Eisav the Businessman
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.
Eisav was more than just an interesting character who on so many
occasions posed a threat to Ya'akov and his descendants. As the twin
brother of Ya'akov who acted in just the opposite manner as his
brother, he represents the "other view," or more precisely, the
"opposite view" of Torah:
G-d said to 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." (Bereishis 25:23)
As such, he is Ya'akov's antagonist until the End-of-Days.
There were basically three aspects to Eisav's personality. First,
there was Eisav the brute, who had no problem imposing his will and
way on others less powerful than he was, which was just about
everyone in the world at that time. Wherever he went, he took want
he wanted, regardless of the moral implications of his actions,
which, frankly, he didn't care a bit about.
However, there was another side to Eisav, who, after all, WAS the
twin brother of the holy Ya'akov. This was the side of Eisav that
could act in a somewhat religious manner. The rabbis teach that he
did perform the mitzvah of honoring his father, and he even asked his
father about the need to take tithes from salt and straw - which of
course is completely unnecessary, and represented Eisav's ability to
appear religious when it suited his purpose.
There was also Eisav the white-color worker, a businessman. This was
the part of Eisav's personality that was willing to make deals to get
what he wanted. Not everything in life can be taken by force, and
sometimes there is more pleasure in getting what you want in a
gentlemanly manner, or at least in a business-like manner.
In Eisav the person, all three personalities came together and made
him the most powerful man of his time. The only reason why he
couldn't do away with Ya'akov was because G-d protected Ya'akov
against his twin brother, thwarting Eisav every time he tried to
eliminate his twin brother. This was true not just in Ya'akov's
lifetime, but throughout the entire history of Ya'akov's descendants
until present day.
Who are Eisav's descendants today? It seems as if history has caused
a split in Eisav's personality, so-to-speak, spreading his
characteristics amongst his many descendants of Edom, which can
include peoples as diverse as Russians, Italians, and Americans.
This was partially due to Sennecheriv mixing up the nations a couple
of thousands of years ago when Assyria controlled the world of that
time. (Brochos 28a)
For this reason, the power of Eisav has dissipated somewhat, limiting
his ability to control the world and truly do to Ya'akov's
descendants what he set out to do from the beginning - annihilate
them. However, should the various parts of Eisav's personality
reunite in a coalition of nations, especially against Ya'akov, then
On a physical level, it may only appear as if different nations are
working together for a common cause. However, on a spiritual level a
unification of Biblical proportions may in fact be taking place with
very serious implications for world history. Until now, the
combinations of people haven't quite lined up perfectly; in WW II,
America fought along side with Russia, but Rome was on the other side.
However, in this latest war against terrorism there is a very
interesting historical precedent occurring. In attacking America on
home soil, and by bringing down two of the most powerful symbols of
American culture, the Islamic world has successfully drawn together
all three aspects of Eisav's personality as manifest in the different
nations of today. Even the Persian Gulf War of 1990 didn't do that.
Thus, the "Coalition" of today may be far more than just a group of
diverse peoples who have agreed to take on an invisible enemy
together. It may be the official resurrection of Eisav, the
powerful, coming back to life after being dormant for over three
thousand years of history, an unnerving development in the direction
of Gog and Magog.
Ya'akov was cooking some stew when Eisav came in from the field
feeling faint. Eisav said to Ya'akov, "Please, let me gulp down some
of that red stuff; I'm feeling faint." Thus, he was called "Edom."
If you read the Torah as a storybook, then that is what it will be
for you. However, if you read the Torah on one level as you might a
"spy" novel, then every word and nuance will be important to you
because you know that it will probably be transmitting important
information in the least obvious ways.
For example, such as the verses above. Very serendipitously the
Torah points out how Eisav received his pen name, "Edom." It just
happened to be on that one day, after a hard day's work in the field
(after murdering Nimrod, says the Midrash, and a whole host of other
atrocities), he came home famished and faint, and desperately told
his twin brother, "Give me some of that red stuff." Thus, he is
called "Edom," which means "red" (Russia's favorite color).
Coincidentally (if you believe in such things), this also led to his
selling the birthright with which he was born - and therefore, his
chance to be the Jewish people. However, that didn't seem to bother
him very much, as the Torah says:
Ya'akov gave Eisav bread and lentil stew. He ate, drank, got up and
left, and despised his birthright. (Bereishis 25:34)
Furthermore, the food that Ya'akov was preparing when Eisav barged
in, was for their father Yitzchak, who was in mourning over the death
of his own father, Avraham Avinu. Lentils, as Rashi explains, is a
traditional food of mourners because of its symbolic meaning.
However, Eisav did not eat it as a mourner that day, obviously
feeling no loss that his grandfather was gone from the world.
In other words, if you had to define Edom based upon the above
scenario and possukim, it would be like this: someone who is willing
to give up so much for so little, someone with little appreciation
for the invisible future, and with too much appreciation of the
This is the part of Eisav that can give rise to an Amalek - the
grandson of Eisav: Eisav and Adah gave birth to Eliphaz, who married
Timna and fathered Amalek. Amalek, of course, is the antithesis of
the Jewish people, of whom Rashi writes:
...He made you cold and lukewarm after you had been boiling. For,
all the nations were afraid to war against you, and this one came and
led the way for others. It is like a boiling hot bath into which no
living being could enter, until a wild person came and jumped into
it. Although he scalded himself, he made it cooler for others.
(Rashi, Devarim 25:18)
Unbelievable! Amalek was, and is, prepared to give up his future for
the THRILL of making an impact in the present. "Besides," Amalek
says, "the future has yet to unfold, and so much can happen between
now and then. Maybe there will be a way to change everything - to
have a blast now and get away with it tomorrow!"
In some respects he is right, because there is the concept of
teshuvah; a person can sin today and repent tomorrow, and even turn
his sin into a merit says the Talmud - PROVIDING, though, says the
Rambam, that he did not sin thinking that he will repent after. If a
person sins believing that he can simply say he is sorry after the
fact and be forgiven, he is mistaken. The door to teshuvah is closed
for such a sinner, says the Rambam.
However, that doesn't concern Edom. He has difficulty "feeling" what
he can't physically touch, but loves what he can. When society - any
society - walks that same path, then they are a descendant of Edom,
if not physically, then certainly spiritually-speaking.
Yitzchak said to them, "Why have you come here when you hate me, and
have sent me away from you?" They answered, "We saw that G-d is with
you. We decided that there should be an oath between us, a covenant
between you and us." (Bereishis 26:27-28)
How altruistic of Avimelech! No shame here. He might as well have
answered Yitzchak by saying, "You're right, Yitzchak, we DO hate you.
But, you know, there's this G-d thing again . . . just as it was with
your father. We just sort of noticed that when we hurt you guys, G-d
comes along and clobbers us. So, you know, let's make an oath, okay?"
An exception to the rule? Not even close. No peoples have traveled
as much as we have since the spies spoke badly about Eretz Yisroel,
and everywhere we have gone without exception, we have been disliked
in the end, if not from the beginning.
It is not because we look different from the average European or
American, because they have hated even the most assimilated Jew who
has gone out of his or her way just to fit in. Likewise, it is not
because we act differently that we attract the wrath of the gentiles,
because again, even the Morranos who feigned conversion during the
time of the Spanish Inquisition remained persecuted and were often
brutally murdered as well.
So what's with them, or at least the trillions of "them" who have
hated us over the ages?
The truth is, that you might as well ask why the sun comes up
everyday in the east and sets in the west, because these two
questions require the same answer: it is natural to do so.
This is what the rabbis have taught: It is law that Eisav hates
Ya'akov - and that Eisav's descendants will hate Ya'akov's
descendants, as will any other people that buys into Eisav's
philosophy about life. "Law" means that it is built into creation,
an immutable principle of history until the yetzer hara is done away
with, and evil is eliminated from the world in Yemos HaMoshiach.
This is because anti-Semitism is more than racism. It is, rather, a
supernatural form of communication between G-d and His people.
Granted that there are "nicer" ways for G-d to talk to us and get His
message across throughout the generations, and He agrees. In fact,
He only resorts to it when He finds that we don't return His calls,
and it is not for HIS good, but for OURS.
It is G-d's way of saying that the distinction between us and the
gentiles is not as distinct as it ought to be. This is not to make
us different from everyone else just for the sake of being different
and disunified, rather it is within that distinction that lies a
mission as primal as creation itself. That mission is to be a light
unto the nations, a leader amongst the masses, leading the masses
back to G-d Himself. If we don't do it, no one else will, and that
illogical hate for a people that just wants to blend in with everyone
else, is just Heaven's way of reminding us of that immutable truth.
It is taught: The ingathering of the exiles will precede the
resurrection of the dead by forty years, as it says, "And Yitzchak
was forty years old." (Zohar, Toldos 138b)
Well, that makes sense, doesn't it? Yitzchak was forty years old,
and therefore, it will take forty years to gather in the exiles at
the End of Days. WHAT is the connection between the two?
Well, it is not just that he was once forty years old, but it was
that he also married Rivkah at the age of forty. Really? You mean
there is some kind of correlation between being married and exile?
Ah, well, that's not what the Torah teaches; if anything, marriage is
supposed to be some kind of redemption process, though, admittedly,
it is not always that way. However, one would expect that between
the Forefathers and their wives, the marriages were somewhat ideal.
Consequently, we're back to square one again: what connection can
there be that Yitzchak was married at the age of forty, and the
future and ultimate ingathering of the exiles to the land of Eretz
Perhaps the remainder of the quote from the Zohar will be helpful:
What will those forty years be like? Rav Kahana said in the name of
Rav Broka: From the time of the ingathering of the exiles until the
period of the resurrection of the dead, there will be many troubles
(tell us about it!). Many wars will be waged against Israel, and
happy is the one who is free of them . . . Rebi Yehudah said from
here there will be a separating, a whitening, and much refining (of
the Jewish people), just as a silvermaker refines his silver and a
goldmaker refines his gold . . .
In other words, says the Zohar, the point of Kibbutz Golios -
Ingathering of the Exiles - is to refine the Jewish people and
prepare them spiritually for a higher level of existence, first in
the days after Moshiach brings peace to the world, and then for the
period of resurrection itself. During the forty years of this period
of history, all that will occur will be just for the sake of
filtering out the negative elements of Jewish living, and instead
infusing our lives with Torah values - whether WE recognize this at
the time or not.
In fact, the Kabbalists explain that it will happen so subtly, that
it will appear to the onlooker as doing just the opposite! However,
G-d has ways of accomplishing His will in the most hidden ways until
He determines that the time has come for us to recognize what He has
been doing up until then.
That was really the story of Yitzchak's life as well, until the age
of forty. For his first thirty-seven years of life he was constantly
refining himself and preparing himself for the day that G-d could
accept him as the "Burnt-Offering" he actually became. The Akeidah
symbolized the very high level of success he had achieved, and it
brought him to an even higher level of perfection.
However, it wasn't until the age of forty and after he was married,
that he was able to make the final transition to his ultimate level
of spiritual perfection while in This World. That came with the
birth of Eisav, who represented the final aspect of Yitzchak's
negative qualities now removed from him to become rectified by Eisav
himself. Ya'akov, the last of the three Forefathers, gave birth only
to people who could be a part of the Jewish people.
And thus, we can now appreciate the connection between the forty
years of Yitzchak's life, (the forty years in the desert,) and the
forty years of Kibbutz Golios.
Have a great Shabbos,