By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
When it came time for her to give birth, she had twins. The first one came
out red all over like a fur coat, and they called him Eisav. His brother
came out holding onto Eisav's heel; he named him Ya'akov. (Bereishis
Though, in most cases, the birth of twins is cause for great celebration,
in the case of Ya'akov and his twin brother Eisav, it was an ominous sign.
First of all, as the Midrash states:
It is a well-known halachah that Eisav hates Ya'akov. (Midrash HaGadol 28:1)
So, it seems, the struggle that Ya'akov experienced before birth ...
... Rivkah became pregnant. Children struggled inside of her, and she said,
"Why is this happening to me?" and went to inquire of G-d ...
was destined to be a struggle meant to continue after birth as well:
G-d told her, "Two nations are in your womb; two peoples will separate from
inside of you. One nation will overpower the other; the greater one will
serve the younger."
The two nations are, of course, the Jewish People and the Romans. Though it
is true that other nations would rise (and fall) over time, and even cause
the Jews great distress, exiling them for periods of time, it is the Roman
exile--the longest of all the exiles (around 63 BCE until today)--that has
had the greatest impact on Jewish history, and continues to do so.
However, even all of this is only symptomatic of another, far more profound
problem that has its roots in the very eating from the Tree of Knowledge of
Good and Evil by Adam HaRishon. For, we know that as delinquent as Eisav
may have been in the end, in truth, he possessed many important qualities
necessary for building the Jewish nation. This is why later, Yitzchak was
prepared to bless Eisav in place of Ya'akov, and why Ya'akov was forced to
"incorporate" these qualities of Eisav into his very being, first by
purchasing the birthright, and later through standing in his stead at the
time of the blessings.
This is even why Ya'akov was "forced" to marry Leah, who, originally, had
been destined to marry Eisav (Rashi, Bereishis 29:17).
What this means is the following. One of the most dramatic results of
eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was the disunification
of creation. Man was created to elevate creation even higher than its
already pre-sin, high state of spiritual existence, which would have
unified all of creation with G-d. Instead, by eating from the Tree without
G-d's permission, not only did Adam not elevate creation, but he even
reduced its spiritual brilliance causing it to become far more physical,
and far less unified.
The more physical something becomes, the Maharal explains, the more complex
it becomes. G-d represents the ultimate sublime spiritual reality, and
therefore also represents sublime unity. This is alluded to by matzah on
Pesach, which is merely flour and water, reminding us that the goal of the
Jew is spiritual simplicity and the unity that it allows.
Had creation been more spiritually advanced at the time that Rivkah bore
Ya'akov, there would have been no need for a twin brother. Eisav's birth
meant that creation was still quite physical, in spite of all the work of
Avraham and Yitzchak to elevate it, and therefore disunity still ruled the
day. Ya'akov began to reverse this state by buying the birthright and
taking the blessings, becoming, in the process, a new entity called
"Yisroel"--the unified reality of Ya'akov and the positive aspects of
However, as successful as Ya'akov had been at bringing unity to creation,
he had over-estimated his success, as we shall see in next week's parshah,
G-d willing. This is why he got the shock of his life when he found he was
married to Leah instead of Rachel (not to mention Zilpah and Bilhah as
The boys grew up. Eisav became a cunning hunter, a man of the field;
Ya'akov was a simple person who dwelled in tents. (Bereishis 25:27)
The Midrash says that at the age of 15, just after Avraham died, the twins
untwinned. Ya'akov proceeded down the straight-and-narrow, while Eisav
veered sharply to the left, down a path of immoral behavior that divorced
him entirely from the ways of his fathers. Though the posuk makes Eisav out
to be an industrious fellow, familiarized in the ways of the world, the
Midrash tells a different story, of Eisav, the "hunter" of other people's
possessions and wives.
Yet Eisav was not merely a hunter--he was a cunning hunter. In other words,
he had the ability to pass himself off as a hardworking, honest, and
reliable partner. This is why the Midrash compares Eisav to the pig who has
split hooves (Midrash Tehillim 80:6), as if to say that according to the
external signs (the split hooves), Eisav appeared kosher. However, the
other sign, the internal one (chewing the cud), the one that cannot be
easily seen on the outside, that Eisav lacked, and was therefore 100%
That is what makes the Eisavs of the world so very dangerous: there is
something kosher about them. Eisav even thinks that his one sign of kashrus
is enough to fool G-d too:
"In the Time-to-Come, Eisav will don his tallis and sit among the righteous
in Gan Aiden ..."
However, the One who "knows the mysteries of the world and the workings of
the heart" will see right through Eisav, and,
"The Holy One, Blessed be He, will drag him from them." (Yerushalmi,
In the meantime, though it is quite a different story. In the meantime, for
over a thousand years now, Eisav has reigned supreme, successful to the
point that he was able to destroy the House of G-d:
The rabbis taught: When Rebi Yosi ben Kisma was ill, Rebi Chanina ben
Teradyon went to visit him. He said to him, "Chanina, my brother--don't you
know that this nation rules with the consent of Heaven, for it has
destroyed His house (the Temple), burned its courtyard, murdered His pious
ones, and destroyed all His good, and yet, they still exist ..." (Avodah
Rebi Yosi ben Kisma was referring to the Romans, who descended from Edom,
who came from Eisav. His point to Rebi Chanina ben Teradyon was, "Tread
carefully! This nation, as evil and as anti-Torah as they may be, has been
very successful, and remains to be so! Could that be if G-d didn't sanction
No, but not because G-d abandoned the Jewish people for Eisav's
descendants. The sins of the Jewish people demanded an exile to set things
straight over time, and unfortunately, after much persecution. However, to
the one unlearned in the ways of G-d, and the process of Jewish history, it
might look as if Eisav has indeed been proclaimed "Kosher!" by the Highest
Level of certification possible!
However, this is only a test of faith for the Jewish people, and at a
times, a huge test at that. In the end though, Eisav will lose the
"hashgochah" he never really had to begin with, and Ya'akov will emerge to
assume the position that had always been meant for him: the true firstborn
Ya'akov said, "[First] Sell me your first-born birthright." Eisav said,
"I'm about to die! What do I need the birthright for?" Ya'akov said, "Swear
to me today that you will." He swore to him and sold his birthright to
Ya'akov. (Bereishis 25:31-33)
The Talmud addresses the issue of taking oaths to determine the truth, and
wonders whether or not there is any point in making a thief take an oath
(Bava Metziah 5b). After all, if a man has no problem stealing someone's
property, why should he have a problem taking an oath and lying to protect
In the end, the Talmud concludes that there is a difference between the two
sins, since taking an oath means invoking the name of G-d, and the average
Jewish thief knows that one of the Ten Commandments is to not take the Name
of G-d in vain (the eighth commandment to not steal means "do not kidnap").
Therefore, in a situation of doubt, we allow the suspected thief to take an
oath to clear his name.
However, what about Eisav? The Midrash says that Eisav rejected the notion
of G-d and the World-to-Come, which means his oath could mean absolutely
nothing in the long term, and had, even in the short term. That's why
Ya'akov had to run for his life at the end of the parshah to avoid Eisav.
If so, then how could Ya'akov be so naive as to believe that making Eisav
swear could make a difference regarding his claim to the right of the
If you look in most siddurim in the section called "Sefiros HaOmer," you
will find after each daily counting two words. For example, the first day
corresponds to "Chesed sh'b'Chesed," the second day to "Gevurah
sh'b'Chesed," and so on. The average person may not know what these mean,
and, for that reason, may pay little attention to them.
However, some may recognize these words as names of Sefiros, spiritual
realities that govern our physical world. Although there are ten such
sefiros altogether, we only mention seven (Chesed, Gevurah, Tifferes,
Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchus), because the upper three (Keser,
Chochmah, and Binah) are so sublime that their effect on creation at this
time, is, at best, indirect. And because the period between Pesach and
Shavuos is known to be a time for personal and national rectification, we
focus on the spiritual entities that directly affect our world.
The word "shavuah," the Hebrew word for "oath" is derived from the word
"shevah," the Hebrew word for the number seven. We saw this also in last
week's parshah, when Avraham made an oath with Avimelech, and then named
the place "Be'er Sheva," the "Well of Seven" (he used seven animals to
cause the oath to take effect).
What is the connection? The idea is that an oath is far more than mere
words uttered in the form of a promise. They are words that possess the
capability to rectify what was damaged through the situation that led to
the need for an oath, to restore completion to the seven Sefiros that
govern creation. That is why breaking an oath is so severe, for its damage
affects very lofty aspects of existence.
This is also why it doesn't really make a difference in the end whether or
not Eisav stands by his oath, at least not to the impact of the oath in the
spiritual realm. Just the fact that Eisav agreed to the oath to confirm
Ya'akov's ownership of the birthright already led to rectification in the
Sefiros above, and had paved a spiritual path to the physical reception of
the blessings originally headed for Eisav.
Yitzchak said to Ya'akov, "Please, come close so I can feel you my son, to
see if this is my son Eisav or not." Ya'akov approached Yitzchak his
father. He felt him and said, "The voice is Ya'akov voice, but the hands
are the hands of Eisav." (Bereishis 27:21-22)
On the simplest level of understanding, the words above mean: it feels like
Eisav, because his arms are hairy, but it sounds like Ya'akov, because:
"He speaks in an entreating way, saying, 'Arise, please, and eat ...'
whereas Eisav spoke in a harsh manner, saying, 'Let my father arise ...'
However, if so, then it would have been more accurate to say: It feels like
Eisav, but the manner is Ya'akov's. For, if Yitzchak truly recognized his
son's voice, it would have been a dead give away that Ya'akov was indeed
impersonating his older brother in an attempt to take advantage of his
father's blindness and "steal" the blessings. Unless, of course, we
understand the concept of "kol" (voice) on a deeper level.
Though a voice is noticed on the outside, that is, after it has left the
mouth of a person, it actually originates deep within a person, and is
associated with the second level of soul called, "Ruach," which in this
context, translates as "wind." In Kabbalah, Ruach is the level of soul
considered to be the essence of physical man, as far as the souls go. This
is why, as Onkeles explains back in Parashas Bereishis, when G-d breathed
the "living soul" into man, the direct result was the ability to speak.
"It's not what you say, but how you say it."
We all grew up with that one, and although what you say can be just as
important, the message of the above dictum rings true: communicating an
idea consists of content and presentation. Very often, it is easy to judge
a person's inner being just by the way he presents an idea through his
outer being, that is, his body.
Yitzchak may have been blind physically, but he was from being blind
spiritually. And whereas the message from Ya'akov and Eisav was the
same--arise and eat--the being behind that message was very different, a
difference that Yitzchak did not believe a single hunting expedition could
change so dramatically. That's why he asked to feel Ya'akov, to verify what
he was perceiving (had he not smelled Gan Aiden in Ya'akov's clothing, the
skins that had been handed down since Adam, he might have pursued the
This is the true "Kol Ya'akov." We as a people are not always noticeable by
what we say, but we are supposed to be easily recognized by how we say
something, and how we do things, which often can make the subtle difference
between sanctifying G-d's Name or, G-d forbid, profaning It.
Eisav was a master at convincing people that what was visible on the
outside was representative of his inside. We have to master revealing on
the outside what is supposed to be on our inside: a soul that is a piece of
the Divine. In the merit of doing so, we deserve the blessing of Avraham
and Yitzchak, and as we will soon see, b"H, we emerge to become Yisroel in
Have a good Shabbos,
I just want to mention that the person for whom I dedicated last week's
parshah shiur has received an additional name: Chaim . The full name is now
Chaim Leibish ben Hindel Blima. Please keep him in mind, especially this
Thursday when, b"H, he will undergo a critical operation. Thank you once
again for your help.