"Two nations are in your womb."
Cheshvan 25, 5771/November 2, 2010
Even before they emerged from the womb, Ya'akov and his twin brother Esav were battling it out. Midrash tells us that whenever Rivkah, (Rebecca), would pass by a place of idolatry, Esav would strike out violently within her, and every time she passed by a place of Torah, (the tents of Shem and Ever, where Torah was taught), Ya'akov would stir with longing. The written words of Torah itself immediately note the nature of their differing world views: "And the youths grew up, and Esav was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Ya'akov was a pure man, dwelling in tents." (Genesis 25:27) "Dwelling in tents," in Hebrew, "yoshev ohalim." The five Hebrew letters which make up the word "ohalim," "tents," are the same five letters which spell the name of G-d. In other words, Ya'akov was "a pure man who dwelled with G-d."
But who was Esav? Esav was a man who understood the chase, the ways of the world, and what it takes to get ahead, to get what you want, to take what you want, when you want it, and by whatever means necessary. Esav was a man of means, he "understood the hunt." The Hebrew word for hunt, tzayd, is related to the word for equipment, tziyud: Esav had the right stuff, all the necessary accoutrements, and then some. He wore a three piece suit, carried a leather briefcase, a laptop, a bluetooth, a gold watch, a silver cane. He was a "man of the field," outstanding in his field, the best at what he did. He was out there, in the limelight, in the news, in the gossip columns, the subject of paparazzis.
Yitzchak, (Isaac), loved Esav because "the hunt was in his mouth." (ibid 25:28) Our sages explain that Esav was a smooth talker, and his words could sway and persuade others. His words could slay hearts. His words could kill. Esav was a man of instant gratification. He returned from the hunt hungry and with a fire in his belly. He wanted food to fill it. He wanted it now and at any cost. He ate, he killed his hunger, he rose up and was off again, out to acquire more. (ibid 25:29-34)
Come to think of it, Esav possessed all of the qualities that modern society seems to lionize. We may not admit to admiring these qualities, but we are taught, and frequently experience first-hand, that this is what it takes to make it in today's world. Do unto others before they do it unto you. It may not be pretty, but it works. And what of Ya'akov? He lived in Esav's shadow.
"And Yitzchak loved Esau," (ibid), not because he admired or approved of Esav's aggressiveness or his possessiveness, or his sense of entitlement, or his crass worldly accomplishments, or his murderously violent nature, but because he, too, felt that this is what it takes to get by in this world. And if Esav lacked humility, if he had no room in his heart for his fellow man, if he had no faith in or need for G-d, well then, Yitzchak thought, Esav could, in time, acquire these traits. No, Yitzchak wasn't naive, but he was the man, who, when still a lad, walked hand-in-hand with his father Avraham to Mount Moriah, where, bound upon the altar, the heavens opened up above him, and the angels' tears dimmed his eyes. Yitzchak was cut from a different cloth.
Rivkah, however, grew up in a household of scoundrels not unlike Esav. She understood where he came from and she understood to where he was bound. Rivkah, we are told, "loved Ya'akov." (ibid)
Contrary to Esav's claim, to his bitter lament, to his heart-tugging cries, Ya'akov stole neither his birthright, nor his blessing. For both the birthright and the blessing always belonged to Ya'akov. He was the man of G-d. When Ya'akov was tired, as we shall see, (ibid 28:11) he lay down his head in a place of G-d. When Ya'akov was hungry, driven from his home, pursued by his murderous brother, he prayed to G-d that He would provide him with sustenance, with clothing and with shelter. And with these words he concluded his prayer: "And if I return in peace to my father's house, and HaShem will be my G-d. Then this stone, which I have placed as a monument, shall be a house of G-d, and everything that You give me, I will surely tithe to You." (ibid 28:22)
We don't need to live like Esav, from hand to mouth, always on the hunt, trusting no one and at odds with our brother. There is another way. The way of our father Ya'akov. If we determine that where we lay down our head will be a place of G-d, that our sustenance, our shelter, and all our worldly accomplishments will be expressions of our faith in G-d, then this world will be one of G-dliness, and not a G-dless hunting ground.
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Yaakov's birthright & blessings, and the Torah's insistence that we all accept personal responsibility for the course of human events.
How do we understand the perplexing struggle between Ya'akov and Esav? What do these forces represent, and how is their struggle ultimately resolved?
Unesco, in a quintessentially Esavian manner, declares that Ma'arat HaMachpela in Hevron as well as Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem are mosques. Why is Rachel crying for her children (Jeremiah 31), and why is Rachel G-d's guarantor that her children will return to their land?