Prepare Yourself in the Corridor in Order To Enter the Palace
Concerning the verse that states, “A man’s holies shall be his” (Numbers 5:10), the book Imrei Shammai asks a question in the name of Tosaphot Rabbi Nathan, a question whose response we may consult in that book as well. Yet according to what it says, we may also fully explain the teaching of the Sages concerning Jacob and Esau, who had divided this world and the World to Come among themselves while in their mother’s womb (Tanna D’vei Eliyahu Zutah 19). Jacob chose the World to Come, while Esau chose this world.
All this seems completely unintelligible, and for the following reasons:
1. We can only perform mitzvot in this world, for in the World to Come it is completely impossible to carry them out. As a result, why did Jacob agree to let Esau have this world? What place would remain for him to carry out mitzvot?
2. Furthermore, this world is a preparation for the World to Come, since it is through this world that we can merit the World to Come, as the Sages have said: “This world is like a corridor before the World to Come. Prepare yourself in the corridor so that you may enter the palace” (Perkei Avoth 4:16). That being the case, why did Jacob give this world to Esau, thereby leaving himself without an adequate means to prepare for the World to Come?
3. We must also ask ourselves why the Sages said that before the giving of the Torah, G-d came to the descendants of Esau and Ishmael and asked them if they wanted the Torah (Yalkut Shimoni Yitro 20, par. 286). Now we know that the whole world was created for the Torah and for Israel to carry it out (Bereshith Rabba 1:4). Concerning this subject, it is written: “If not for My covenant [the Torah], I would not have appointed days and nights, the decrees of heaven and earth” (Jeremiah 33:25), meaning that without the Torah, heaven and earth would not exist (Pesachim 68b). Consequently, what connection do the other peoples have with the Torah? This is particularly difficult to understand with regards to the descendants of Esau, for Jacob and Esau had already decided to divide the two worlds between them and assign the World to Come to Jacob, since that is where the Torah is found. Why then did the Holy One, blessed be He, go to Esau and offer to give him the Torah, since he did not want the World to Come in which it is found?
We shall attempt to explain this as best possible. We know that our father Jacob purchased the birthright from Esau, and he therefore was considered to be the firstborn. He thus automatically acquired both this world and the World to Come, and as a result nothing – neither this world nor the next – remained for Esau. What the latter received was solely gifts, as the verse states concerning the children of Keturah: “To the concubine children who were Abraham’s, Abraham gave gifts” (Genesis 25:6). In addition, Esau receives this only when Jacob’s voice is not heard in synagogues and houses of study (ibid. 27:22), at which point Esau is stronger than Jacob (Bereshith Rabba 65:16). In fact, as long as the voice of Jacob is being heard, Esau cannot dominate him.
Thus after the death of Isaac, when Jacob and Esau came to divide the heritage of both worlds, Jacob said to Esau, “In reality everything belongs to me, and what you’ll receive is nothing but a gift.” In fact, he would only receive gifts when the voice of Jacob is not heard, for at that time Esau “may cast off his yoke from upon [Esau’s] neck” (Genesis 27:40). If the Children of Israel do not observe the Torah, the part that relates to the field (as the author of Tosaphot Rabbi Nathan explains) will then belong to Esau, which means that when Israel does not perform mitzvot or tithe the produce of the field, the nations will be stronger than them and will take nine parts out of every ten.
From everything that we have said up to now, it emerges that Esau takes as his portion that which belongs to those who do not observe mitzvot, all the rest remaining the portion of the Children of Israel. Now Jacob knew very well that even when the Children of Israel would descend into exile, they would carefully observe mitzvot and Esau would not be able to take anything from them (unless he steals it, for which he would be severely punished). Thus we now understand what portion of this world Jacob gave to Esau, and also why he gave it to him: It is a gift that is only valuable when the Children of Israel slacken in their observance of the Torah and mitzvot. This answers our first two questions.
This idea also allows us to understand why G-d offered the Torah to the descendants of Esau. It is because He wanted to remind them of the agreement that their father had with Jacob, meaning that in reality everything belonged to Jacob – both this world and the World to Come – since he possessed the birthright, and that Esau only receives something when the Children of Israel do not observe the Torah and mitzvot. G-d asked the descendents of Esau if they wanted to accept the Torah in which this agreement is recorded, to which they replied: “What is written in it? What is this pact?” G-d replied, “You shall not murder. You shall not steal,” which meant that when the voice of Jacob made itself heard, it was forbidden for the Edomites to murder and steal from Jacob’s portion, for everything belongs to him. It is only when the Children of Israel fail to study that the Edomites are permitted to take their land. They replied that this agreement was not acceptable to them, since whether or not Jacob observed the Torah and mitzvot, they lived by their sword, for that was what their forefather was promised: “By your sword you shall live” (Genesis 24:40). Following the Edomites’ response, G-d said to them: “If such is the case, ‘Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau’ [Obadiah 1:21].” What mount is that? The Holy One, blessed be He, will remind them of Mount Sinai – the mountain where the descendants of Esau did not consent to this pact.
We can actually see this concerning the war with Amalek (Esau’s grandson), who came to fight against the Children of Israel even without realizing that they had weakened in their Torah study (Berachot 5a). Amalek attacked them to show that he had violated the pact and wanted to fight against Israel, but he did not succeed in conquering them. In addition, if the Children of Israel assembled at the base of Mount Sinai like a single man with a single heart – completely unified – they would conquer the nations and no people would be able to subjugate or mistreat them, be it in the land of Israel or in exile, for Esau violated the pact.
It states in our parsha, “A man’s holies shall be his” (Numbers 5:10). When the Children of Israel are holy and pure, when they observe the commandments of the Torah (among them being the removal of tithes), and when everyone gives what is due to the Priest and Levite, it “shall be his”. Their land and country becomes theirs, and other nations cannot take it from them because they annulled the pact. By way of allusion, the words ve’ish et kodashav lo yihyu (“a man’s holies shall be his”) have the same numerical value as the expression ha’olam hazeh veha’olam habah shel Israel (“this world and the World to Come belong to Israel”).
We may also answer this question to complete satisfaction in another way. When Jacob and Esau divided both worlds and Esau took this one, Jacob knew that he had to come into it to carry out the Torah and mitzvot, thus preparing himself in the corridor in order to enter the palace of the World to Come. However Jacob gave Esau everything in this world except the land of Israel, which is an inalienable possession of the Holy One, blessed be He, and where He alone reigns (Zohar I:108b). The land of Israel was not part of the pact, and no other people have a part in it. Now all the abundance in the world comes through the land of Israel, from where it spreads to other lands (Taanith 10a), such that all nations benefit from the Holy Land. Nevertheless, this is only on condition that they welcome Jews in their lands when they are in exile, and when they refrain from persecuting them. Otherwise, these nations do not receive the abundance stemming from the land of Israel, nor do they profit from this world, for all abundance comes through the intermediary of the Holy Land. This is why Esau agreed to not persecute the Children of Israel in exile, and not to fight them in the land of Israel, to the extent that the Children of Israel themselves benefit from this world.
The Holy One, blessed be He, therefore reminded the descendants of Esau of this agreement before giving the Torah, but they transgressed it and wanted to fight for the Holy Land and persecute the Children of Israel in exile. This is why G-d told the Children of Israel that they could only rely on their Father in Heaven (Sotah 49b) by observing the Torah and mitzvot, and in particular by carrying out the mitzvot that relate to the land of Israel. Otherwise, they would be exiled from their land because of the sin of failing to observing the Shmita year (Tanhuma Behar 1), for we see that the descendants of Esau and Ishmael try even today to harm us, to fight against the land of Israel, and to persecute us while in exile. Now the Sages have said that if the Children of Israel weaken in their religious observance, the nations arise to fight and kill them.
When the Children of Israel observe the Torah and mitzvot – of which the mitzvah of Shabbat is equal in importance to all the others (Yerushalmi Berachot 1:5) – no people can dominate them (see Shabbat 118b), and the nations cannot conquer the land of Israel. This is because it “shall be his” – everything will belong to us by virtue of the fact that we carry out the Torah, and abundance will spread to the entire world by the merit of the land of Israel, which belongs to the Children of Israel. The nations, which also understand the nature of the land’s holiness, want to conquer it in order to diminish its holiness, but G-d does not allow them to do so. He gives everything to us – to us, the Children of Israel – so that we may prepare ourselves in the corridor of this world to enter the palace that is the World to Come, without mentioning the fact that the land of Israel and its holiness constitute a palace compared to the other countries of the world.