by Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer
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"The True Esav"
"The boys grew up and Esav became a man who knows hunting, a man of the field" (Bereishis 25:27).
From childhood onward, we've been taught the stories of Esav's cruelty; how he murders, steals, etc. Yet, a more sophisticated look at Esav's life indicates many good qualities. Firstly, of course, is his tremendous kibuv av. Also, the fact that he cried bitterly at Yaakov stealing the Brachos from Yitzchak (and his decision to kill him for this), shows that Esav understood the value of a tzaddik's bracha. So he wasn't your average hardened criminal. If so, why did he commit such heinous crimes?
Rav Shalom Schwdron zt"l answers that although Esav studied Torah in his boyhood years and absorbed the upbringing in his parents' home, it all remained as food for the brain, as an intellectual exercise. Esav never integrated his learning with his actions. The maturation of his mind had no impact on the cravings of his heart. For this reason, his head was buried in the Cave of Machpelah together with our forefathers, because intellectually he was level with them. His villainy stemmed from his inability to impose his knowledge and understanding on his base desires.
How do we know Esav had this double identity? The verse states, "vayehi Esav ish yodea tzayid ish sadeh - and Esav became a man who knows hunting; a man of the field". It calls Esav twice an ish, a man. This suggests that Esav had a split personality. He could study Torah and spout religion, yet he could go and commit unspeakable evil. Indeed, Rashi explains the fact that Esav was a skilled trapper was his ability to entrap and deceive his father by asking Talmudic questions which fooled Yitzchok into believing that Esav meticulously observed the mitzvohs. As soon as he finished with Yitzchok, he was a man of the field, back to his crimes. However, when referring to Yaakov, it says the word איש only once, "Yaakov was a wholesome man". Yaakov, says Rashi, was incapable of deceiving anyone; he was open and honest, speaking the truth. Yaakov did not have a split personality.
History is replete with legends of great philosophers who left a legacy of incredible knowledge for all mankind, yet their personal lives were full of ill repute. These men followed in the footsteps of Esav, to disassociate their knowledge of right and wrong from their personal conduct. The Gentile prophet Bilom was also a follower of Esav. In the annals of history, Bilam is recorded as doing the most despicable, sick acts. The Mishnah in Avos (5:22) states: "Those who have an evil eye, an arrogant spirit and a greedy soul are of the disciples of the wicked Bilam". Yet, Bilam says, "May my soul die the death of the upright, and may my end be like his" (Bamidbar 23:10). Intellectually, Bilam understood that he should be a mentch, and prayed for the salvation of his soul. But when it came to exercising self-control, he was unable to do so.
Esav also passed the contradictions in his life on to his son, Elifaz. When Yaakov fled home, Esav sends Elifaz to murder him. Elifaz catches Yaakov, and is faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, it's a mitzva to honor his father's direct command, and kill Yaakov. On the other hand, Elifaz understood from his contact with his grandfather Yitzchok, that it's forbidden to commit murder. So he robs Yaakov of all his possessions, and a poor man is considered as dead. How could he rationalize it's a mitzva to kill his uncle? Only because he viewed mitzvas as knowledge alone, with no meaning or relevance to real life.
Rabbi Yehoshua Aron Sofer, Kollel Beis HaTalmud Yehuda Fishman Institute, Melbourne Australia
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