Esau’s Hatred – Distancing Oneself From a Wicked Neighbor
Regarding the Torah’s account of Esau’s request for a blessing from his father, we should really be a little surprised. The passage in question reads as follows: “And he also made delicacies, and brought them to his father. And he said to his father, ‘Let my father arise and eat of the venison of his son….’ And Isaac his father said to him, ‘Who are you?’ And he said, ‘I am your son, your firstborn, Esau’” (Gen 27:32-32).
How is it that Isaac didn’t recognize the voice of Esau, his eldest son, that he had to ask him, “Who are you?” We must ask ourselves how Esau dared to present himself as the firstborn, since he had sold his birthright to Jacob (Gen 25:33) and despised this right (v.34), something that surely didn’t escape his father’s attention.
We must also ask why Isaac told Esau, “Your brother came with deceit and took your blessing” (Gen 27:35). Isaac should have kept silent and not strengthen the hate among brothers. In effect, Esau’s hate for Jacob became fixed after this incident: “It is a law: Esau hates Jacob” (Sifrei Numbers 9:10). It is a hate that we still suffer from today. For what reason then did Isaac, by his words, create such a situation?
If someone feels remorse over his sins and wants to repent, yet doesn’t give his all to follow through on this realization and correct his sins, he definitely loses the image of G-d that is in him, and his behavior becomes ever more distorted.
It is possible to suppose that Isaac saw Esau return from the hunt and prepare him something to eat. However, here the Torah doesn’t specify that he prepared a meal “as his father loved”, which indicates that he sought to deceive his father, making him think that he had repented, which was clearly not the case. By deceiving himself and his father, he damaged his soul to the extent that it was no longer recognizable, to the extent that even his father asked him, “Who are you?” And when he replied, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau,” he wanted to say: “I wish to take back my birthright, for I have repented of my scheming with all heart.” In hearing this, “Isaac trembled with an exceedingly great trembling” (Gen 27:33), for “he saw hell open beneath his feet” (Bereshith Rabba 65:22; 67:1). The Sages tell us that “wicked men, even at the threshold of hell, don’t regret their actions” (Eruvin 19a).
Isaac understood that there would never be peace between the two brothers, and so he preferred to separate them immediately. He asked, “Who, then, is he that hunted venison and brought it to me…?” (Gen 27:33). The word */ (“who”) has a numerical value of 50, and alludes to the 40 days of the giving of the Torah and the 10 Commandments that were given only to Israel. “This word designates the one who will later receive the Torah, which was given in 40 days” (Menachot 99b), and who accepted the 10 Commandments with love and fear. “This one preceded you and brought me game – the practice of the commandments and good deeds – and I tasted the taste of the Garden of Eden and blessed him. And so ‘also blessed is he’ [Gen 27:33]. I will not take back my blessings; they are transmitted to him as an unalienable gift.”
From the beginning of this incident until that moment, Isaac didn’t once mention Jacob’s name. The Emek Davar states that Isaac had not yet revealed to Esau that it was Jacob, for that would have constituted gossip. He had always hoped, and perhaps hoped even then, that Esau would truly wish to repent and accept that the blessings belonged to “he that hunted game”. Yet Isaac could discern that his words had no effect at all on Esau (the characteristic of wicked men is to remain attached to their wickedness; even at the threshold of hell they don’t withdraw). When “Esau lifted up his voice and wept” (Gen 27:38), it was not because he had lost his chance at eternal life, but rather because he had lost the pleasures of this world. And so Isaac revealed the reason behind his thinking: It was not right that these two brothers should live together. On the contrary, it was right that hate and profound animosity should separate them for always, a hate so great that it wouldn’t disappear or weaken even after many years. All this was in order that Jacob and his descendants not be influenced by Esau and his descendants. And so Isaac openly told him, “Your brother came with deceit and took your blessing” (v.35). He told him that it was Jacob who did it, thus putting an end to their fraternal love for thousands of future generations, and so forever separated the wicked from the righteous.
Prior to this, Esau had thought that, from then on, Jacob would be dependent on him for material possessions, and that he would serve him always. But then he heard from the mouth of his own father that Jacob didn’t only receive the world to come, but also “your blessing” – success in this world! In addition, since Isaac told Esau, “Behold, a lord have I made him to you” (v.37), and since “everything that a slave owns belongs to his master” (Bereshith Rabba 67:5), Jacob would therefore rule!
This greatly irritated Esau. If Jacob were to inherit both worlds (“he has supplanted me these two times”), what could Esau then do? He insisted that his father bless him as well: “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” (v.36). In response, Isaac promised him that “when you strive, you shall break off his yoke from upon your neck” (v.40), but that “as long as Israel is tied to the Torah, he will not end up in hell” (Shemot Rabba 51:8), and “as long as Israel obeys G-d’s will, no foreign nation can dominate him” (Ketubot 66b; Avoth d’Rabbi Nathan 34:4). Yet, he continued, “if you see your brother freeing himself from the yolk of the Torah, you can declare war on him and win” (Bereshith Rabba 67:7), and so “you can free yourself from his yolk.”
This shows us that only the yolk of the Torah – its practice and study – protects Jacob and his descendants and prevents them from the influence of Esau. As our Sages say, “When the voice of Jacob makes itself heard in the houses of prayer and study, the hands of Esau do not dominate him” (Bereshith Rabba 65:20). If they unfortunately abandon the Torah, Esau will free himself from the yolk of his brother and will continue to cause, as he normally does, Israel to suffer. As the Sages say, “in every age, Amalek serves as a whip for Israel” (Bereshith Rabba 19:11) – they strike him until he sincerely repents of his sins.
Such is perpetually the relationship between Jacob and Esau, be they his slaves or be they his rulers. This is what the Sages have said, namely, “If someone tells you that Jerusalem and Rome are both destroyed, don’t believe him; that both are prosperous, don’t believe him; that one is destroyed and the other is prosperous, you may believe him, for it is written, ‘I will be filled, for she was destroyed’ [Eze 26:2]. When one of them is filled, the other is destroyed, as it is written, ‘and one people shall be stronger than the other people’ [Gen 25:23]” (Megillah 6a).
We see, therefore, that Isaac bestowed a great blessing on his children by inciting this deep hate for Jacob in Esau’s heart. This was in order that they separate from one another, and that the children of Jacob learn not the wicked ways of Esau. This is how Isaac kept watch over Jacob and his descendants for all time.