• S. Daniel Abraham Israel Program

  • Peirot Haaretz  

    Toldot

    Elliot Heller

    Yeshivat Hakotel

    ותקח רבקה את בגדי עשו בנה הגדל החמדת אשר אתה בבית ותלבש את יעקב בנה הקט

     (בראשית כז:טו)

     “And Rivka took the clean clothes of Eisav, her older son, which were with her in the house, and she put them on Yaakov, her younger son” (Bereishit 27:15)

    Rashi quotes the midrash which interprets the word hachamudot as precious – alluding to the fact that Esav stole them from Nimrod. The Rashbam comments that Esav would always wear these garments when serving his father, as a great demonstration of kibud av.

    The question begs to be asked, however: If Esav was so meticulous in the mitzvah of kibud av (one which we can all agree is not the easiest to perform), then why didn’t this positive attribute rub off on his behavior in other areas of life? Why did he not emulate his great and righteous father, whom he so scrupulously honored? After all, the mishna in Pirkei Avot teaches, mitzvah gorreret mitzvah. Why did he remain Esav Harasha?

    The Yehudi m’Peshischa answers this question by pointing out a subtle but important difference between Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov came to his father wearing his regular weekday clothing. This represents, explains the Rebbe, Yaakov’s willingness and desire to change. He showed Yitzchak the real picture of who he was. In this way, Yitzchak was able to perceive both Yaakov’s strong and weak points, and steer him in the right direction. Esav on the other hand, wasn’t interested in receiving mussar from his father. He just wanted to gain his favoritism. That’s why he only wore his finest clothing when appearing before Yitzchak. He only revealed his positive qualities, keeping his flaws hidden from the person who could influence him the most.

    In yeshiva, we all come in with the common goal of learning lots of Torah. But if we spend our entire time in yeshiva just focusing on reading a Tosfot better, or finishing theמסכת we are currently learning, we’re missing the point. Being in a yeshiva environment, surrounded by tremendous role models, we should take the time to think of our fewer strong points in life, and try to improve upon them by learning from our rebbeim, madrichim and each other. As Chazal teach us, haba l’taher mesayin oto– only if we truly desire to transform our weaknesses into strengths will we be successful in experiencing personal growth, in all areas of life.

     

     Ben Atwood 

     Yeshivat Har Etzion

     

                The Torah portion of Toldot can often be a particularly enjoyable one to teach to children because it includes the dramatic tale of good versus evil, younger brother versus older brother, and mensch versus menuval—Jacob versus Esau. Midrash and many commentators subscribe to these characterizations of Toldot’s twins and highlight the differences of each individual’s physical, vocational, and behavioral descriptions. As a result, the commentators in favor of this approach seem to view Esau as doomed from birth to be the rejected inheritor of the Covenant of Abraham, and Jacob the accepted heir. However, is it possible that Jacob and Esau are originally described as equals and Esau lost his father’s inheritance because of his own wrongdoings?

    Indeed, a simple reading of the language of the Jacob and Esau narrative seems to view the twins as equal inheritors of the Covenant of Abraham. The phrase v’rav yaavod tza’ir (Genesis 25: 23), is often comprehended as a Divine foreboding of Jacob’s, eventual success in inheriting the Covenant of Abraham over his older brother, “and the older shall serve the younger.” Interestingly, Radak takes note of the flexibility in Hebrew grammar which allows for the phrase to be read in the opposite direction, “and the younger shall serve the older.” The purposely vague language allows for either son or even both sons to be the potential heir.

    Similarly, many like to highlight Esau’s life of hunting and Jacob’s life of tent-residing as the difference between a good and bad intentioned individual. However, Abraham himself was a skilled warrior and a tent-dweller, as Abraham was both a man of action (Bereishit 14:14-15) and humble introspection (Bereishit 23: 2). Moreover, each child is described as being loved by one of his parents (Bereishit 25: 28), so at this point neither can be seen as more or less viable to inherit the Covenant.

    If either or both twins had the potential from youth to follow the tradition of Abraham, the key factor leading to Jacob’s success and Esau’s failure must lie in their later actions. One can sift through the text of Toldot to find small differences in Jacob and Esau’s behaviors and speech, but there seems to be one highlighted event when Esau fails: the taking of his wives. The text forces a physical break, a parshiya, before and after the two verses describing the action to highlight their content. The first verse simply describes Esau as taking two Hittite wives for himself (Bereishit 23: 34), while the next reads “and it caused a bitter spirit for Isaac and Rebecca” (Bereishit 23: 35). Where exactly does Esau err that leads to the disapproval of his parents?

    There are three wrongful actions that can be found in the isolated verses. The first is that Esau takes his wives without the permission or command of his parents. It was common custom in the ancient Near East for the father of the household to arrange the marriage of his children as either an expression of his leadership and/or a business transaction beneficial to both parties involved (Dr. Victor H. Matthews, “Marriage and Family in the Ancient Near East”). Abraham does this for his son Isaac by sending his servant to find a suitable wife, and Hagar selects a wife for her son Ishmael (Bereishit 21: 21). Jacob, on the other hand, waits until he is instructed by his parents to find a wife in Padan-Aram (Bereishit 28: 5).

    In a similar vein, it was also customary, though less in the larger Ancient Near East than in the specific family of Abraham, to marry into one’s own larger family to continue the family lineage. Sarah is one of Abraham’s close relatives (see Bereishit 20: 12 and Rashi on Bereishit 1: 29), and Rebecca is Isaac’s first-cousin once removed. Esau takes wives from the idolatrous Hittite clan. Furthermore, after overhearing Isaac’s command to Jacob to find a wife from their family in Padan-Aram as opposed to a Canaanite native, the text goes to great lengths to describe Esau’s flagrant disregard for the Padan-Aram portion of the command and strict adherence to not marrying a Canaanite as he marries a daughter of Ishmael, a rejected quasi-member of Abraham’s family not from Padan-Aram.

    The third issue with Esau’s marriages is that there were several of them. Dr. Richard Davidson, a Bible professor at Andrews University, explains that polygamy was not uncommon in the time and geographic location of the Toldot narrative, but was often qualified to be permitted strictly when necessary, such as infertility, illness, death, or legal distress with the first wife (see Babylonian Code of Hammurabi). Although it is common in Genesis, the results of polygamy are often disastrous. Abraham’s marriage to Hagar, although allowed according to the Code of Hammurabi because of infertility, causes much strife between Sarai and Hagar and Isaac and Ishmael. Jacob only intended on taking one wife and married Bilha and Zilpa as a result of infertility issues, as well. Nevertheless, the amount of discord and jealousy among the wives and children is evident. In fact, Jacob may have performed repentance for his multiple marriages by the end of his life, as the genealogies at the end of Genesis describe only Rachel as “Jacob’s wife” (Bereishit 46: 25). Conversely, Esau not only takes another wife at the end of Toldot in addition to his current two, al nashav(Bereishit 8: 9), but all are considered his wives in his genealogies (Bereishit 36: 2).

    No matter which specific wrongdoing or combination thereof Esau committed, all three represent Esau’s disobedience to the tradition of his family and his society, signaling a lack of vigilance to follow in the footsteps of the harbingers of the Covenant. It is Esau’s mistakes in the building of his own family that breeds the scorn of his parents, his grandfather, and God, and allows for Jacob to take the reins as the wholesome, careful heir to the Israelite tradition.

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