Parashas Toldos – The Born Identity?

This week we have the mighty Parashas Toldos in which the next generation in our genealogy is introduced in the Torah. Given over in this week's sedra are the events surrounding the birth of Yaakov and Esav which include the initial description of Rivka's barrenness and the consequent short account of the successful praying which led to her pregnancy. We then see how Rivka was told by Hashem some incredible prophetic details that “two nations are in your womb” and that “the elder shall serve the younger” [both 25:23]. The famous birth of Yaakov and Esav is then presented with the Torah describing how Esav was born both red and hairy and that Yaakov “emerged with his hand grasping on to the heel of Esav” [25:26]. We then see how the two sons grew up with Esav being described as an “איש שדה/ish sadeh”, a man of the field, and Yaakov an “איש תם/ish tam”, a wholesome man, who was said to abide in tents... which Rashi teaches us , implies that he spent all his time in the study tents of Shem and Eber. The first perek of this extensive sedra concludes with the story of Esav selling his birthright to Yaakov, whereby the Torah specifically states how Esav ignorantly said “I am going to die (eventually), so of what use to me is a birthright” [25:32]. The Torah also importantly reports here how Esav swore and sold his birthright to Yaakov and thus “Esav spurned his birthright” [25:34]. The sedra then moves on to tell us that “there was a famine in the land” [26:1] where we see Yitzhak face a repetition of the experiences of Avraham whereby he was forced to leave his home due to these dire circumstances. As mentioned in a previous Dvar Torah, this is in line with the famous principle that the events which were experienced by the Patriarchs were almost prophetic representations of the future history of their descendants... So just as we saw Avraham have to claim that Sarah, his wife, was in fact his sister to avoid the threat of being killed due to her astounding beauty, so too we see by Yitzhak in Gerar, his claims that Rivka, his wife, is in fact his sister, to avoid the same fate. The Torah then gives over the exposure of this plot through the 'peeping-tom' Avimelech who discovers the truth. The rest of this middle perek deals with the success and subsequent dislike of Yitzhak in Gerar as he endures jealousy and disputes in these alien surroundings. Parashas Toldos moves on to give over the very precarious account of how Rivka schemed a plot with Yaakov in order to deceive the first blessing from Yitzhak. This long account of how Yaakov used goats skin in order to replicate the hairy nature of Esav to the then blind Yitzhak is followed by Esav's reaction, which is naturally quite angry with the Torah specifically outlining how “Esav harboured hared towards Yaakov” and how he thought to “kill (his) brother Yaakov” [both 27:41]. Yaakov therefore flees to his uncle, Lavan in Charan, to escape the wrath of his brother. This week's very eventful sedra finally concludes with the abomination against marrying a Canaanite woman which Yitzhak instructs upon his sons. Parashas Toldos finishes with the decision of Esav to instead take a wife from the daughters of Yishmael... which he does in addition to his other two Hittite wives, which Rashi informs us were evil and immoral idolaters.

With so much to talk about, the sedra seems to begin with redundant words, stating that “...these are the offspring of Yitzhak son of Avraham – Avraham begot Yitzhak” [25:19]. The mefarshim question here why the Torah needs to remind us that Yitzhak was the son of Avraham, surely that was made quite clear in last week's sedra anyway? They answer given is that we need to remember that Sarah was barren until a very late age and then miraculously bore a son... but this was coincidently following her abduction by king Avimelech. Rashi teaches, along this line on logic,that the cynics of that generation were saying that Sarah was made pregnant by Avimelech, even though we know he did not approach her [20:4]. The Torah therefore cuts short this argument before we even begin to discuss the next generation, stating that “אברהם הוליד את־יצחק/it was indeed Avraham who begot Yitzhak”! It is also taught in a Midrash that Hashem made Yitzhak look identical to Avraham so that he would been seen,undeniably as his son. As holy as Yitzhak was, he bore the evil Esav and the Torah seems to pre-warn us of this by exerting effort through its description of Rivka's background, reminding us that she was “daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddam Aram, (and) sister of Lavan the Aramean” [25:20]. We therefore see that Rivka certainly was the rose amongst thorns and it was therefore no accident that a person like Esav could have been produced with her unfortunately coming from such despicable crop. Rashi also sees this, however, as a praise to Rivka because although she was the daughter and sister of wicked men, and she was indeed surrounded by immorality in Aram, she did not emulate their evil ways and instead remained holy.

It is no secret that Esav was a big rasha, in fact his descendants, Amalek, have been the bane of the Jewish nations existence throughout time, but how did this happen? Was he born this way? As mentioned in the summary above, this week's sedra gives over the account of the birth of Esav and Yaakov, and from this account of Esav's first breaths in the world we can learn a huge amount about this intriguing character. In fact before the two brothers were even born we see from a famous Midrash that, when Rivka passed the Torah academy of Shem and Eber, Yaakov would kick inside her and try to fight towards it and when she passed a temple of idol worship, Esav would kick and struggle to come forth. This led to her inquiry which is recorded in the Torah where she is told that “two regimes from your insides shall be separated” [25:23]. The Torah informs us that Esav “emerged red, entirely like a hairy mantle, so they named him Esav” [25:24], according to Rashi the redness of his complexion portended his murderous nature, as we see Esav grew to be an “איש שדה/ish sadeh”, literally a man of the field... a hunter. We can also see how the name chosen for this little red monster was 'Esav' which means 'completely developed' because he emerged with as much hair as a child who was several years older than him. Beyond this basic observation of him being born 'physically developed' we see that his name and physical being was in fact a representation of his mindset as well, complete... he had an attitude where he was not willing to develop or achieve in life... according to this mentality he was the finished product afterall and therefore wouldn't need to learn from the ways of his holy ancestors, Avraham and Yitzhak. So an important question to ask is, were these negative traits inherent in Esav or did he develop them himself? As we see from the Midrash quoted above, before Esav was born, the Torah seems to imply that he had a very strong taiva for immorality, but can we therefore blame Esav for turning out the way he did, how could he have acted any differently if he was born this way? What must be remembered however is that no matter what cards you are dealt in life, we all have free will and must overcome our Yatsa Horra in whatever angle it rises up against us, to pursue avodas Hashem. The Ramchal teaches in Derech Hashem that the attributes which we have not personally chosen, such as how we are born or the environment we are born into, are our challenges in life and no matter what these are we must strive to overcome them and choose correctly in life regardless. It can be argued that Yaakov was born with an easier task, naturally inclined towards the spiritual, but this does not mean that Esav had to turn out the way he did due to his instinctive attraction to murder and immorality... it merely means that he had a more difficult task to direct these properties towards a positive outcome. It is taught that if someone holds a natural tendency to spill blood then he can actually use it positively and still be a tzaddik... for example becoming a shochet, mohel or even a doctor! No person is born with a decree that they will become a rasha, it is merely our challenge in life to use what we have and exert effort to our full ability in order to always be growing and making the correct decisions in life... you play your hand in life as best as you can! Esav had the perfect role model to learn from, who had remained holy in an environment of debauchery, his mother Rivka... but instead he was 'complete' in his mindset, with no will to grow or direct his taivers in a positive way. He wasn't dealt the easiest hand in life but he didn't even attempt to play it! This is why he ultimately became rasha.

May we all be successful in overcoming the challenges which have been put onto us and always choose our path correctly in life. Shabbat Shalom,

Daniel Sandground, (student at Ohr Somayach Yeshivah, Jerusalem)

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