Blameless Eisav? Toldot 5777

Blameless Eisav? Toldot 5777

Ying and Yang. Dark and Light. Good and Bad.


This week we are introduced to twins who could not have been more different to each other; Yaackov and Eisav.


Yaackov is the diligent Torah student, whereas Esav is the hunter. Their mother is promised that one will rise whilst the other falls; and indeed, the rise and fall of their respective empires, Rome and Israel have truly been in contrast to each other. In Cheder we were taught that Eisav was the epitome of a naughty boy, doomed already from birth to pursue idol worship and throw off the shackles of his father’s household.


Interestingly though, when describing the twins entrance into maturity, the end of their childhood (and according to many, their Bar Mitzvah), the Torah says Vayigdeloo Hane’arim – and the lads grew up (25:27).


Whilst the literal meaning of this is simply that Yaackov and Eisav were now legally adults, the Zohar throws a whole new spin on the Passuk. This verse, says the Zohar, is referring to the twins spiritual standing and it indicates that they were both Gedolim, spiritual giants following in the footsteps of Avraham and Yitzchak.


Yes, Eisav as well as Yaackov (for the Torah uses the plural verb), was a Tzaddik!


Either we need to re-evaluate our opinion of Eisav or the definition of a Tzaddik.


At this point in my Rabbinical career, I don’t really want to start questioning the status of Tzaddikim, so let us instead question our traditional views about Eisav. Here was a man, born to Yitzchak and Rivka, a grandchild of Avraham and Sarah, and a twin to Yaackov. Both nurture and nature dictated that he would be a good boy, that he would grow spiritually and religiously.


Which indeed he did, although it would seem that it wasn’t easy. For whilst the Torah testifies that when the twins were Bar Mitzvahed they were both righteous, it also tells us that whilst in utero, Eisav was already drawn towards idol worship. The Zohar attributes this change in Eisav’s behaviour to Avraham’s dedication and influence; he educated his grandson to overcome his natural tendencies. Avraham is described as being the epitome of the attribute of Chessed – loving kindness, and he showered his grandson, his confused and embattled grandson, with loving education and support.


What went wrong then? Why does Eisav ultimately revert to type? What happened during his adolescence to unpick all the good work accomplished during his childhood?


The simple answer is that Avraham, his loving, kind, understanding and patient grandfather passed away. Eisav lost his mentor and the one man who believed in him. It became so easy for him to slide, to pick up his natural tendencies to misbehave and let it all unravel.


But what about his father? Yitzchak was the opposite of Avraham, he was Gevurah – strict discipline to Avraham’s Chessed – loving kindness. {The child of this marriage was Yaackov who embodied the attribute of Tifferes – beauty in balance.}


This isn’t to blame Yitzchak; his discipline was necessary, for without it Avraham’s kindness will get overrun. But rather it is to stress the importance of maintaining the loving traditions and the ‘old world education’ of yesteryear. The love of Yiddishkiet that our Bubbas and Zeides gift to their Einicklech must continue even when they are no longer physically around. We have an awesome responsibility to ensure that their passion for transmitting a love and appreciation of Torah remains.


So the next time we see a rebellious child, a modern day Eisav, stop to think for a moment before we condemn him out of hand. Ask yourself what would be different if her Bubba was here to guide with a loving hand and a soft cheek to rest against. We need education and discipline, we need to maintain rules and regulations, but we also need to hear the cry of the child as they crave that loving kindness of our Zeideh Avraham.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Dovid