The Tragedy of Esav’s Head
The venerable R’ Chaim Solovetchik of Brisk once witnessed a scene that left upon him an indelible impression.
At first glance, one might not have been so overwhelmed by the sight: it was simply a man driving a wagon pulled by a pair of horses. What was so striking, however, was the element of contrast. The wagon driver was not possessed of a particularly formidable build. His bearing was limp and stooped over; in fact, it appeared as if at any minute the man would simply keel over. But the horses – they were the picture of sheer power: sleek, healthy, and muscular. They seemed quite able and ready to flex their might at the slightest whim.
Which is exactly what so intrigued R’ Chaim. Why, in fact, wouldn’t they do just that? Here was this weak, slightly built driver holding the reigns, every so often giving a half-hearted tap with his whip or a barely perceptible tug to direct the horses one way or another. And yet, they responded to his feeble exertions. Surely, had they wanted, they could overpower the poor wretch in an instant, sending him flying and taking off on their own merry way. So why didn’t they?
Sharing his thoughts with his accompanying disciple, R’ Chaim explained the tremendous lesson he derived from this spectacle. “You know why they don’t assert themselves in this way?” he asked. “I will explain: it’s because, all in all, they are just horses, and they don’t consider their own power. Had they been aware of their true strength, they would surely not hesitate to use it. But in the meantime, they remain subservient to the man with the reigns.
“And so it is,” R’ Chaim concluded, “with so many people. Hashem has imbued each and every person with marvelous abilities and the capacity to attain true greatness. But unless they realize their worth and inherent potential, it will remain dormant and under-utilized, in the manner of the horses” (R’ Yitzchak Zilberstein, Aleinu L’shabei’ach, parshas No’ach).
This is, after all, a central tenet in avodat Hashem (service of Hashem). In his sefer devoted to this very subject – Sha’arei Avodah (Gates of Service) – Rabbeinu Yonah grants priority to this idea. He writes right in the beginning: “The first step for a person who strives to serve Hashem is to know his self-worth and recognize his attributes and those of his forefathers… and how beloved they were to the Creator. He should thus endeavor and strengthen himself constantly to live up to this elevated status…”
And, of course, the crucial exercise of recognizing one’s value and central role in Creation is highlighted by the Mishnah in Sanhedrin (4:5), which states:
כָּל אֶחָד וְאֶחָד חַיָּב לוֹמַר, בִּשְׁבִילִי נִבְרָא הָעוֹלָם.
“Each and every person is obligated to proclaim: ‘The world was created on my account.’”
What Could Have Been
In any event, the idea of unused potential is exemplified by one of the principal figures of this week’s parshah: Esav. We tend to view him, especially as compared to his righteous brother, as just some wild monster. Such seems to be the simple intimation of the passuk’s description of the two brothers: וַיְהִי עֵשָֹו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד אִישׁ שָֹדֶה וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם ישֵׁב אֹהָלִים – “And Esav was a man who knew hunting – an outdoorsman; and Ya’akov was a wholesome person, who dwelled in the tents (of learning)” (Bereishis 25:27). And this impression is certainly reinforced by his behavior, as recorded in the narrative of the birthright. He enters fatigued from his outdoor activities, demanding food and having it literally poured down his throat. These victuals he attained by ceding his most precious spiritual asset – his firstborn status. This he discarded in a most casual and disdainful manner, declaring: הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי הוֹלֵךְ לָמוּת וְלָמָּה־זֶּה לִי בְּכֹרָה – “Behold I am going to die, so for what do I need this birthright?” (ibid. v. 32).
But Chazal reveal that there was a lot more to Esav lurking beneath the surface. Such emerges from the well-known episode related about the burial of the two brothers years later. Following Ya’akov’s passing, his sons transported him from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael in order to inter him in the famed sepulcher of Me’arat Hamachpeilah, the resting place of the patriarchs. But there was a hold-up at the last minute. Esav arrived, asserting that the last burial place was reserved for him and not Ya’akov. The matter was finally laid to rest when Chushim, the son of Dan, severed Esav’s head – which rolled and ended up in the Me’arat Hamachpeilah. The remainder of his body was interred in the surrounding area.
It is quite interesting to note who, in the end, is buried in Me’arat Hamachpeilah: Adam and Chavah, Avraham and Sarah, Yitzchak and Rivkah, Ya’akov and Le’ah – and Esav’s head. R’ Aaron Kotler would often cite this phenomenon and highlight the poignant lesson to be learned from it. It is no small matter that Esav’s head ended up buried in such a special and elevated environment. This is indicative of what was contained within. That is to say, Esav was blessed with great inherent potential – his mind was capable of attainments of Divine wisdom of mammoth proportions. But like the horses seen by R’ Chaim, Esav failed to properly utilize the great gifts and abilities with which he was imbued.
At the very least, then, Esav should be an example to us of what can occur if one ignores his potential and squanders his capabilities. Rather, we should strive to fulfill the dictum contained in the Mishnah – to recognize our worth and great importance in the scheme of Creation. Hopefully, we may thereby aim to live up to this elevated stature and utilize the great strengths that Hashem has bestowed upon each individual.
By Mishnat chayim
facts of life: take this serious
Differentiation: A Modern Experience?
There is much dialogue in the generation we live in regarding successful parenting and education. Society around us gives us the impression that the new bestsellers on positive parenting and modern courses on successful schooling are a must in order to effectively discharge one’s duties as parent or teacher.
But we sometimes forget that we have a Book, our eternal Torah, which although ancient, has timeless lessons in it if we explore and examine it properly. The book of Bereishit particularly is one of relationships, although uneasy ones. We have strained relationships between father and son (Yitzchak and Yaakov, Yaakov and Reuven), mother and son (Sarah and Yishmael, Rivkah and Esav), siblings (Kayin and Hevel, Yosef and brothers) and even husband and wife (Yaakov and Leah). These episodes are for us to learn from and apply in our day-to-day lives.
One of the central difficulties and disappointments of Toldot, is how could a Yitzchak and a Rivkah produce an Esav? It is almost as if 1 + 1 = 3! Couldn’t such righteous parents produce children loyal to their values and principles? Moreover, both children seem to have potential in different ‘fields’. Yaakov is described as a ‘simple ‘man remaining in tents and Esav professional hunter of the fields’. What happened? How and why did Esav become Esav the Wicked?
Some have argued that it was mere genetics. Rivkah came from an idolatrous home and so did Avraham. Esav happened to receive all the negative genes from both sides – paternally and maternally. This doesn’t fit very well with the concept of Free Will, one of the obvious principles of Judaism. Others attribute Esav’s fall to Rivkah’s favoritism of Yaakov. Rivkah was the ‘mother at home’ and Esav sensed her lack of interest in him causing him to embark on his own path.
Rabbi Shimson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) maintains that Yitschak and Rivkah were in some way responsible for Esav’s new path but for a different reason. For Rabbi Hirsch, the key words in their upbringing are ‘vayidgelu hanaarim’ ‘and the lads grew up’. That was the parents’ mistake. Yaakov and Esau grew up in the same educational infrastructure. Yaakov was a wholesome individual and the schooling system of his parents suited him and his needs. Esav, sadly, was of different nature. He was more animated and energetic and was not suited for the same educational system that his brother was experiencing. But his parents failed to recognize that and made them grow up together: one school, one system, one technique. Esav was quiet and the natural reaction of being quiet is to burst open from those chains and build a new, independent path through life.
Every child must be raised as an individual. Each individual child whose education has been entrusted to us has a unique mission to complete. The practical means by which we are to guide each individual child to his or her potential are not the same. They are as different from one another as the tendencies and abilities and the intellectual and emotional potential are in each individual personality. Every shoe does not fit all feet. An effective parent or teacher should be able to raise children as different as Yaakov and Esav in such a manner that both of them will grow up to be good and capable as each other, but in different fields.
King Shlomo later echoed this with the saying “raise a child according to his path and character traits”. Children have different learning preferences and one size doesn’t fit all.
Our children are our young trees. Just like different plants need different types of food and varied amounts of water and sunlight, so too our children need different types of training and varied amounts of praise and love. It is not for no reason that the Talmud teaches that teachers (and parents, for every parent is essentially a teacher) who perform their duties as required, will shine like the stars for eternity.
Rabbi Danny Kada
Bait Aaron Basic Shabbat Stories That will ignite your Neshama
The Vilna Gaon and the Host’s Cup of Coffee
The Vilna Gaon, was once a guest in someone’s home. When he was ready to leave, his host asked him, “I hope it was good for you here. How was it for you? Wasn’t it a good achsanyah (apartment)?”
The Vilna Gaon thanked him sincerely, and said that it was a very good achsanyah. “But there was one thing that I noticed while staying in your home, that I wanted to ask you about… I saw that you prepare coffee for your wife every morning, even before you make your own. I was wondering; why do you do this? Is it because Chazal say, “one should honor his wife more than he honors himself’?”
The host said, “The answer to your question is the story of my life. When I was thirteen years old, I was a prodigy, already well-versed in Torah. A wealthy person wanted me as a son-in-law, and I became engaged. The chasunah was scheduled for seven years later, when I would be twenty.
“In the meantime, my future father-in-law hired private tutors so I could grow in Torah. For the next seven years, I learned with these tutors and became a talmid chacham. But when I turned twenty, my intended father-in-law lost all his money. “Personally, I wanted to continue on with the shidduch because I had hakarat hatov(showing gratitude) for the seven years that he hired tutors for me, but my father, may he be well, didn’t permit the marriage.
I was a talmid chacham, and he didn’t think it was fair that I should marry a poor girl. ”
“Another shidduch was suggested, and I ended up marrying her. But things weren’t sailing smoothly. Soon after the marriage, we discovered that I have a mum (a physical imperfection). I didn’t know about it beforehand. My father-in-law paid a lot of money and hired the best doctors to cure me, but they weren’t able to. One great doctor admitted that there was nothing doctors could do. ‘Save your money,’ the doctor said, ‘because there is no known cure.’
“My father-in-law asked me to divorce his daughter, and I obliged. “I became depressed. First a broken shidduch, then a divorce, not to mention my physical problem… My life was in shambles. I went to live in the hekdesh, together with other poor and broken souls. (A hekdesh is a communal room-and-board for homeless people and poor travelers.)
“Someone who knew me from my teenage years recognized me in the hekdesh and was shocked. He said, ‘How did you end up here? You have so much potential; you’re a great scholar. What happened to you?’
“I told him my story. Soon afterwards, this man returned to the hekdesh. ‘I have a suitable shidduch for you, because I know someone who has the exact same medical problem that you have.’
“We met and we ended up marrying. After the wedding, she told me, ‘You were born with your mum, but I was born healthy. I developed my physical ailment later on in my life.’ She told me that she was once engaged to marry a Torah scholar, but her father lost his money, and the shidduch was called off. She became depressed and ill and developed a mum.
“I asked her some more questions about her first shidduch, and I discovered that I was her first fiancé. We were destined to marry, but it was called off when her father lost her money. So you see,” he said to the Vilna Gaon, “my wife became ill because of me. Doesn’t she deserve to be served coffee before me?”
The Vilna Gaon said, “If I came here only to hear this story, it would also be worthwhile!” He was very happy to hear this story, because it demonstrates Hashem’s Hand in shidduchim. When a shidduch is destined to be, it will happen.
something to think about
Things Could Be Better
And God shall give you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land and abundant grain and wine. (Bereishit 27:28)
Adapted from Chofetz Chaim Al Ha-Torah as cited in Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 1, p. 148.
Ya’akov received the blessings that he had rightfully purchased, urged on by his mother Rivkah, who knew prophetically that the blessings were to be his: “And G-d shall give you from the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land” (Bereishit 27:28). Esav then furiously rushed in and pleaded: “Haven’t you left any blessings for me?!” (27:36). Yitzchak first told him that there were none left — but then said: “On the fat of the land you shall dwell and from the dew of the heavens above” (27:39).
The Chofetz Chaim notes that these two blessings seem to be almost identical. Upon close examination, however, two differences become apparent. First, the order is reversed. In Ya’akov’s blessing, the heavens are mentioned before the earth. This signified that Ya’akov’s life and actions emphasized the eternal as opposed to the passing. However, Esav, as we saw earlier, was willing to give up the heavens for a hefty chunk of the earth. Thus, in his case, the fat of the land was mentioned first.
The second difference is pointed out by Rashi. In Ya’akov’s blessing it says that God [Elokim] will give him his portion. Elokim refers to the Almighty’s attribute of strict justice. Everything that a descendant of Ya’akov receives or does not receive is perfectly measured by Hashem. If you deserve it, He will give it to you. If not, He won’t. On the other hand, there is no source mentioned for Esav’s blessing. Whatever you are, you will get rich. It doesn’t matter whether you are wicked or righteous.
The Chofetz Chaim learns from this that a person should never complain about the portion that Hashem has chosen for him. We must trust that if wealth would be beneficial to us, Hashem would surely give it to us. If He hasn’t, it is because our present state is the best possible situation for us. Fortunate is the person who isn’t subjected to destructive wealth!
The Chofetz Chaim once asked someone how he was doing. The answer was a response that is probably familiar to many people: “Things could be better — I could use a bit more money.” The Chofetz Chaim replied, “How do you know that a bit more wouldn’t make things worse? Hashem is totally compassionate, He knows much more than we do, and He certainly has the ability to give more. If He isn’t giving, it means that things couldn’t be better!”
By Rabbi Parkoff
1st Aliya: Yitzchak is 40 years old (2088) when he marries Rivkah. After 20 years, Esav and Yaakov are born. The Parsha jumps from their birth to Yaakov’s purchase of the 1st born rights from Esav at the age of 15. (2123 – the day Avraham died)
2nd Aliya: The Parsha returns to the story of Yitzchak and Rivkah and the famine which forces them to settle among the Plishtim. Yitzchak, like his father before him, has a moral confrontation with Avimelech, after which his fields are uniquely prolific and financially successful.
3rd Aliya: Yitzchak’s financial success leads to jealousy with his Plishtim neighbors. He re-digs Avraham’s wells, resulting in a confrontation with the Plishtim over water rights. He moves back to Beer Sheva.
4th Aliya: Hashem (G-d), in a dream, confirms for Yitzchak the future of his children. Avimelech, the King of the Plishtim, and his General, Phicol, approach Yitzchak to make a peace treaty.
5th Aliya: The treaty between Yitzchak and the Plishtim is celebrated. The Parsha returns to the story of Yaakov and Esav. Esav’s marriage to two Canaanite women at the age of 40 (2148) brings disappointment to Yitzchak and Rivkah. In 2171, when Yaakov and Esav are 63 and Yitzchak is 123, Yitzchak blesses Yaakov and Esav. The Parsha details the duplicity of Yaakov and Rivkah in fooling Yitzchak.
6th Aliya: Yitzchak blesses Yaakov with spiritual and material gain, after which Esav returns to discover Yaakov’s plot. He receives his own blessing for material gain, and is determined to kill Yaakov. Rivkah, fearful for Yaakov’s life, convinces Yitzchak to send Yaakov to her brother Lavan in search of a shiduch – a wife. Yitzchak confirms on Yaakov the future of the Jewish nation before his departure to Lavan.
7th Aliya: Yaakov departs for Padan Aram, and Esav marries the daughter of Yishmael. (his 1/2 1st cousin)
The bride, upon her engagement, goes to her mother and says, “I’ve found a man just like Father!” Her mother replies, “So what do you want from me, sympathy?”