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Torah Attitude: Parshas Toldos: The quarrel between Yacov and Esau

Summary

Yacov and Esau were quarreling in the womb about the inheritance of both this world and the World to Come. Every human being has an inborn desire to live in this world and to merit to be part of the eternity of the World to Come. "Against your will you were created, and against your will you were born, against your will you live, and against your will you will die." Every time we do what is right and refrain from any wrongdoing in this world, we build up and beautify our place in the World to Come. The beauty of this world is that for a small amount of money one can buy a pair of tzitzis and fulfill the commandment to wear tzitzis on one's garments. "One time of repentance and good deeds in this world is more beautiful than the entire World to Come." "One time of satisfaction in the World to Come is more beautiful than the entire life of this world." Even a sinner and evildoer attempts to justify his actions and lifestyle. Esau did not only fool his father, he actually fooled himself as well. How much blood has been spilled throughout the generations in the name of holy wars? As descendants of Yacov, we must always remember that the Torah teaches that we must live in peace and harmony with others and concentrate on utilizing our life to live up to the high ideals that the Torah expects of us.

Yacov and Esau quarrel in the womb

In the beginning of this week's Parasha, the Torah relates how Rivka and Yitzchak were childless for the first twenty years of their marriage. The Torah describes how they constantly prayed and entreated G'd to merit to have children, and how finally Rivkah became pregnant with twins. The pregnancy was difficult and painful as the unborn children moved around a lot. Rashi quotes two homiletical explanations from the Midrash what this moving around was all about. He quotes from the Yalkut Shimoni (par. 110) that Yacov and Esau were quarreling about the inheritance of both this world and the World to Come. The commentaries point out that this cannot be understood literally as an embryo possesses neither a good nor an evil inclination. The Yalkut elaborates on the nature of this quarrel and explains that it involved the angels of Yacov and Esau.

Inborn desire

In addition to the above, we need to clarify another point in regards to this quarrel. The Torah only relates incidents and events that have a lesson to teach. So what is the significance of this embryonic struggle? The answer may be that the Torah here teaches us that every human being has an inborn desire to live in this world and to merit to be part of the eternity of the World to Come.

No choice

This does not contradict what it says in Pirkei Avos (4:29): "Against your will you were created [at the time of conception] and against your will you were born [at the time of birth], against your will you live [every single day] and against your will you will die." For as the Maharal explains, on a simple level the Mishnah refers to the fact that we have no choice in any of these matters. And on a deeper level, Rashi explains that it refers to our soul that is totally spiritual and does not want to enter this world or stay in it, as it fears the impurity that it will encounter (see Talmud Niddah 30b). And at the end of a person's life, the soul does not want to die as it fears the judgment of the Heavenly court. As the Mishnah continues, "And against you will have to give an account before the King the Holy One, blessed be He."

Beautify our place in the World to Come

We discussed last week that the main purpose for which we have been created is to merit our share in the World to Come. And we explained that the only way we can achieve this is by going through this world with all of its tests and challenges. Every time we do what is right and refrain from any wrongdoing in this world, we build up and beautify our place in the World to Come. It is therefore understood that Yacov and his descendants, who follow in his ways, are eager to go through this world so that they can develop their place in the World to Come.

Beauty of this world

The story is told how the Vilna Gaon was crying on his death bed. When he was asked why he cried, he answered that he was not scared to enter the World to Come, but he was upset that he would have to leave this beautiful world. He explained that the beauty of this world is that for a small amount of money one can buy, for example, a pair of tzitzis and fulfill the commandment to wear tzitzis on one's garments. Once a person has left this world, such an opportunity will not present itself again.

The difference between this world and the World to Come

With this we can understand another Mishnah in Pirkei Avos that seems to contradict itself. It first says (4:22): "One time of repentance and good deeds in this world is more beautiful than the entire World to Come." Immediately after it says, "One time of satisfaction in the World to Come is more beautiful than the entire life of this world." The truth is that there is no contradiction in this Mishnah. Rather the Mishnah is dealing with two different aspects of life. First, the Mishnah teaches us that in regards to fulfilling a commandment, this world is superior since in the World to Come we can neither repent for our sins nor do any new good deeds. But when it comes to reward and pleasure, then, says the Mishnah, even the smallest measure of satisfaction in the World to Come is more enjoyable than all the combined pleasures of this world.

Sinner justifies his actions

However, the Yalkut teaches that not only Yacov and his descendants desire both worlds, Esau and his descendants also feel that they are entitled to both his world and the World to Come. For they think that one can live a life of pleasure and indulgence here and still receive a portion of the World to Come. They do not see anything wrong with that. As King Solomon says in Mishlei (21:2): "The way of every man is straight in his eyes." This includes even a sinner and evildoer who will attempt to justify his actions and lifestyle. The Talmud takes this a step further and says (Sotah 22b): "A person sins like Zimri [who publicly sinned with a Midianite woman, (see Bamidbar 25:6-15) and expects a reward like Pinchas [who stood up for the honour of G'd and killed Zimri]."

Esau fooled his father and himself

Esau believed in G'd and performed the commandments he liked. The Midrash Rabbah (Bereishis 65:12 and Shemos 46:3) describes how he excelled in honouring his father. But that did not keep him from committing five serious sins in one day (see Talmud Bava Basra 16b). He understood everything intellectually but his actions did not follow suit, and he did whatever he felt like to enjoy life in this world. The Midrash Tanchuma (Tzav 2) relates that when Esau came to the upper world he cloaked himself as a righteous person and sat down next to Yacov until he was told that he had no right to be there. Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian explains that Esau was not a simple faker. Rather, he did not only fool his father, he actually fooled himself as well in order to justify his conduct.

Holy wars

This is how Esau conducted himself and many of his descendants have followed in his ways. How much blood has been spilled throughout the generations in the name of holy wars? During the Crusades and Inquisition, the church encouraged the murder of totally innocent people. And many wars have been fought between different denominations just because of differences in what the parties believed. This is very similar to the Jihad that the descendants of Ishmael fight against the so-called "infidels". In this way, they decide to fool themselves and believe that they are fighting for a holy cause and expect to be rewarded.

Peace and harmony

As descendants of Yacov, we must always remember that the Torah teaches that we must live in peace and harmony with others and concentrate on utilizing our life to live up to the high ideals that the Torah expects of us. In this way, we will live a pleasant life in this world, and we will merit to be rewarded with real and eternal pleasure in the World to Come.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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