Parshas Toldos tells us that when Rivkah had an unusual pregnancy experience, she went to enquire from Hashem what it meant. It was then revealed to her that in the future two great forces would be born in which “the older will serve the younger one”. It was a message to her only and she therefore never shared it with Yitzchok, her husband. This helps explain why Yitzchok had more love for Eisav, while Rivkah favoured Yaakov.
The great parents’ conflicting views
Yitzchok, for his part, interpreted all that Eisav did as perfect, because Eisav was older and the natural heir to the prophecy, whereas Rivkah knew from the outset that the younger one is the leader and therefore saw through all of Eisav’s deceptions. In addition, having Lavan as a brother, certainly gave Rivkah some experience with falsifiers.
This conflict of opinions led to Rivkah doing all in her power, be it straightforward or otherwise, so that Yaakov would get the brochos. When Yitzchok finally realised the catastrophe that could have taken place with the brochos going to the less worthy son, the Torah says “He trembled an exceedingly great trembling”. The course of history nearly went wrong and was rectified just in time. Yitzchok then confirmed that the brochos of Avrohom should go to Yaakov.
The Yaakov – Eisav deal
Nevertheless, Eisav still had a major role to play. Had he utilised his opportunity properly and really internalised the teachings he heard in his great father’s house, he would have realised that there is much to be done. If only Eisav would have done his duty to help Yaakov succeed in this world by supporting him, then together they would have attained great heights.
It is like a great Rosh Yeshiva who has grand ideas to bring up a generation of talmidei chachomim and all he needs is a flow of cash. The wealthy donor who steps forward to help is the partner to success.
Unfortunately, Eisav neglected to do so. The Zohar says that when the Angel wrenched Yaakov’s sinew, it symbolised the difficulty of obtaining supporters of Torah. Like all passages in Zohar, there is a practical side to it too. Eisav actually forsook the land because of Yaakov . He decided that if he is not at the top, then second place is not for him.
When Sir Moses Montefiore visited Russia, it was a wonderful opportunity for Rabbi Yisroel Salanter to meet this great philanthropist and statesman. Together, they could have done outstanding work to spread Judaism among the masses. But Sir Moses had a secretary who was a German Jew and had different ideas as to who is a leader of the Jewish people. Unfortunately, a meeting never materialised. The history of Eastern Europe, and in fact the entire Jewish world, would have been different.
A lost opportunity
But not only did Eisav lose out as not being the supporter of Yaakov, but the opposite was true. When the Bnei Yisroel were passing Har Seir, Moshe Rabbeinu warned them to be exceedingly careful. The reason extra care was needed was because they were so similar— it is much more dangerous to be with wicked relatives than with evil foreigners. The similarity of language and habits causes mingling, and thereby barriers disappear. Eisav ended up not only not being our supporter, but in fact becoming our enemy – actually and symbolically. Yaakov was always destined to be “a nation that dwells alone”, but that came to mean even apart from Eisav. In fact, it would take Edom three generations of Gerim to ultimately join Klal Yisroel.
The wall of antisemitism
Chazal tell us that when Bnei Yisrael stood at Mount Sinai for the Giving of the Torah, a hatred came down to the world. Nowadays, we call this antisemitism. However much the subject is studied, no real cause has ever been given. If a dishevelled gutter drunk can yell at a well-dressed Yid “Dirty Jew”, or a beastly Nazi can club and whip a Jew to death for the “crime” of finding an extra crust of bread, then we know that there is no real sense here. It is only a miracle to keep us from getting too involved with the “civilized” world.
We have met them all – under the skin-deep veneer of “decency”. The Spanish, the French, the Russian, the Polish, and unbelievable until 1932 – the “gemutliche” Germans too.
In summary, Eisav was created for our benefit. If he would have so chosen, he would have been a support. That would have been a benefit for both of us. But since he neglected his role as such, it is therefore our duty to avoid contact with the outside world as much as possible. And the way this comes about is through the wall Hashem created. Since we can’t gain by being with him, our success is therefore to withstand him.
Parshas Toldos | Rabbi Gavriel Lamm