Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Toledot 5764/ November 29, 2003
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
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Parashat Toledot 5764/ November 29, 2003
Is not Esau a brother to Jacob?
Rabbi Judah Zoldan
Midrasha for Women
This week's haftarah
portion (Malachi 1) opens
with a dialogue, apparently between The House of Israel and the Lord. "I
have shown you love, said the Lord", and Knesset Yisrael
"How have you shown us love?" The Lord responds : "After all
- declares the Lord - Esau is Jacob's brother; yet I have
accepted Jacob and have rejected Esau. I have made his hills a desolation, his
territory a home for beasts of the desert". Esau is Jacob's
brother, they share the same father and mother, he is even the eldest.
Nevertheless the Lord prefers the beloved son to the eldest, hated son
(according to Deut. 21:16-17).
Love and hate also characterize the relationships in our
parasha - between Isaac and Rebecca, between Jacob and Esau.
"Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebecca favored
Esau (Gen. 25:28); "Now Esau harbored a grudge against Jacob" (ibid.
The comradeship between Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom) is
mentioned several times in the Bible, for instance: "From Kadesh, Moses
sent messengers to the king of Edom: 'Thus says your brother Israel'
(Numbers 20:14); "You will be passing through the territory of your
kinsmen, the descendants of Esau" (Deut. 2:4); "You shall not abhor
an Edomite, for he is your kinsman" (Deut. 23:8). Even when devastation
is prophesied for Esau-Edom, their brotherhood is mentioned: "For three
transgressions of Edom...Because he pursued his brother with the sword"
(Amos 1:11); "And not a man on Esau's mount shall survive the
slaughter. For the outrage to your brother Jacob (Obadiah 1:9-10).
What is the meaning of the Bible's emphasis on the
closeness between Jacob's and Esau's descendants? What is the place
of the hated Esau, and what can be understood from this about the complicated
relations between Jacob's descendants and those of Esau in the course of
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook deals with these questions in a
number of sources in his writings, amongst them in his comments on the
It is not the absorption and destruction (=of the nations)
that is the goal of Israel's being "a light unto the nations",
just as we do not intend general destruction of the world and all its nations,
but rather their repair and their elevation, the removal of their wickedness,
which will then join them to the source of Israel, to shower them as well with
droplets of light. Of this process it is written, "But I will clean out
the blood from its mouth and the detestable things from between its teeth. Its
survivors, too, shall belong to The Lord" (Zech. 9:7). If this is the
practice even regarding idol worship, all the more so for religions that are
partially based on the foundations of the light of Israel's Torah.
How wondrous are the words of the Vilna Gaon, of blessed
memory: "And I hated Esau" (Malachi 1:3) - the reference is
to the minor parts of Esau, but not to his
head, that is buried with the fathers of the
And therefore Jacob said to his
brother "I saw your face as one sees the face of The Lord", and
since he is called 'the man of truth' his words are no empty
statement. The brotherly love between Esau and Jacob, between Isaac and
Ishmael, will surpass all the tumult brought on by the evil embedded in the
uncleanness of the dead body, will overcome it and replace it with light and
Here is our explanation of the above comments: Jacob and Esau
are brothers who represent different nations. We are told that Esau made his
way to Seir, Jacob to Canaan. The tension is tremendous, there were and are
conflicts between the two, but in the long run Esau too, the elder brother, will
join with Jacob.
As a nation, we have no desire to destroy and annihilate the
peoples of the world. Among the organs of the world body, the people of Israel
is the heart (Rabbi Judah Halevi, Kuzari 2:36) and the heart does not fight the
other body organs. Our destiny is to lead and raise up the entire world, to
install the Kingdom of Heaven in the world so that all will recognize and
acknowledge His rule. This is true also of pagan peoples and certainly with
those that are even closer, the children of Esau, the brother of Jacob.
[editor's note: In Jewish sources, Esau as a nation stood for Rome, later
The quoted words of the Gaon Elijah of Vilna make reference to
an aggadic midrash that tells of Esau's head being buried in the Cave of
The ideological meaning is that in
the upper part of his body, the head, Esau has ties to the dimensions of
holiness, and in the words of Rabbi Hayyim of Wolozhin, a pupil of the
Our sages speak of Esau's head buried in the cave with
Jacob and figuratively this means that his head was filled with holiness. This
is the meaning of the future destruction of the evil power as stated by our
sages. Because only his head will remain in the sacred place and will be
separate so that it does not roll down into the evil...because through
repentance his acts of sinning committed below will be cancelled and no
condemnation of them will remain
Esau's head is detached from his body and is buried
alongside the fathers of the nation. His body, however, is buried elsewhere, in
a distant place, which teaches us that with his material-physical side, the part
found on Mount Seir, he fought Israel. [this is probably what R. Kook meant when
he spoke of the evil embedded in the uncleanness of the body—ed.] The
meaning is that spiritually Esau has a connection with the Jewish people and is
even destined to entwine his fate with them when the kingdom of The Lord is
revealed on Mount Seir as well: "For liberators shall march up on Mount
Zion to wreak judgment on Mount Esau; and dominion shall be the
Lord's" (Obad. 1:21). Or, in the words of our sages, to which Rabbi
"Its survivors, too, shall belong to our The Lord"
(Zach. 9:7) - these are synagogues and study halls in Edom. "They
shall become like a clan in Judah, and Ekron shall be like the Jebusites"
(ibid.) - these are theaters and circuses in Edom in which the leaders of
Judah are destined to teach Torah to the multitudes (Megilla
Perhaps Isaac's positive view of his son Esau,
"although he certainly knew that he was not perfect like Jacob"
(Sforno for Gen. 25:28) was a result of a far-reaching vision of what might come
of him in times to come. And it might explain Rashi's comment on the
verse: "And Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game"
[literally, "there was hunting in his mouth"] (ibid.) -
"in Isaac's mouth". Through their good verbal communication,
Isaac wanted to 'ensnare' and preserve Esau for the great days of
the future. Isaac wants Esau to remain his son, the brother of Jacob, and to
assure that he not sever himself completely; that the spiritual side of Esau,
his head, should remain connected with and joined with the fathers of the
Rebecca is practical, and her view focuses on the present.
She loves Jacob "only, because she recognized Esau's evil"
(Sforno, ibid.). She places Jacob in Esau's place when it comes to
receiving the blessings, prepares the necessary food and dresses him in the
appropriate clothing, even initiating Jacob's flight from Esau. She does
not concern herself with what will happen in the end of days.
Rabbi Kook concludes with the following:
This broad view [of our relationships with other nations],
sweetened with the sweetness and honey of the truth of the Bible, must accompany
all our acts in the end of days, "to seal the Torah in the palace of the
Messiah by changing bitterness into sweetness and darkness into light"
[this line in Aramaic no doubt is from a kabbalistic source which I cannot
It is this profundity of Isaac's vision that should
guide us in the end of days. The long view should make us aware that the final
outcome of all those struggles between the descendants of Jacob and Esau will be
a renewed discovery of the bonds of comradeship between them "for is not
Esau a brother to Jacob?" (Mal. 1:2)
See Rashi, Ibn Ezra, and R.
Joseph Qara to Malachi ad loc
These words of the Gaon are
found at the end of the book Se'arat Eliyahu
Rabbi Abraham Isaac
Hacohen Kook, Iggerot Ha-Ra'iya
Part I, p. 142.
This according to Pirke
(Higger), Chapter 38, and Sotah
Pseudo-Jonathan [the Aramaic translation of the Bible ascribed to Jonathan ben
Uzziel] (Gen. 50:13) it is stated that Esau's body was buried in the field
of the Cave of Machpelah: "And Esau's head rolled until it entered
the Cave of Machpelah and rested in the bosom of Isaac, his father. And the
children of Esau buried his body in the Field of Machpelah and then
[Jacob's] children buried Jacob in the Cave of the Field of Machpelah that
Abraham had purchased from Efron". Other rabbinic sources, commenting on
"in the grave which I made ready for myself" (Gen. 50:5) tell of a
great sum of money paid by Jacob to Esau in his lifetime so that Esau would not
be buried in the Cave of Machpelah. See also Bereshit Rabba
R. Hayyim of Volozhyn,
Ruah Hayyim al Masekhet Avot
, Introduction, "All of Israel has a
We found similar words
regarding one of Esau's descendants, Amalek (Gen. 36:16). Amalek is the
toughest and most bitter enemy to rise up against Israel and the war against him
is total and all-encompassing: "you shall blot out the memory of Amalek
from under heaven" (Deut. 25:19) Yet even about this descendant of Esau
Rabbi Kook wrote similarly: "Even Amalek is not to be erased except
the sky, but through purification and moral cleansing he can rise
up to the roots of goodness that are above
the heavens (Musar Avikha,
Middot HaRa'ia, Ahava
(On Love), 6). Under the heavens, in the real
world, there is no place for Amalek, but at the higher level, above the heavens,
and in a repaired state, he also has a place, in common with what was said about
his father, Esau.