Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why Yaakov Could Not Live WIth Esav

In this week's Parsha, Vayishlach, we have the long awaited showdown between Yaakov and Esav. For me, this meeting between brothers signifies the ultimate differences between Yaakov and Esav along with their attitudes towards G-D. if we read deeply, there is a very strong message that I think relates to our times.

In Breishis Chapter 33 we have the meeting and the introduction to the meeting. The verses say (ibid 1 and 3)

א. וַיִּשָּׂא יַעֲקֹב עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא וְהִנֵּה עֵשָׂו בָּא וְעִמּוֹ אַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת אִישׁ וַיַּחַץ אֶת הַיְלָדִים עַל לֵאָה וְעַל רָחֵל וְעַל שְׁתֵּי הַשְּׁפָחוֹת:
1. Jacob lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, Esau was coming, and with him were four hundred men; so he divided the children with Leah and with Rachel and with the two maidservants.

ג. וְהוּא עָבַר לִפְנֵיהֶם וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ אַרְצָה שֶׁבַע פְּעָמִים עַד גִּשְׁתּוֹ עַד אָחִיו:
3. And he went ahead of them and prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he came close to his brother.

Esav was coming towards his brother with 400 men and it seems like he wanted to attack him. That must have been how Yaakov's messengers understood it and why we see Yaakov preparing for a battle. However, we must understand why Esav was angry with his brother. It was, simply put, because Yaakov "stole" the blessing. This blessing, as understood by Esav, was a blessing to have physical wealth and strength. Therefore, Esav was angry that Yaakov stole his blessing to be strong and wealthy.

Esav now comes to Yaakov's camp with 400 men, he is the leader of a tribe and he is very wealthy. Why on earth would Esav still be angry at Yaakov? 20+ years have passed and Esav is richer and stronger than Yaakov, there is no reason to be angry with Yaakov anymore. Yaakov is bowing down to Esav and his camp is ready to be destroyed by Esav. Esav immediately realizes, in his opinion, that the blessing did not matter. That is why Esav runs towards Yaakov and hugs and kisses him. As the verse says (33:4):

ד. וַיָּרָץ עֵשָׂו לִקְרָאתוֹ וַיְחַבְּקֵהוּ וַיִּפֹּל עַל צַוָּארָו וַיִּשָּׁקֵהוּ וַיִּבְכּוּ:
4. And Esau ran toward him and embraced him, and he fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.

This is not what would happen with two brothers that eternally hated each other. They truly missed one another and loved one another, as brothers should. Esav no longer cared that Yaakov stole some blessing that, in Esav's mind, was worthless. All that mattered now was that Esav had been deprived of a brother for 20+ years.

At this point, all that mattered to Esav was reuniting with Yaakov and becoming a family again. That is why Esav immediately asks about Yaakov's family and insists that Yaakov come to live with him so that Esav could protect him. As the verse says (33:5 and 12):

ה. וַיִּשָּׂא אֶת עֵינָיו וַיַּרְא אֶת הַנָּשִׁים וְאֶת הַיְלָדִים וַיֹּאמֶר מִי אֵלֶּה לָּךְ וַיֹּאמַר הַיְלָדִים אֲשֶׁר חָנַן אֱ־לֹהִים אֶת עַבְדֶּךָ:
5. And he lifted his eyes and saw the women and the children, and he said, "Who are these to you?" And he said, "The children with whom God has favored your servant."

יב. וַיֹּאמֶר נִסְעָה וְנֵלֵכָה וְאֵלְכָה לְנֶגְדֶּךָ:
12. Thereupon, he said, "Travel and we will go, and I will go alongside you."

However, Yaakov and Esav have very different attitudes towards G-D. Esav did not believe in the G-D of his father. Yaakov, on the other hand, reveals his belief in verse five by saying "The children with whom G-D has favored your servant." Esav reveals his lack of a belief in G-D in the later exchange with regard to Yaakov giving Esav gifts. In verses 8-11 it says:

ח. וַיֹּאמֶר מִי לְךָ כָּל הַמַּחֲנֶה הַזֶּה אֲשֶׁר פָּגָשְׁתִּי וַיֹּאמֶר לִמְצֹא חֵן בְּעֵינֵי אֲדֹנִי:
8. And he said, "What is to you [the purpose of] all this camp that I have met?" And he said, "To find favor in my master's eyes."

ט. וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו יֶשׁ לִי רָב אָחִי יְהִי לְךָ אֲשֶׁר לָךְ:
9. But Esau said, "I have plenty, my brother; let what you have remain yours."

י. וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אַל נָא אִם נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ וְלָקַחְתָּ מִנְחָתִי מִיָּדִי כִּי עַל כֵּן רָאִיתִי פָנֶיךָ כִּרְאֹת פְּנֵי אֱ־לֹהִים וַתִּרְצֵנִי:
10. Thereupon Jacob said, "Please no! If indeed I have found favor in your eyes, then you shall take my gift from my hand, because I have seen your face, which is like seeing the face of an angel, and you have accepted me.

יא. קַח נָא אֶת בִּרְכָתִי אֲשֶׁר הֻבָאת לָךְ כִּי חַנַּנִי אֱ־לֹהִים וְכִי יֶשׁ לִי כֹל וַיִּפְצַר בּוֹ וַיִּקָּח:
11. Now take my gift, which has been brought to you, for God has favored me [with it], and [because] I have everything." He prevailed upon him, and he took [it].

Not once does Esav mention G-D, even though he is talking to one of the most G-D oriented people alive at that time. It is because Esav realized, in his own opinion, that the G-D of Yitzchak (Isaac) does not exist or is not all powerful. Why does he think this? Specifically, because he, Esav, IS more blessed, in his opinion, than Yaakov. He has the powerful army and wealth. Yaakov may have cattle and sheep, but he is weak. That is why Esav wants Yaakov to come with him. Esav wants to protect Yaakov and live with him like brothers should.

However, Yaakov realized what would happen if they lived together. Yaakov believes in G-D, Yaakov speaks to G-D and Esav does not care for G-D nor does he believe in G-D's absolute power. This is why Yaakov tells him they can not be together. Esav still offers to protect Yaakov, but Yaakov refuses. The differing beliefs of Yaakov and Esav never allow for them to dwell together.

This is why, in the end, Esav goes to Seir and Yaakov to Succoth. They both realized a life together would never work, their views were incompatible. Yaakov realized that they could not live together because of the influence Esav would have on Yaakov. Esav was a hunter and a warrior, but he also did not acknowledge G-D in any aspect of life. Yaakov knew that this would have an effect on him and his family. The physical ideals of Esav were appealing, wealth and power. Yaakov needed to be able to grow in spirituality and connect to G-D. It would have been extremely difficult for Yaakov and his family to focus on spirituality if Esav was able to influence them.

However, Yaakov was willing to go live among other non-spiritually oriented people in Shchem. So, although we learn the lesson that we, the Jewish people, must put ourselves into situations where we can grow in closeness to G-D and in spirituality, we must also live amongst society. Yaakov only denied Esav's invitation because he knew that Esav would treat Yaakov as a brother. Meaning, Esav would share all of his wealth and power with Yaakov. Yaakov would have grown comfortable without G-D and that would have allowed Yaakov to be in a situation that could have been detrimental to his connection with G-D. However, in Shchem, Yaakov would not have anyone else protecting him or supplying him with wealth. Yaakov would have to put forth effort and connect to G-D in order to be successful. This is why, I think, Yaakov turned down Esav's offer to live in security with him because Yaakov did not want to put himself in a situation where he would have, essential, disconnected himself from G-D.

This idea teaches us a couple very valuable lessons. The first, we need to be able to asses a situation and decide if this situation will remove us from G-D or allow us to connect to G-D. The second, the Jewish people need to be able to live in the world, however, we believe in G-D. We must be able to co-exist with other religions and peoples, but we can not allow for their attitudes to influence us. A connection to G-D is extremely important in a Jews life. Yaakov was torn between choosing to live with Esav or serving G-D, both would not be possible because Esav did not care for G-D. Yaakov chose to serve G-D even though it meant that he had to distance himself from his brother. It is not always easy serving G-D, sometimes it takes hard decisions, but if a person truly wants a connection to G-D, those hard choices must be made.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Finding a Spouse (I Gave This the Weekend I Got Married)

In this weeks parsha we have the romance between Yaakov and Rachel (Rochel). It was a very intense relationship with many fine details and peculiar situations, but there is another question that I wanted to raise. What was it about Rochel that attracted Yaakov? How did Yaakov decide that Rochel should be the one? He just ran up and kissed her, but how did he really know she was the one he should be with?

Surprisingly enough I discovered something interesting in the Midrash Tanchuma. It says in the Midrash Tanchuma that there was no one more beautiful than Rochel and that is why Yaakov wanted to marry her. This is a very interesting point. Are we to believe that our forefather Yaakov was attracted only by superficial reasons to Rochel? Did he really only care that she was attractive and that is why he wanted to marry her?

To answer this question we must refer to the Vilna Gaon in Mishlei in the Chapter of Eishes Chayeil (A woman of Valor). He explains "beautiful of appearance" is referring to the kavannah (intention) of the heart. A mitzvah that requires performance of an action has two parts to it. The action and the kavannah. When a person performs a mitzvah with the proper kavannah, he or she "beautifies" it. Therefore, when the Torah refers to Rachel as "beautiful of form and beautiful of appearance," it is praising her actions AND intentions. They are what make her beautiful. Now we can truly understand why and how Yaakov fell in love with Rachel and no longer be confused.

In every good marriage there are two aspects, a physical attraction and an emotional attraction. When a man falls in love with a woman there is a physical attraction, but, more importantly, there is an emotional attraction that connects the man to the woman. A man and a woman are, to repeat an overstated phrase, two parts of a whole. However, this union is only successful if the physical attraction leads to a deep emotional love for one another. 

This was the union of Rachel and Yaakov. Yaakov saw that she was beautiful, but when he got to know her, that is when he truly fell in love. He saw that she was kind, giving and loving to all people. Yaakov immediately fell in love with the girl that was not just physically appealing, but emotionally appealing as well.

When looking for a spouse, this is something that we all must have in mind. Physical attraction is nice, but the emotional attraction, the bond that exists between husband and wife that lasts eternally, that can only come through a deep love for one another. This love is one that works based on compatible character traits and values. Yaakov found the girl with the values that meant most to him and fell in love with her character traits and personality, that is why she is referred to as beautiful.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


In this week's parsha there is a very intriguing statement that seemingly makes little sense. In Breishis (25:28):

כח. וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת עֵשָׂו כִּי צַיִד בְּפִיו וְרִבְקָה אֹהֶבֶת אֶת יַעֲקֹב:
28. And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.

How could it be that Isaac loved Esau and Rivka loved Yaakov? Doesn't this go against everything that we think parents should be? Aren't parents supposed to love all their children? The Torah never brings down a superfluous idea, so what is it that we can learn from this one? (See here for a related subject)

Anyway, the first idea we should look at is Rashi. He says on this verse:

בפיו: כתרגומו בפיו של יצחק. ומדרשו בפיו של עשו שהיה צד אותו ומרמהו בדבריו:
 In his mouth: As the Targum renders: into Isaac’s mouth. The Midrashic interpretation is: with Esau’s mouth, for he would entrap him and deceive him with his words. — [From Tanchuma, Toledoth 8]

This understanding goes along quite well with the Seforno's explanation here:

  וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת עֵשָׂו. גַּם אֶת עֵשָׂו, אַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיָּדַע בְּלִי סָפֵק שֶׁלּא הָיָה שָׁלֵם כְּיַעֲקב.

And Isaac loved Esau: He ALSO loved Esau, even though he knew, without a doubt, that he was not complete like Yaakov.
וְרִבְקָה אהֶבֶת אֶת יַעֲקב. לְבַדּו, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁהִכִּירָה בְּרִשְׁעו שֶׁל עֵשָׂו
.And Rivka loved Yaakov: ONLY, because she recognized the wickedness of Esau.

Apparently, Rashi and Seforno think that the best understanding of this verse is that Rivka did not love her son Esau because he was wicked. Also, the only reason Isaac loved his son Esau, according to these commentaries, is because Esau successfully tricked his father into thinking he was righteous.

This idea seems so strange to me for several reasons. First, it completely discards the reading of the verse. Onkles, as well as the verse itself, clearly say that Isaac loved Esau because of the food Esau brought his father. The Midrash comes to tell us how Esau tricked Isaac with deceit, but I do not see that relating to the words of the verse very well. That is why I am more partial to a different explanation that I saw in the Ralbag.

The Ralbag brings down the Seforno and Rashi understanding and agrees with them. However, he gives an alternate understanding of the verse, one more similar to Onkles and the actual verse (brought down in Breishis Rabbah chapter 63). The Ralbag says, "Perhaps the understanding [of this verse] is that Yitzchak (Isaac) loved him (Esau) because Esau would bring him meat (trappings) to eat, for a man is compelled to love those who he accepts purposeful things from.... Rivka loved Yaakov because she saw that he was a very good person." 

The Ralbag, quoting the Midrash Rabba (apparently) is telling us something very fascinating about mothers vs fathers. It seems to be that, according to the second understanding in the Ralbag, Yitzchak (Isaac) knew Esau was wicked, but loved him anyway. Why? Because Esau went out of his way to bring his father delicious meat. Yitzchak appreciated this and was emotionally attached to Esau because of this. Rivka, on the other hand, did not care that Esau brought meat, she saw that Yaakov was more righteous and his righteousness compelled her to favor him. The role of a father, in this scenario, is of a parent that wants to make his son self sufficient and when that happens the father is pleased. Yaakov was in no way self sufficient, that is why his mother compelled him to steal the blessings later in the Parsha. This caused Yitzchak to favor Esau. However, Rivka only cared about the personality and spirituality of her children. Yaakov grew up to be a man of great character and he had a high level of spirituality. Obviously, Yitchak and Rivka loved both their children, but each one had an extra affinity to one of them based on their own personalities. 
What can we take away from this idea? I think the idea is like this. Parents need to be able to relate to all their children. Yitzchak favored Esau and that is why he was going to give him the bracha. Rivka favored Yaakov and that is why she helped him, or compelled him, to steal the bracha. This appears to have been a break down in communication. Imagine if Rivka would have spent extra time with Esau and taught him to be more righteous and less involved with killing. Imagine if Yitzchak had sat with Yaakov and taught him more about the ways of the world. Yaakov would have been able to overcome Lavan's treachery and Esau might have actually been part of the Jewish nation. Unfortunately, that is not how it was meant to be. Yaakov was tricked and Esau fell into his wicked ways. But, the lesson is clear, we must make sure that we notice the weaknesses in children and help them better themselves in those weak areas.