The frightening thing about the struggle between Eisav and Yaakov is its
apparently doomed inevitability. While yet in the womb of their mother
Rivkah, they already find themselves opposed to one another. They are not
only two different personalities, physically, emotionally and
intellectually, but they represent two diametrically opposed worldviews.
The only question that remains is therefore one of accommodating one
If the Lord created them so differently, their freedom of choice in life
is centered on how they will deal one with another. And in that respect,
the question of accommodation – of the relationship between the Jewish
people and the broader, more numerous and powerful non-Jewish world -
remains alive and relevant until our very day.
Eisav varies and wavers in his attitude towards Yaakov. Hatred, jealousy,
scapegoating frustration are all present in certain aspects of his
behavior patterns towards Yaakov. And yet there is also a grudging
admiration and attempts at reconciliation on the part of Eisav. Yaakov is
portrayed as reactive towards Eisav, of a more passive nature, of
patiently attempting to wait out the situation and hope that Eisav will
calm down and reconcile himself to Yaakov’s right of existence - in what
Eisav considers to be his exclusive world.
And, therefore. the question arises – in reality the question of all of
the ages – is there room in the world, especially our rapidly shrinking
world, for Yaakov and Eisav to coexist peacefully. One would hope so,
though history belies this optimistic view of the rivalry between the
The Torah itself is pretty much noncommittal about the causes for the true
source of Eisav’s hatred of Yaakov. Even though Yaakov’s purchase of the
birthright and his subsequent preempting of his father’s blessings are
ostensibly the cause of Eisav’s displeasure with Yaakov, these are only
superficials. For the hatred was there from the beginning, from the moment
of their conception, even though no incidents between them had as yet
The Torah just seems to take it for granted that this is the way it is
going to be. And this accounts to a great degree for the almost
traditional Jewish attitude of fatalism regarding the behavior of the non-
Jewish world towards the Jews. Rabi Shimon ben Yochai stated in the Talmud
that it is a given rule that Eisav hates Yaakov. However, there are other
opinions there in the Talmud that take a different tack and belie this
inevitability of hatred and violence.
After the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, Jews felt that perhaps
Eisav had finally reformed and had seen the evil of the ways of hatred and
bigotry. Almost seventy years later we are not so certain about this
hopefully sanguine view of Eisav’s reconciliation with Yaakov. Though we
are certainly less accepting and passive about the situation now than we
were a century ago, nevertheless there are relatively few options left to
us as how to deal with the matter.
We should minimize whatever frictions possible but realize that we are
dealing with a millennia-old problem that cannot be just wished away or
papered over. Faith and fortitude in our own self-worth are the strongest
weapons in our arsenal to bring Eisav to reconciliation and harmony.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com