We read in our Parasha, of the birth of Esav and Yaakov, the twin sons of Yitzchak and Rivkah, and that (25:27):’The lads grew up and Esav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was an איש תם: a wholesome man, יושב אהלים: abiding in tents.’
Rashi, on ‘a man of the field’, brings the translation of the Targum Yonatan:’As its apparent meaning, an idler who hunts animals and birds with his bow.’
What led Rashi to this commentary, to derive from our passuk, that Esav was ‘an idler’, which clearly is not its literal meaning?
Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi answers:’The words ‘a man of the field’, suggest that Esav was an idler, and not a worker in the fields, as, otherwise, it should have said, as it did regarding Cain: ‘worked the soil’.
The Maharal, in his commentary on Rashi, Gur Aryeh, adds:’An idler..’, for, if not so, it should have said, as it did regarding Noach:(9:20) ‘איש האדמה: master of the soil’, which would teach that he, Esav, worked the land. And, as the word איש:man, posed a difficulty, since this refers to one who acts, and not one who is idle, and inactive, Rashi expounds that he was called a ‘man of the field’, because he hunted with his bow’.
Rabbeinu Bahya adduces a different reason, as to why Esav is referred to as an אדם בטל: an idler;’The Torah, in our passuk, comes to teach, that though the two brothers were formed in the same womb, at the one time, their natures and ways were different one from the other: Esav was drawn after the pleasures of the flesh, whilst Yaakov was drawn solely to spiritual matters.
‘This is why the Torah states that ‘Esav was a man who knows hunting’, that being the ‘occupation’ of an idle man who pursues the pleasures of this world.’
Let us savor the beautiful drasha of Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl:’Since the Torah tells us that ‘Esav was a man who knows hunting’, we would surely conclude, that he was a very active man, one who continuously strives, and endangers himself, to capture and subdue animals, and that ‘all of him is movement and action’.
‘In direct contrast, the Torah presents Yaakov as ‘a wholesome man who dwells in tents’, that seems like a kind of בטלן: idler, who sits in the yeshiva, engaged there all day in learning.
‘True, he will surely merit to have great success in his learning; but, if we were to judge his contribution to the development and advance of society, his role would likely be miniscule- certainly when compared to the myriad deeds and activity of his brother!
‘This is the picture, that emerges at first glance.
‘However, from the Rashi we brought, a very different picture emerges: Esav, not Yaakov, is the one described as ‘an idler’.
‘We must therefore conclude that the true measure of one’s contribution to society, is not actions per se, but the impact and effect that one makes in the world.
‘By this measure, all of the activity and movement of Esav are of little consequence, in the long term. Indeed, the very essence of Esav is ‘the moment’: now, with no regard to tomorrow- let alone to the distant future.
‘By this standard of judgement, Esav is rightly called ‘an idler’, one whose running and frenetic activity have left no msrk in the world- truly of no importance whatsoever.
‘By contrast, the toil of Yaakov has a lasting effect, his ‘dwelling in the tents’ of Torah, made him Yaakov Avinu, whose legacy is as alive today, as it has been throughout the generations.
‘Could there be a truer ‘man of deed’, and an achiever?!’.
Rabbeinu Yerucham, the venerable Mashgiach of Mir adds:’In its short description of the essence of the two brothers, the Torah reveals the root of their lives, from which sprung their development, and their path in life.
‘Esav is ‘simply’ called ‘a man of the field’, which has been translated as ‘idler’, as Rashi brings- the Torah does not relate, at this early point, his deeds, but merely their root.
‘Similarly, the Torah tells us, as to Yaakov’s actions, that he ‘dwelled in tents’, of Torah.
‘This, too, comes to teach that this was the root of all that he did, in his life.
‘The Torah מסתפקת: ‘is satisfied‘ with merely alluding to Esav’s idleness, as all of his unworthy ways stemmed from it.’
A parting thought: How ‘divinely ironic’, that those who follow the path of Yaakov Avinu, ‘the dweller of tents’ of Torah, are called batlanim בטלנים, as a mark of praise- not as a pejorative!
The Gemara (Megilla 5.): defines a town, for purposes of reading the Megilla, as a place where there are ten balanim בטלנים: ten men, whose only occupation is to study Torah!