What did Isaac see in Esau?

Isaac rightly felt that Jacob's potential needed the help of Esau's activism, but that synergy can only happen at the end of time.

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski ,

Moshe Kempinski
Moshe Kempinski

Torah Portion of VaYishlach Genesis 32:4–36:43

Regarding Yaacov (Jacob) and Esav( Esau) we read the following;

“And Yitzchak loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Yaacov”.(Genesis 25:28)

Why would that be so?

After twenty years of childlessness, Rivka (Rebecca)and Yitzchak (Isaac) are blessed with twin boys. Yet even this much awaited pregnancy is difficult .

"And the children struggled within her, and she said, 'If [it be] so, why am I [like] this?' And she went to inquire of Hashem.” (Genesis 25:22)

The Yalkut Shimoni explains that “whenever she would pass a house of prayer or house of study, Yaacov would struggle to come out ... and when she passed a house of idol-worship, Esau would struggle to come out. They were fighting over the inheritance of the two worlds, the physical world in the here and now and the spiritual world to come."

Rivka is then told in a prophetic way, an astounding piece of information.

“And Hashem said to her: 'Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger.'" (Ibid;23)

She understood that this was not just about two children in her womb. Rather these children would represent two world views and create two conflicting nations. Esau and Yaacov were not only two brothers, they were to be two conflicting spiritual paths in the unfolding of human history.

Yet ”Yitzchak loved Esau “ and “ Rebecca loved Jacob".(Genesis 25:28)

We can understand why Rivka loved Jacob. She understood his pure heart and simple lifestyle. Her love for Jacob came out of the appreciation of his positive, sensitive and G-dly character ”Yaacov was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.”( ibid 25:27).

Yet it is important to remember that a parent's love is also aroused as a protective wall to surround and strengthen a child in the midst of his weaknesses.

She also understood the vulnerability of his pure and innocent attitude. She had grown up in a family wherein such a pure approach in life would be manipulated and controlled by others with selfish motives. So her love became a protective shield of armor.

Yitzchak was a man of the fields “And Yitzchak went out to meditate in the field at the eventide; and he lifted up his eyes, and saw, and, behold, there were camels coming.” (ibid 24:63).

Yitzchak was able to find holiness in the fields.

"And Yitzchak again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham's death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them."(ibid 26:18)

In places where people just saw empty stretches of property, he dug wells. That was not just to be seen as a physical activity but actually represented a deep spiritual mission.

Yitzchak believed in the power of harnessing the physical and elevating it into the spiritual. That was the basis of his love for Esau."Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field,"(ibid 25:27).

Yitzchak was very aware of Yaacov's strengths and potential but he also believed that this potential could only be accomplished with the help of Esau's passionate activism.

Yet Yitzchak was also aware of the dangers of such an active and hands-on “Esau” approach. He knew what the ego of such a man could do to distort that mission. So his love for Esau was also a protective shield that would hopefully keep Esau from faltering in his divine purpose.

Regrettably Yitzchak would become disappointed in his expectations. That disappointment, while it may reflect the true situation in the beginning of the long process of Hashem's plan, but the process involving these two twin brothers would continue until its spiritual fruition at the end of time.

That too is hinted at during the dramatic encounter years later between Esau and Yaacov.

The Sheim Mei’Shmuel explains that the names of these twins would reveal much. The name Esau comes from the Hebrew word “Asui”, which means fully formed and complete. It denotes a character that sees himself as “done” and fulfilled and sees no room for growth and change. Such a man is only concerned with the here and now and loses patience with concepts like destiny and birthrights

“And Esau said to Yaacov, 'Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint'...Esau replied, 'Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?'… and Esav despised the birthright."(Genesis 25:30-34).He could not envision his purpose in the grander scheme of things

On the other hand the name Yaacov comes from the Hebrew root LaAkov (to take step after step). Yaacov represented a spiritual strength and ability to tread forward and continue in spite of all obstacles on his life journey.

It is a journey that will compel the children of Yaacov to learn to depend on their G-d above. “For the conductor, a song of David. May Hashem answer you on a day of distress; may the name of the G-d of Yaacov fortify you. May He send your aid from His sanctuary, and may He support you from Zion." (Psalm 20:1-3).

The “Yaacov spiritual approach" demanded a constant path of growth, always working on becoming more of what one needs to be. Yaacov may fail and flounder but his courage and determination to move forward is what will help him achieve his destiny of becoming the "Israel” he is meant to be.

It may very well be that on the other hand, Yitzchak’s love protected Esau from veering too far astray. For at the end of mankind’s journey Esau’s strengths will be critical as well. In the end, he too will be redeemed. He too will take part in the plan of destiny.

This partially explains their encounter as Yaacov returns with much trepidation back home. He is not sure what Esau he will meet and he prepares himself accordingly.

We then read

"And he went ahead of them and prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he came close to his brother. And Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept."(Genesis 32:3-4)

There is an unusual placement of dots over the word kissed, which has been understood to imply that Esau had different plans in his mind. He, according to some, wanted to bite Jacob in anger rather than kiss him. Note that the difference between those two words (Nashak and Nashach) in Hebrew, consists of one letter.

Yet in spite of those angry intentions, he kissed him. Perhaps, in reality, his spiritual essence understood that in the end of time that act of affection would become a reality, (Likutei Sichos Chabad)

Until then, the struggle between those two spiritual approaches will continue. At the end of time that struggle will change and be redeemed as we read in the book of Ovadia :

"And the redeemers shall ascend Mt. Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and Hashem shall have the kingdom." (Obadaya1:21).

That is to say "They shall neither harm nor destroy on all My holy mount, for the land shall be full of knowledge of Hashem as water covers the sea bed." (Isaiah 11:9).

All will know what needs to be known. Especially these two brothers.

Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, author of "The Teacher and the Preacher", is the editor of the Jerusalem Insights weekly email journal and co-owner of Shorashim, a Biblical shop and learning center in the Old City of Jerusalem, www,shorashimshop.com

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved