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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum


"And the children agitated within her." (25:22)

Chazal teach us that even prior to their birth, Yaakov and Eisav clearly exhibited their innate tendencies. They explain that the word, is derived from the word, which means "to run." When Rivkah passed the Bais Ha'Midrash of Shem and Ever, Yaakov "ran," struggling to come forth to study Torah. In contrast, when she passed a house of idol-worship, Eisav "ran," trying to emerge. This Midrash has long been a source of discussion regarding the relative quality of Torah study, given the nature of the spiritual environment. This is inferred from the fact that Yaakov desired to "escape" the womb in order to enter the study hall of Torah. Why could he not remain where he was? After all, we are taught that an angel teaches Torah to the yet-unborn child. Horav Bunim, zl, M'Peshischa, responds that studying Torah -- even with an angel -- is difficult , especially when it takes place in the same womb with such a character as Eisav. It is better for an individual to reject the opportunity to participate in this unique learning experience, disregarding the remarkable teacher, if the act of study would increase contact with Eisav. Yaakov could not leave, since Eisav was blocking his exit. Why did Eisav not depart, however, when he passed by the pagan house of worship? No one was encumbering him. Horav Yechezkel, zl, M'Kuzmir, offers two practical insights which aptly characterize those who would do anything to prevent Yaakov from studying Torah. True, Eisav could have left, but his departure would have similarly enabled Yaakov to leave. Eisav would rather have foregone his beloved idols than to permit Yaakov entry to study Torah. In a slightly different twist, he says that Eisav sought to make Yaakov's life miserable. Life for Eisav had no intrinsic meaning if he would be unable to persecute Yaakov. To leave, would have eliminated Eisav's opportunity to maximize his pleasure by obstructing Yaakov's Torah study and his overall functionings?

"And the boys grew up and Eisav was a man who knew hunting, a man of the field; Yaakov was a wholesome man dwelling in tents. " (25:27)

With these few words, the Torah characterizes the essence of Yaakov and the essence of Eisav. Indeed, it seems that the text pinpoints the predominant difference between the two brothers. One question is readily apparent. Eisav was a rasha m'rusha, evil incarnate. Even before his birth, in his mother's womb, his wicked tendencies were already manifest. Chazal teach us that when Rivkah passed by a house of idolatry, Eisav gravitated towards it. All this while he was still in the womb! On the day that he sold his birthright, he committed five cardinal sins. Is this a man who should be described as "a man who knew hunting"? Let the Torah tell it like it is: Eisav was an evil man throughout his life. In contrast, Yaakov, who is the bechir ha'Avos, the chosen one of the Patriarchs, is described so humbly, "A wholesome man dwelling in tents." One would think that referring to the Patriarch who fathered the Shivtei Kah, the twelve tribes, the individual who established the foundation of Am Yisrael, the Torah would present more noteworthy praise.

Horav Yechezkel Levinstein, zl, infers a fundamental lesson from this ambiguity. The essence of an individual's greatness is not determined by actions but rather by his fundamental nature. Eisav was the requiem rasha because of his evil roots. We are inclined to believe that sin is determined by observable action. The greater and more iniquitous the behavior, the more pronounced is the sin and the more evil is the perpetrator. The truth is that one's evil roots -- and the actions that originate from them -- determine the level of one's malevolence. Eisav became a rasha m'rusha as a result of his origin. Had his roots not have been so corrupt, he would not have become the notorious Eisav. One does not become a sinner as result of his behavior. Rather, the innate evil within him is manifest through his actions. One whose roots are evil will become a sinner!

Let us return to the Torah's characterization of Eisav and Yaakov. When the Torah describes Eisav as "a man who knew hunting," it is emphasizing Eisav's roots, the source of his nefarious behavior. He was the essence of sheker, falsehood. He was a cunning hunter; trickery, deceit and treachery were the prime components of his personality. One who possesses such character traits is destined for evil. Eisav was exposed to a father and mother who were paragons of virtue and morality, as well as a grandfather who fought paganism and set the standard for the middah of chesed. He lived in a home in which the sight of Divine angels was commonplace. Nevertheless, he descended to the nadir of depravity. Unless the roots of such an individual are expunged, he does not have a chance. He can be aware of the greatness of Hashem and of the power of a tzaddik's blessing, as Eisav was. Yet, it all loses meaning in light of his compulsion to remain the epitome of evil. Eisav knew hunting; his cunning was his downfall, for it originated in falsehood and ended in blashphemy.

The Torah notes another aspect of Eisav's character. He was an "ish sadeh," a man of the field. Rashi interprets this to characterize a man of leisure who hunts to his heart's content. Eisav led an easygoing lifestyle, rejecting the yoke of responsibility, doing whatever he pleased. He lived for the moment, ignoring the consequences tomorrow might bring. This frivolous attitude has become common. Such an absence of focus stems from an individual's lack of maturity. Fun is not an intrinsically negative concept, providing that one establishes and adheres to appropriate limits. One who disdains responsibility reverts to childishness, ignoring the consequences of his actions. At times, children may do terrible things, paying no attention to the person whom they have hurt or the seriousness of the injury. So, too, the "ish sadeh" does whatever he wants, wherever he desires to do it --regardless of whom he has affected.

Eisav was a man of the field who lived for today with no thought of tomorrow. He disdained authority, ignored responsibility, and scoffed at retribution. Do we have to search far to find this type of person or this attitude? Indeed, without realizing it, many fall into this category. Whether it is individuals who spurn responsibility, or others who simply refuse to grow up to accept the role of mature individuals, a drop of "Eisav" exists in many of us. It has become a trait to which some aspire. Our society has venerated those who have lived without fear of consequence, acted without compunction or restriction, responding with utter contempt towards those who scrutinize their behavior.

Horav Levinstein suggests that actually Eisav's characteristics are interrelated one to another. One who is truthful is concerned with the future. He sees the underlying goal in every act. Therefore, he seeks to reconcile the present with the future. The liar lives by, and for, the fleeting moment. His life is one of consummate deceit toward others, but ultimately he deceives himself the most.

Yaakov Avinu, the "ish emes," man of truth, who dwelled in the tent of Torah, knew the essence of life. He apportioned his time wisely, realizing that every minute was an eternity in a spiritual sense. He truly lived for the future. The reality of the present is found in its function as an investment in the future.

"And Eisav was a man who knew hunting, a man of the field, and Yaakov was a wholesome man dwelling in tents." (25:27)

Eisav is not depicted as a hunter, but as a man who "knew" hunting, a professional hunter who is an expert at his chosen vocation. Eisav is the consummate hunter, the one who sets the standard for excellence in the field of hunting, the one to whom everybody looks up. Eisav is a "doer;" his entire essence bespeaks accomplishment and success. Yaakov, on the other hand, is portrayed as a man who dwells in tents, the quiescent scholar who remains cloistered from society, his mind buried in his books. Undoubtedly he is successful at what he is doing. In the future, he will probably produce wonderful novellae and serve as a wellspring of knowledge for his community. In addressing the here and now, however, what is he really accomplishing for the community? Indeed, in comparison to his successful brother, Yaakov gives the impression of being the mellow type of fellow who is not achieving at the moment.

This is what one might see at first glance from a cursory reading of the text. Targum Onkelus, however, translates "yode'a tzayid" as a "nachshirchan" or a "batlan," a ne'er do well, who does nothing! This suggests quite the opposite impression that one gleans from reading the text. What does this all mean to us? Horav Avigdor Nebentzhal, Shlita, presents a specific perspective. Some individuals mistakenly believe that the real movers and shakers are the "Eisavs" of our day. They accomplish; they act; they are the so-called experts in every field who seem to be doing so much. The Targum, in his departure from what seemed the simple interpretation, teaches a fundamental principle. It is the "Yaakovs" who are studying Torah with enthusiasm and self-sacrifice, who are tucked away from the public forum, who are not constantly creating a tumult; they are the ones who are accomplishing; they are the ones who are truly building and sustaining a world. Veritably, Eisav might seem to be the one who is momentarily building, creating and executing an important function in the world. However, this is only a temporary state. It is Yaakov who is building nitzchiyus, eternity. He is building for generations to come. His accomplishment will bear fruit for the future, long after Eisav's exploits will have dissipated and disappeared. Yaakov is the "ish ha'maasi,'" the man of action, while Eisav is the batlan, the ne'er-do-well who has a lot of form but no substance.

"And he said (Yitzchak), 'Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing.'" (27:35)

Probably one of the most difficult narratives in the Torah to understand, is the one which depicts Yaakov as "taking" the blessings from Yitzchak, through a manner uncharacteristic of someone who is considered to be the epitome of veracity. We do not understand the ways of Hashem. Why did He choose that Yitzchak be unaware that he was actually blessing Yaakov -- and that Eisav was actually not fit for blessing altogether. The Zohar Ha'Kadosh comments that this scenario was essential so that the blessing would come directly from Hashem to Yaakov via the medium of the unsuspecting Yitzchak.

The Sfas Emes cites the Targum Onkelos who differentiates between the word, which is translated as wisdom, and the word which is commonly defined as cunning or deceit. Yaakov did not come with deceit to cheat Eisav out of his blessings. Rather, he applied the wisdom of the Torah that he had studied. B'heter, with halachic permission, he cleverly took the blessings that should rightfully have been his. The Midrash comments that when Yaakov approached his father to receive the blessings in a manner which may be viewed as inappropriate, he implored Hashem with the pasuk in Tehillim (120:2), "Rescue my soul from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue." This is enigmatic! Yaakov is prepared to use whatever "cleverness" he can to receive the blessings. He was about to make statements which could be viewed as lies. Yet, at the same moment he entreats Hashem to save him from, a deceitful tongue. Does this not seem slightly insincere? Where is the "emes" in the "ish emes" that Yaakov Avinu purported to personify?

Horav Gedalyah Shorr, zl, explains Yaakov Avinu's behavior in the following manner: The purpose of a nisayon, a trial from Hashem, is to help man attain perfection in his middos. A nisayon is successfully completed when one has finished the task, while demonstrating that no blemish exists in his character. Each of the Avos withstood nisyonos focusing on the individual middah which they exemplified. Avraham Avinu was tested in the area of chesed to see if his devotion to chesed was sincere to the point of self-sacrifice. He withstood the test. Yitzchak personified din, the middah of justice. He desired that others deal with him on the level of pure justice without the "buffer" of rachamim, mercy. Chazal tell us that Yitzchak demanded yesurim, severe pain, which he withstood without complaint.

Yaakov was tested in the middah of emes. Yaakov was to take the blessings from Yitzchak in a manner that was totally atypical for a man of his integrity. His mother assured him that he was behaving in a correct manner, that she was Divinely inspired to guide him in his endeavor. Yet, it was not "emesdik" to act in this manner. Yaakov feared that some of the sheker, falsehood, deceit that he would be obliged to use, would taint him. He entreated Hashem, "Ribono Shel Olam, help me that I do not become affected by the mirmah that I must use. Guide me out of the muck of falsehood and deliver me back safely to the solitude of emes."

This world is called the "almah d'shikra," the world of falsehood. Everything is imaginary; nothing is real. Falsehood surrounds us wherever we go. At times, we must resort to act with ormah - cleverness - in dealing with the yetzer hora or with reshaim in general. We pray that what we must do does not become a part of us, merely a tool which is necessary to utilize in order to maintain our spiritual position. We pray that we will derive no benefit from the use of continued cleverness -- and that it will leave no mark on us - whatsoever.


  1. How old was Yitzchak at the Akeidah?
  2. A) At what age did Eisav begin to act sinfully? B) When did this evil become apparent to everyone?
  3. Did Avraham Avinu observe the entire Torah including mitzvos d'rabanan?
  4. A) How old was Eisav when he married? B) Who else married at that age?
  5. During what time of the year did the episode of the blessings take place?
  6. Why did Yitzchak become blind in his old age?
  7. How did Rivkah know that Eisav planned to kill Yaakov after Yitzchak's death?
  8. Was Yishmael still alive when Eisav married his daughter, Machlas?


  1. 37 years old.
  2. A) 13 years old. B) 15 years old. Eisav rebelled secretly for two years before going "public" with his sinful behavior.
  3. Yes.
  4. A) 40 years old. B) Yitzchak Avinu.
  5. Pesach.
  6. Rashi cites three reasons for Yitzchak's blindness: 1) The smoke from the sacrifices which Eisav's wives offered to their idols affected him. 2) The tears of the angels fell into his eyes as he lay on the Akeidah. 3) It was necessary for Yaakov to receive the blessings instead of Eisav. The Midrash cites two more reasons: 4) It was retribution for accepting Eisav's bribe. 5) He was now confined to his home, where people could not point to him and say, "There goes the father of the wicked Eisav."
  7. She was told b'ruach ha'Kodesh.
  8. No. He died after her betrothal prior to their marriage.

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