of the humility he showed toward Esau.
Secondly, we must pray to G-d to save us. And thirdly, we must give charity to our poor, for if we are remiss in this duty, we might be forced to pay even more money to influential gentiles to intercede on our behalf with the government.
(Sefer Maavar Yabbok on the Torah)

Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, Rosh Yeshiva of Baranovitch, Poland (1874-1941)
The Chofetz Chaim used to say that even nowadays, in the absence of prophets, we can consult with G-d when facing a hard decision. How is that possible? The Torah is the word of G-d, and aside from laws, it contains advice – for the private individual, and for the Jewish people as a whole. If we do not follow the Torah’s advice during exile, we place the Jewish people in great danger.
Until recently, Jews followed the Torah’s advice. Before going to Rome to ask the emperor to annul anti-Semitic decrees, the Sages would study the story of Jacob and Esau in the Torah. But in our time the honor of the Torah has been degraded. People only come to the Torah authorities with questions about saying Kaddish. But “political questions” (i.e. questions that involve the entire Jewish people) have been removed from the domain of the Torah and given over to the politicians and journalists. They have become the leaders of the generation. From what source do they derive their opinions? From their ideology of being like the gentiles. They do not know, or, more correctly, refuse to know that if Jews had always imitated the gentile methods of politics, there would be nothing left of them today, just as there is no remnant of stronger and mightier nations that once existed.

To a thinking man, it is clear that the history of the Jewish people follows a path that has no parallel in any other people. He who applies the gentile approach to politics to the Jewish people is like one who measures cloth by the gallon or milk by the yard.

The right approach to politics for the Jewish people is written in the Torah, which foresaw everything. Thousands of years of history attest to its correctness. What is that approach? “Three oaths G-d made the Jewish people swear…” (Kesubos 111a) and one of them is not to rebel against the nations: that Jews should not be revolutionaries. “Fear G-d, my son, and the king, and do not mix with changers” (Proverbs 24:21). G-d warned us: “If you fulfill the oaths, good, but if not, you will be ownerless like the gazelle and the deer, which everyone chases and hunts.”
When we speak to the nations of the world, we must beg, not demand. “A soft tongue breaks a bone” (Proverbs 25:15). When our Sages came to Rome to protest a decree, they said, “Are we not children of one father and one mother? Why are we different from all other nations, that you pass harsh decrees against us?” (Rosh Hashanah 19a).

Jacob said to his sons, “Why do you show yourselves?” (Genesis 42:1). The Gemara (Taanis 10b) explains, “Why do you show yourselves in front your brethren, the children of Esau and the children of Yishmoel?” This is a clear directive that we should not keep a high profile everywhere before the eyes of the gentiles. We must not cause the gentiles to talk about us. The less the gentiles talk about us, the better.

Only when the gentiles make decrees against the laws of the Torah must we stand up against them and not bend a hair’s breadth.
These are, in short, the Torah’s guidelines for our dealings with gentiles; the Jews followed these guidelines until recently. Now new leaders have arisen who refuse to hear the Torah and its advice. They conduct their politics in the exact opposite of the Torah way. “Jews must fight and demand,” they say. Against whom? “Against the strongest nations of the world. We must boycott them, hold congresses, and fire at them through newspaper articles. That is how we will strike fear into their hearts.”

They cry incessantly, “Zion, Zion” when they should be crying “Torah, Torah! What will become of Torah?” Without Torah, we are defenseless and helpless. With the Torah, we are the strongest nation in the world. This is not a mere proverb; it is the truth, proven by three thousand years of history. Furthermore, the taking of Eretz Yisroel is not up to us. “If G-d does not build a house, in vain do its builders toil on it” (Tehillim 127:1). But spreading Torah is up to us, and only us.
(Ikvesa Demeshicha)

The book of Koheles (3:15) teaches, “G-d looks after the pursued.” At a time when anti-Semites raise their voices against the Jewish people and advocate our total destruction, G-d forbid, then we begin to be persecuted and chased, and this triggers the principle that “G-d looks after the pursued” – which applies no matter what, even when the pursuer is righteous and the pursued is wicked. Whatever claims G-d’s attribute of justice may have against the Jewish people, it cannot argue with this principle. It is silenced, and thus the Jews are saved from total destruction.
We see from this that our whole strength and survival depends on us being in the role of the persecuted. G-d forbid for us to try to become persecutors! One of the three oaths that G-d made the Jewish people swear is “do not rebel against the nations” (Kesubos 111a). “Some come with chariots and some with horses, but we call in the name of the L-rd our G-d.”
(Psalms 20:8) (Article entitled “The Calm Words of the Wise are Heard,” printed in Yalkut Maamarim Umichtavim, pp. 101-102)

Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, leading Jewish legal authority (1881-1973)
Who is strong? He who subdues his inclinations. As it says, “Better someone who is slow to anger than someone with strength, one who controls his spirit than the conqueror of a city.” (Proverbs 16:32) The Jews cause powerful envy in the nations when they show a surplus of strength, for then the nations say: “Come, let us plot against them before they become too strong…” And therefore Jews need to be careful not to show much strength, and especially not to brag about their strength, or their wisdom. Thus, “Who is strong, he who conquers his urges,” for forbearance is better than strength.

Who is honored? One who honors [G-d’s] creations. Even if someone appears as a hater, nevertheless it is possible to change him into a friend, as experience teaches, for example the story with Jacob versus Esau. And it is a criminal sin of those talkative preachers who constantly preach that the hatred Esau has is unrelenting. This is contrary to the truth, contrary to the Talmudic sages, and contrary to the Bible. For Esau himself was not always evil [to us] and his hatred was assuaged by the proper response. And as this was true regarding the first Esau, so too it is with his future generations. Submissiveness brings peace.

This is what Ben Zoma means by “Who is honored? He who honors others.” It refers also to the nations. When we honor them and say to them “You are our friend” they become friends because of this, and the reverse is true as well – if we say “You hate us” he will hate you because of that. Experience confirms this daily.
(Kisvei Hagaon R’ Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, #116, p. 232-233)