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Shabbat Parashat Toldot 5774

Parashat Hashavua: Eisav, the Social Philosopher

Harav Shaul Yisraeli based on Siach Shaul, p. 88

[Editors note – Consider that Rav Yisraeli grew up in the early years of Communist Russia and that this sermon was delivered at the height of the Cold War and when socialism was strong in Israel.]

How could Eisav have succeeded in fooling his father to think he was worthy of blessings? Considering the strong indications that Eisav’s respect for his father was genuine, as was his regard for the power of Yitzchak’s blessings, it is surprising that we consider him such a wicked man. It also doesn’t seem to make sense that a son of Yitzchak and Rivka would be fully evil.

Eisav actually possessed elements of a fine person. The problem is that he attributed goodness to a person’s natural qualities and believed in the importance specifically of man’s behavior toward his fellow man. Eisav opposed mila (Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 29) because he believed that man was created complete (he, indeed, was born very developed). Part of this outlook gave him great regard for his father and also a philosophy of human equality, which was behind his exclamation, “Why do I need the birthright?!” (Bereishit 25:32). This philosophy found expression in his choice of profession – hunting. As Rashi points out, a hunter takes his livelihood from that which is not owned. He doesn’t have to be involved in commerce with others. Marxists list hunting as an economic form that is appropriate for social harmony. Agriculture is problematic socially, as servants work the fields for owners. Eisav wanted to be free of this and left his father’s fields, which were tainted by the existence of servants. He wanted to know how to give tithes on salt and straw, which do not require tithes, because he did not consider the Torah’s moral limitations as sufficient for social morality.

Because Yitzchak was impressed by Eisav’s intentions, although not his actions, Yitzchak thought he could bring Eisav along slowly. However, time proved that Eisav went quickly awry and violated five severe sins on the day he came back from the field tired (see Bava Batra 16b, regarding Bereishit 25:29). Eisav’s mistake was that one who arrives at philosophies without accepting the yoke of Hashem is liable to stray. Human noble intentions do not suffice.

Yitzchak tried to steer Eisav in the right direction and blessed him with a land with good agricultural conditions so he would not remain a hunter (ibid. 27:28). Yitzchak blessed him that he would be served by other nations (ibid. 29). In other words, hierarchy is alright. Even within the family, he could be a leader over his brother Yaakov. All he had to do was recognize “Hashem shall give you” (ibid. 28).

However, not only was Eisav wrong, but Yitzchak also had the wrong educational approach toward him. While it is important to “draw close with the right hand,” Yitzchak failed to “push away with the left hand.” While still caring about his father, Eisav also awaited the day when his father would die so that he could carry out his schemes (see ibid. 41). Morality divorced from Torah and intended to replace it brings moral destruction.

Yaakov was different. He was “one who sat in tents” (ibid. 25:27). He went from one yeshiva to another and did not rely on his good nature. He was self-critical and strove to learn from others. “Indeed, Eisav is a brother to Yaakov … I loved Yaakov and hated Eisav” (Malachi 1: 2-3).

 

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