The Talmud in the tractate of Pesachim relates a story of Rabbi Joseph the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi that was ill and his soul left him temporarily and entered the upper worlds. When he returned to this world his father asked him “what did you see there?” He answered, an upside down world. Those who were on the top in this world were on the bottom in the upper world. His father answered him “you saw a world of clarity” In other words, this world is an allusion. People spend their whole lives running after the wrong things. Idolizing rock stars, Hollywood, fame, fortune, and materialism instead of what really counts. What is esteemed and sought after by the masses in reality is worthless. The truth is hidden and is uncovered only by those who seek it with all their heart and soul. It says in Psalms 85:12 “Truth springs from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” Truth is something like a seed that is hidden in the earth and eventually will spring forth. But the ground baring the seed must be plowed, weeded, fertilized and watered in order to make the seed grow properly. The Talmud tells us of different signs that will be prevalent during the generation of messiah. One these signs are the absence of truth. This is based on the verse in Isaiah 59:15 – And truth is lacking, And he that departed from evil make himself a prey. And the LORD saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice;
Reading this week’s portion on a superficial level may leave an impression that Jacob is the villain and Esau is the prey. “Poor” Esau comes home from the field and is tired and hungry. He sees that Jacob is preparing a meal of lentils. He asks his brother to give him some. Instead of heeding his request, Jacob begins by offering a business deal to his brother. “Only if you agree to sell me your firstborn rights will I allow you to partake in this meal”, says Jacob. “Poor” Esau answers: “what good is it to have firstborn rights behold I am going to die of starvation.” Esau agrees to sell his birthright position to Jacob and is forced to take an oath. Only then does Jacob agree to offer a meal to his brother that is about to collapse of exhaustion. Later on, Isaac asks Esau to hunt and prepare him a meal just the way he likes it. He wants to bless his son before he dies and, therefore, asks Esau to honor him by making him dinner. Rebekah overhears the conversation between Isaac and Esau and instructs Jacob to bring her a kid goat and dresses Jacob up as Esau. Jacob pretends to be Esau and succeeds in stealing the blessing meant for Esau.
Why does the Torah paint a false impression regarding Jacob? This could add fuel to the anti-Semitic stereotyping machines that coin Jews as greedy money hungry shylocks. We mustn’t forget that a first born son gets a double portion.
Obviously, a look deeper into the portion reveals that Jacob was the righteous one and Esau the devil. “And Jacob gave Esau bread and a pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and left, and Esau despised the birthright.” (Genesis 25:34) The Torah states right out that Esau despised the birthright, meaning that the blessing intended for Esau, as a first born, was rightfully given to Jacob; since he had purchased all the first born rights fair and square.
As far as Esau being tired and hungry, the Talmud tells us the reason behind his exhaustion. In the Tractate of Baba Batrah 16B, it is taught, in the name of R. Jochanan, that on the very day that Esau requested to be fed by Jacob, he had committed five sins: He raped a betrothed maiden, he committed murder, he rejected G-D, he denied the belief in the resurrection of the dead, and disgraced his birthright. Two of these sins are written explicitly in the verses of our portion and the other three are taught by the Talmud using exegesis through a Gezerah Shavah. (See my essay on Parshat Chayay Sarah for the meaning of a Gezerah Shavah)
We learn that he raped a betrothed maiden from the following verses: “Now Jacob cooked a pottage, and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. (Genesis 25:29) “Because he found her in the field. The betrothed girl had cried out, but there was no one to save her. (Deuteronomy 22:27) The Talmud bases the Gezerah Shavah on the word field which appears in both verses (I underlined them) to teach us that just as the verse in Deuteronomy 22:27 is talking about the rape of a betrothed girl so is our verse here in Genesis 25:29. We therefore conclude that Esau raped a betrothed maiden that day.
We know that Esau committed murder from the verse “and he was faint” 25:29 and the verse in Jeremiah 4:31 “Woe is to me, for my soul is faint before the murderers.” Again the Talmud uses the exegesis of a Gezerah Shavah to show that just like the verse in Jeremiah, which talks about murder and contains the word faint can be united with the verse here in Genesis regarding Esau and “he was faint” teaching us that he committed murder that day.
We learn that Esau denied the belief in G-D from Genesis 25:32 – “Esau replied, “Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?” The Talmud teaches us again using a Gezerah Shavah based on the common word this from the verse in Exodus 15:2 “this is my God, and I will glorify Him:” that instead of saying this is my G-D, Esau denied him by saying – why do I need this? In other words, he is declaring – why do I need G-D?”
We learn the fact that Esau denied the resurrection from the verse in Genesis 25:32 “Behold, I am on the way to die”, in other words Esau saw this world as the only one without a continuation. Since he viewed the world in this fashion, he wanted to achieve as many worldly pleasures as he could before dying.
As far as despising the birthright it says directly in the verse Genesis 25:34 that Esau despised the birthright.
In addition, Talmud explains to us that the reason Jacob was preparing lentils was because this very day Abraham passed away and Jacob wanted to console his father Isaac by making him a meal. The lentils represent mourning in that they are rounded without an opening. This reflects on a mourner who has no words only pain. Even more, it hints to the fact that the world is a cycle and everyone must experience mourning at some time in their lives. Instead of Esau, the first born, thinking about the pain Isaac is going through over the loss of his father, he was busy in the field profaning G-D’s name.
In summary, we see that Esau wasn’t the misfortunate soul that he might be mistaken for. After learning the truth about who Esau was, why does the Torah allow one to get the wrong impression?
The answer is that Esau represents the kingdom of Edom, the last major kingdom that will reign until the coming of Messiah. Edom operates by trying to give an outward appearance of righteousness while having evil motives on the inside. The Midrash tells us that Esau the king of Edom is likened to a hog that hides its mouth and displays it hooves. He tries to show that he is kosher by showing off his split hooves, but buries his face in the ground to hide the fact that he does not chew his cud. (Kosher animals require two signs – split hooves and the chewing of the cud.) One Kosher sign doesn’t make the animal Kosher. In Genesis 34:4, it says, regarding the reunion of Esau and Jacob, “And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept.” In the original Hebrew Torah text there are dots over the word Kissed. Our sages learn from this that in reality Esau meant to bite Jacob. This was not a sincere kiss. The Midrash goes on to tell us how Esau would deceit his father by asking him if one is obligated to tithe water, straw and salt. According to Jewish, law they do not require tithing. Isaac would say to himself, “it is amazing how Esau is so stringent in keeping Torah law.” We see how devious Esau was trying to give a false impression of righteousness. A real con-artist! This is reflected in the verse: “And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.” Esau dwelling in the field represents the superficial external personality that he represented. Jacob, on the other hand, was a man that dwelt inside the tents of Torah. He is known as the man of Truth. As is written in the book of Micah 7:20 “You will give truth to Jacob and unchanging love to Abraham, Which You swore to our forefathers from the days of old”.
This message that can be applied in different realms of our lives. On a personal level, by avoiding external distractions and focusing on our inner essence, we can eliminate the husk of Esau and bring spirituality and purity in our lives. Of course, there is nothing greater than Torah study to achieve this goal. Socially, we should surround ourselves with people that care about ethical and moral ideals like doing good to others, and seeking the truth. On a worldwide level, the nations of the world must truly strive for the betterment of mankind. They must fight evil and promote justice and thus eliminate the dangers of Esauism in the world.
Unfortunately, today the word is suffering greatly at the hands of Islamic extremism. Instead of focusing all efforts on eliminating this danger to democracy, the husks of Esau choose to signal out the only true democratic country in the Middle East as an obstacle to peace, Israel. No other country, has forfeited such assets and paid the price that Israel has in trying to make peace. Despite Israel’s relentless effort nothing has been given in return except terrorism and hatred. The absurdity of it all is the winner of the Nobel Peace prize in 1994– he was one of the most prominent symbols of terrorism and murderer in the world – Yasser Arafat. Nevertheless, Esau has succeeded in portraying Israel as the villain and the so called Palestinians as the victim. How conceited is the suggestion of a Palestinian state in the eternal borders of Israel. The only nation in the world that G-D Himself has drawn the map of its homeland. Just yesterday, the European Union announced their new law requiring the marking of Israeli products made in East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Judea and Samaria. When the EU ambassador to Israel, Lars Faaborg-Andersen, was asked to explain, his answer was that it was a technical decision. One has to be very naïve to accept such an explanation.
It is very interesting that Rebekah not only put on goat skins on Jacob to make him hairy like his brother, but she dressed him with the garments of Esau. These were not his regular garments but the most precious of his garments. And Rebekah took the choicest garments of Esau her elder son, which were with her in the house, and put them upon Jacob her younger son. (Genesis 27:15) Why did Rebekah have to do this? Isaac was blind. She obviously wanted to do a good job in disguising Jacob so that Isaac would not recognize the ruse. Nevertheless, she could have chosen regular clothes why did she chose the best clothes he had? The Midrash explains that these were the garments of the first man. The first man was a firstborn and his garments were the garments of a high priest. Esau coveted the garments of the first man that were taken by the evil Nimrod. They were known for having special powers. Esau murders Nimrod and takes the garments for himself. The word used here in the verse for choicest garments is Chamudot (חמודות)in Hebrew. Interestingly, in the Ten Commandments the same root of the word is used regarding the prohibition of coveting. You shall not covet תחמוד)) your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, or whatever belongs to your neighbor.” Esau evilness stemmed from the fact that he was coveting the external aspects of man. Instead of looking for the spiritual side of man, he was drawn towards the physical side. It is not the garment that is most important, it is what lies behind it that counts. The only coveting that the Torah allows is coveting the spiritual characteristics of man. Let us covet those who do good and love G-D. Unfortunately, Esau was not interested in these aspects. The word for man in Hebrew is Adam (אדם) which is very close to Edom אדום. Removing the letter Vav ו) ) from Edom(אדום) becomes man(אדם) . The letter vav in Hebrew is used as the word “and”. When a person wants this and this and this… – he has become Edom. When he eliminates his external desires he becomes man.
The Hebrew word for garment is Beged (בגד)which means to rebel in Hebrew. Clothes can lead to a false impression. It is not the fancy suit that counts but it is the voice of Jacob. Let us not be taken in by the outside appearance.
This can explain the Torah allowing for a misconception of who Jacob really was. The lesson that Hashem is teaching us is to search for the truth and look beyond the exterior aspects of the world. The spelling of the word Beged is (בגד) three consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. That is what clothes are, layer on layer on layer covering over the inner world. If we peel off these layers removing the Dalet and then the Gimmel we reach the first letter of the word Beit. This is the first letter of the Torah. Only through the light of the Torah will we succeed in removing the husk of Edom and merit in the final redemption.
“And saviors shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be G-D’s. (Ovadiah 1:21)
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith, Itamar Israel