This week's Torah portion begins and ends by contrasting the bedrock values
that defined the fundamental differences between Yaakov and Esav. The Torah
sums up their radically divergent personalities as evidenced from their
earliest years: Yaakov chose to be an Ish Ohalim, "a man of the tent," whose
primary pursuit was the fulfillment of Hashem's will, whereas Eisav was a
man of the field, a hunter who sough out power and dominion.
Throughout the parsha, we see how the two brothers were case studies in
opposites: Yaakov was a person with a gentle and sensitive nature, Eisav
gloried in being tough and coarse. The jealousy and anger that Eisav
harbored toward his brother stands in stark contrast to Yaakov's forgiving
and non-combative nature. Towards the end of the Torah portion, another
fundamental difference between the brothers surface-their utterly different
ways of dealing with life's challenges and setbacks.
Eisav is angry and disillusioned at having been by-passed when Yitzchok
bestowed on Yaakov the Divine blessings of material success and prosperity.
His brother had usurped him and gained for himself these precious blessings
that Eisav felt should be rightfully his. The Torah describes how Eisav went
on the warpath, and would have killed Yaakov were it not for the anguish
this would have brought to his parents. Instead he vented his extreme
disappointment by rationalizing that it was through no fault of his own but
rather the fault of his idol worshipping wives that he had not been granted
the blessings by his father.
The parsha relates that in line with this rationalization, Eisav took a
third wife, Bosmas, the daughter of Ishmael. The commentaries shed light on
his thinking. "By marrying someone from my father's family, a daughter of
Ishmael," he reasoned, "I'll surely regain my position of authority in the
family, and will once again be able to ingratiate myself to my father."
Let us contrast his behavior with the response of Abraham after the Akeidah.
HaShem tests Avraham with the most demanding challenge possible. He
instructs Avraham to slaughter his own beloved son, the son who guaranteed
his legacy would be perpetuated for future generations. Unflinchingly,
Avraham takes his son on this fateful journey, leading him to Mount Moriah,
where he will carry out Hashem's command. With unfaltering step, he prepares
to carry out his mission. Although the angel intercedes before the act can
be carried out, and tells him it was simply a test that he passed with
flying colors, Avraham is not at peace.
His desire to give away his most precious possession to G-d needed physical
expression. He poured this consuming desire into the sacrifice of the lamb
that he found nearby. The Heavenly voice then proclaimed that through the
merit of this unparalleled act of devotion to G-d, Avraham secured for
himself and his future generations an outpouring of Divine blessing; eternal
possession of the land of Israel and the promise of descendants as numerous
as the stars of the heavens.
One might expect Avraham to leave the site of the Akeidah full of
satisfaction at having behaved so nobly. Yet we learn from the commentaries
that he felt far from complacent. "Perhaps I could have done something
different so that HaShem would have allowed me to sacrifice Isaac," he
wondered. "Perhaps I could have married him off at a younger age in which
case he would have already had children, and HaShem would have allowed me to
carry out the Akeidah literally, not figuratively." The Torah tells us that
immediately after this episode, Avraham was told that Rivka, Isaac's
designated bride to be, had just been born. He was thus mollified.
Avraham's reaction to the challenge of the Akeida throws the differences in
character between him and Eisav into bold relief. The name "Esav" stems from
the word "ah'suy," which means "finished, perfect," for the wicked feel they
are perfect products, never in need of improvement or change. They will
never accept responsibility for their own shortcomings and are expert at
shifting the blame to others. The righteous, by contrast, are always willing
to self-reflect, to try to pinpoint where and how they could have behaved
That message is one from which we can all benefit. Only when we can admit
our weaknesses, and exhibit the strength of character to work on improving
ourselves will we be able to grow spiritually to the point of realizing our
own spiritual destiny.