What was the sin of Yaakov that exposed him to the danger of doing battle with
the angel of Eisav?
Why was Yaakov wounded in his battle with the angel of Eisav?
Why was he wounded in his thigh?
What was so important about the battle and Yaakov's wound that G-d
immortalized them by prohibiting the eating of the "Gid hanashe?"
The Talmud says, "It is a Halacha - a law of nature that Eisav hates Yaakov."
The term "Halacha" indicates that Eisav's hatred for Yaakov should be viewed
as a given, and as the children of Yaakov it is our obligation to incorporate
that "fact" into our lifestyle. The Talmud's statement is also written in
the present tense rather than the past tense. Therefore, it must be
referring to a contemporary reality that is far beyond the ancient rivalry of
Why does Eisav hate Yaakov, and how does that impact us as Jews? How does
Eisav's hatred affect our relationship with the non-Jewish world?
Why does the Talmudic dictum use the name "Yaakov" rather than the name
"Yisroel?" It would seem that Eisav's hatred would have been far greater
after Yaakov had bested his angel than before. Therefore, it should say, 'It
is a Halacha that Eisav hates Yisroel."
Furthermore, what does Eisav hate about Yaakov and how does that hatred
manifest itself? It must be because of the main item that differentiates him
from Yaakov must motivate Eisav's hatred for Yaakov. What is that one
From the very first description of Yaakov and Eisav the Torah states that
Yaakov devoted himself to ""dwelling in the tent," while Eisav was a "man of
the field." Yaakov loved to study while Eisav hunted and explored. The main
difference between Yaakov and Eisav was that Yaakov loved to study Torah and
Eisav wanted nothing to do with the study of Torah. Therefore, Eisav must
have hated Yaakov because Yaakov studied Torah.
Likewise, we can extend Eisav's hatred for Yaakov into the present. Eisav,
representing the enemies of the Jews, hates Yaakov, representing the Jews,
because the Jews were entrusted with studying the Torah and keeping the 613
If the Torah is what separates the Jews from the other nations, and the other
nations "hate" us for that difference, then it makes sense to conclude that
so long as we study the Torah G-d will protect us from their hatred.
A quick study of history bears out this conclusion. Throughout our long
history, we have been subject to the greatest persecution at times when the
Jews attempted to be like the other nations and assimilate into secular
culture. The world has always resented us for who we are. However, so long
as we were proud of being the Chosen People the world also respected us for
who we are. Once we gave up the Torah that makes us chosen, their hatred
became overt and destructive.
Logic would suggest otherwise. Logic suggests that people hate each other
because they are different from each other. The source of bigotry and
intolerance is perceived differences. Therefore, logic suggests that the
degree to which the Jew remained different and apart from society would be
the degree to which Eisav would hate and persecute him. Yet, in relation to
us, Eisav's behavior is the opposite! The more we attempt to be like Eisav
the greater his hatred. The more we are proud to be different, the more we
are protected from his hatred.
After Eisav discovered that Yaakov had successfully "stolen" his intended
blessing, Eisav proclaimed, "he took away my birthright and see, now he took
away my blessing!" (27:36). Later it says, "Eisav hated Yaakov because of
the blessing which his father had blessed him (Yaakov)" (27.41). Why did
Eisav's hatred result more from the stealing of the blessing than by Yaakov's
purchase of the birthright?
The Halacha that "Eisav hated Yaakov", means the following. Eisav hated
Yaakov because Yaakov bought the birthright and then took his intended
blessing. The birthright and the blessings were a package deal. The
birthright was the responsibility of leading the world toward greater
recognition and service of G-d. The blessing that Yaakov "stole" from
Eisav was the potential to acquire material wealth for the purpose of
leading the world in recognition and service of G-d. However, Eisav wanted
to lead the world with out being responsible for its
spirituality. Therefore, he sold his birthright, the responsibility, to
Yaakov. At the same time, his intentions were to retain the material
wealth and world leadership. However, Eisav did not realize that the one
who had the responsibility would eventually become the leader.
After Yitzchak gave his blessing to Yaakov, Eisav begged his father for
another blessing. Yitzchak blessed Eisav with what seemed to be exactly what
Eisav wanted. "The fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and by the
sword you shall live": (27:39-40). Material wealth and power! However, it
became clear that the blessing was conditional. "True, you will have power
and material wealth, but you will not lead the world. In fact, so long as
Yaakov learns Torah and keeps the mitzvos you will be subservient to Yaakov.
The only time you will have world dominance and leadership is if Yaakov does
not learn Torah and does not keep the mitzvos." (see Rashi, 27:40).
It is the very next verse that says, "Now Eisav harbored hatred toward Yaakov
because of the blessing" (27:41). The reason why Eisav hated Yaakov was
because Yaakov had both the Torah and the leadership role. However, so long
as the Jews keep the Torah, no matter how much our enemies hate us, we are
protected and they leave us alone. As soon as Yaakov stops keeping the Torah,
Eisav is able to dominate and express his hatred. Therefore, the more we
assimilate the greater the persecution. The less we assimilate, the less the
The Talmud in Megilah (3a) explains the story of Yehoshua's encounter with an
angel the night before the battle for Yericho. The Navi relates that as the
Jews prepared for the first battle to take Eretz Yisroel, Yehoshua was busy
inspecting and encouraging the troops. During his rounds, he encountered a
"stranger" who confronted him. The Navi then reveals that the stranger was
an angel who had been sent to criticize Yehoshua for having not studied Torah
that night. Usually Yehoshua spent his nights learning and teaching Torah.
However, because of the obvious preparations, Yehoshua had suspended his
regular schedule of study. The Talmud explains that Yehoshua immediately
returned to his regular schedule and spent the night studying and teaching
We can conclude from this talmudic passage that the study of Torah is far
more important than just the means toward the end of doing mitzvos.
Obviously, the study of Torah is essential to know how to be and how to
behave. However, the study of Torah has an intrinsic value that stands on
Rashi 32:8 references the Medresh Tanchumah that analyzes Yaakov's preparation
for his encounter with Eisav. The Medresh points out that in anticipation of
armed conflict Yaakov split the camp and divided his forces. Hoping to avoid
armed conflict, Yaakov sent Eisav presents and tribute. His third strategy
was to pray to G-d and ask for His help. The first two were clearly
predicated on the third.
However, based upon the talmudic passage in Megilah, there should have been a
fourth component in Yaakov's overall strategy. Where was the study of Torah?
I would like to suggest that because Yaakov had not studied Torah in
preparation for his confrontation with Eisav, he exposed himself to the
dangers of the angel of Eisav. Remember, it is the study of Torah that sets
Yaakov apart from Eisav, and it is the study of Torah that protects Yaakov
from Eisav! Furthermore, the fact that during the battle Yaakov was
wounded on his thigh is because he had not studied Torah in preparation for
The Talmud in Shabbos records the famous conversation between Hillel and the
Convert. The Convert asked to be taught the entire Torah while standing on
one leg. Hillel proceeded to do so and told the Convert, "What is hateful to
you do not do to your friend. The rest of the Torah is an explanation of
that concept. Go and study."
The conversation was not about standing on one leg. The Convert's unusual
request was directed at understanding the focus of Torah and Judaism. Hillel
explained to the Convert that the greatest expression of service to G-d
should be manifest in our social relationships. The rest of the Torah is the
means toward understanding how to be and how to behave.
The "one leg" that the Convert was standing on when Hillel taught him Torah
was the overt and active Torah of mitzvos; the Torah of social interaction
and personal behavior. The "other leg" which the Convert needed to still
attain was the study of Torah.
Often students justifiably wonder why they have to study seemingly
non-contemporary or practical laws. The reason we teach more than just the
practical is because Torah is a system whose individual components are both
inherently and systemically valuable. Each component is important by itself
as well as necessary for the viability of the entire Torah.
Yaakov should have studied in preparation for his encounter with Eisav.
Because he did not study, the angel of Eisav was able to attack him. At the
end of the battle, the angel wounded one of Yaakov's legs. G-d was
emphasizing to Yaakov that his greatest protection from Eisav's hatred is the
one leg of "the study of Torah." Therefore, for generations to come G-d
commanded that we not eat the sciatic nerve as a reminder that the very thing
that sets us apart from Eisav, the study of Torah, is our greatest protection
The reason why the Talmudic dictum, "It is a Halacha that Eisav hates Yaakov"
uses the name Yaakov, rather than Yisroel is because the name Yisroel came
after the battle. Yaakov was victorious against Eisav's angel. That means
that in the end, Eisav will accept Yaakov's primacy and leadership. However,
that will only happen at the time of Mashiach. Before that time, Eisav will
continue to hate "Yaakov". Eisav will refuse to accept Yaakov's true
leadership role as "Yisroel". So long as Eisav does not accept the
appointment of Yaakov as first-born and world leader, the Jews remain Yaakov.
As soon as Eisav accepts Yaakov as first-born and leader his hatred toward
Yaakov will dissipate and he will embrace us as "Yisroel".