Two different brothers. Two different attitudes. Two different worlds.
This week we learn about Yaakov and Esav, two brothers whose demeanors and
attitudes toward life were as different as their physical make-up. Esav
was hairy, Yaakov was smooth. And while Yaakov sat in the tent and studied
Esav hunted. As different as they were, there was one similarity. Both
brothers had name changes. The circumstances that led to the name changes
were quite different for each brother. In two weeks, we will read that
Yaakov had a fierce battle with no less a being then an angel. He was
badly injured but he endured. And the angel changed his name. "No longer
shall your name be Yaakov, declared the angel, "it shall be Yisrael, a word
that interprets, "you fought with man and angels and you won" (Genesis 32:29).
This week we read about Esav's name change. He enters his home (after
Avraham's funeral) exhausted. He sees his younger brother preparing a red
lentil soup and shouts to him. "Give me some of that very red stuff!" And
then the Torah testifies, "therefore his name was called, 'Edom Red'
(Genesis 25:30). Red it's the name given to the blood-hungry wild man we
know as Edom.
It is quite disconcerting. Each brother had a name change. But Yaakov had
to have his hip dislocated, he had to battle an angel. All Esav had to do
was slurp some soup, and he acquired a demeaning name for eternity. Is
In the years during the Revolutionary War, the fledgling colonial court
system was in chaos. A judge in Bedford County, Virginia, took charge of
law and order in his town by presiding over an unofficial court. According
to all records, he was not only fair and reasonable meting fines and
occasional whippings, he was merciful too. He did, however, deal one death
sentence which, upon review in 1782 by the state government, was considered
justified because of the looming danger during the war.
But that one death sentence earned the judge a place of notoriety. The
otherwise merciful judge would never have known that the word that defines
the vicious and despotic act of mob execution would be named for him.
Judge Charles Lynch may have thought twice if he knew that 5,000 people,
spanning the 1800s through the modern era, were executed in a manner that
was named for his one deed the lynch mob.
The Chofetz Chaim used to contrast acts of distinction and those of
notoriety. In order for Yaakov's name to be changed to Yisrael, He had to
struggle with Esav. He had to outsmart the cunning Lavan. And ultimately
he had to battle and defeat an angel. To earn a notorious name, however,
all one must do is one reckless action. It's a lesson for life. Back in
the 1980s, Raymond Donovan, Labor Secretary in the Reagan Administration
was exonerated on charges of connections to organnized crime. After months
of hearings, hours of testimony in various rooms in the Congressional
Houses, he was vindicated. Before leaving the committee hearings, he
sarcastically asked the panel, "Which room do I go to get my good
The Torah tells us that with one slurp of the soup Esav got a new name. It
was not his hunting. It was not his wildness. It was not even the flaming
color of his hair. It was his wild table manners and his animalistic quest
for the red soup, in which he was willing to give up his birthright. It
was that big gulp that earned him his reputation. And Esav went ... from soup