Yaakov and Essau

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In פ’ תולדות, כה, כז, Genesis 25. 27, it states, “When the boys grew up, it came to pass that Essau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, and Yaakov, Jacob, an honest person, dwelling in tents.”

The Torah does not state, ‘dwelling in a tent’, but rather ‘tents’. It would seem to indicate that Yaakov spent his time in two different locations.

Rashi explains that he occupied his time by studying in the ‘tent of Shem’, and the ‘tent of עבר’, Eber, two distinct ‘Yeshivos’ wherein to study Torah.

Some explain it to mean on a kabbalistic level, that he pursued both the legacy of אברהם אבינו, our patriarch Abraham, who established a paradigm of chessed, true compassionate kindness, and the legacy of, יצחק אבינו Isaac, who established the idea of complete negation to Hashem. He then over his lifetime synthesized these two ideas into one of harmony, a manifestation of arriving at the absolute truth in all particular circumstances.

The Sforno has a unique approach: These were two distinct tents that he was associated with. One was a tent dedicated to his profession, that being a shepherd, and one where he contemplated the Creator with meditation and desired to become sanctified in His Glory.

In contrast Essau was a person who had no specific vocation, but rather disdained systematic responsibility and an orderly manner of living, but was skilled in ‘working the earth’, taking what he needed from what was naturally available.  One can also understand the Sforno, that he was an excellent farmer.

According to the Sforno, the Torah is contrasting the opposite lifestyles. Essau was a person who involved himself with taking care of his own needs, whereas Yaakov Avinu took the role of a shepherd, a vocation where one has the opportunity to care about the needs of each individual animal; if they are tired thirsty, hungry, weak, or sick. In פ’ ויצא, 30, 29, the Sforno teaches that Yaakov Avinu “bound the broken bones and healed the sick, as befits and expert shepherd”; his sense of caring to the sheep and responsibility to Lavan. He actually became a veterinarian!

The Torah is contrasting the sense of obligation that each one had. If we understand איש שדה to mean that he distanced himself from all and become a hunter; we are categorizing Essau as a person who doesn’t execute with a plan and a purpose, but rather on a daily basis secures his need. Even if he was a farmer, he is totally self-absorbed, never focusing on the challenge of developing one’s compassion, sensitivity, and dedication to another. חז”ל teach us that all the Patriarchs, Moshe Rabbenu and Dovid HaMelech were shepherds, in order to facilitate their development as caring leaders.

At the end of the פרשה, we learn of Yitzchak Avinu instructing Yaakov not to marry any בנות כנען, but rather to go on a ‘long’ trip to פדן ארם and take a wife from the same home he did. In Verse 28, 6 it states: “And Essau saw that Yitzchak blessed Yaakov and sent him to פדן ארם and commanded him; do not take a Canaanite woman for a wife. In verse 7, 8, it reads, “and Yaakov obeyed his father and mother and went to פדן ארם. Verse 8 reads, “Essau perceived that Canaanite woman displeased his father, Isaac. So, he went and married the daughter of Ishmael.”

What is puzzling is that in both verse 6 and 8 it states: וירא עשו, and he saw, perceived… why the redundance?

The Sforno explains that at first, he understood that Yaakov was instructed to travel to Lavan and marry into his family, which implied that one should not take a Canaanite wife. But it didn’t touch him! When he perceived the anguish and pain in the ‘eyes of his father’ and the reason must be due to his wives from בנות חת, Canaanite women, only then did he go and take a wife from Ishmael.

Though intellectually he understood what is correct, nevertheless, he didn’t act accordingly. There was a disconnect from what was intellectually understood and processing it into action. Living in ones ‘ד אמות’, curtails a true vision of what is required. Essau, whose profession is detached from all, has no sense of obligation, until he recognizes the pain and suffering of his father, though the Torah tells us that this pain was already for twenty-three years! (Verse 26, 35 “And they ‘cut short’ the spirit of Yitzchak and Rivka”)

This week was the Yahrzeit of מו”ר הרב הגאון נתן מאיר ואכטפגל זצוק”ל, HaRav Nosson Meir Wachtfogel, the Mashgiach in Lakewood Yeshiva for more than fifty years.

A question that is raised is, how was it possible that Essau grew up in a house of spiritual greatness to the highest degree, who was a paragon of honoring one’s father, can reject his responsibilities as a firstborn, and reject his parent’s lifestyle? Moreso, he has מידת הוראה, a sense of awe and fear, as he stated, “I am going to die”, due to his misbehavior?!

HaRav Nosson זצ”ל, explained that one can’t only live in awe and fear, but rather one has to have שמחה, enthusiasm. If one truly understands that they are created by Hashem and stands in awe of all He does; this will lead to joy and enthusiasm.  In נחמי’ ח’, י’, the Jewish people were told on Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, to ‘eat choice foods, and drink sweet drinks… for the day is holy to Hashem, do not be sad, for your rejoicing in Hashem is your source of strength”. When one unequivocally feels the presence of Hashem, one should feel a great sense of pride, joy, enthusiasm due to Hashem’s closeness and love.

But that takes processing; to comprehend the idea of living in His world and dedicating oneself to ask, ‘what does Hashem want from me?’. A doctrine of relentless commitment and subjugation; and in turn responsibility. And orderliness! This is the gift of being descendants of our patriarch, Yaakov!


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