After Eisav realized that he had lost the brochos intended for him, he indicated his desire to kill his brother Yaakov. (1) Rivka warned Yaakov that he should avoid confrontation and flee to her brother Lavan. (2)
To Yitzchak, Yaakov and Eisav’s father, she gave a completely different reason. She requested that Yaakov go back to her family to choose an appropriate wife.
It’s interesting that her two explanations were so dissimilar. To Yaakov, the immediate concern was safety; marriage would only be a secondary consideration and should not distract from the primary purpose. To Yitzchak, however, she did not want to mention the enmity between the brothers. Yitzchak could answer that Eisav’s hatred of Yaakov was her fault. (3) (Also see footnote 1– Yitzchak’s hearing of the hatred would greatly upset him and possibly endanger his life). Additionally, the Ohr Hachaim writes that to tell Yitzchak of Eisav’s plans would constitute rechilus — forbidden gossip.
Rivka concluded her argument to Yaakov by saying, “Why should I be bereaved of both of you on the same day?” (4) The early commentaries understood her concern that they should not both be killed. If Yaakov would kill Eisav, Eisav’s children would kill Yaakov in revenge (Rashi). If Eisav would kill Yaakov, Yaakov’s offspring would perform the mitzva of the ‘Goel Hadom’ and kill Eisav in return (Rashbam). The Ibn Ezra suggests that Yaakov and Eisav might kill each other. (5)
Even though the Torah says, “If one is coming to kill you — kill him first,” (6) Rivka was concerned that confrontation would lead to further death.
In parshas Vayishlach, Yaakov returns to meet Eisav. Hearing that Eisav is approaching with four hundred men, Yaakov is very afraid. (7) Rashi explains Yaakov’s fear: “Perhaps Yaakov would kill, perhaps he would be killed.”
This is difficult to understand. Regarding the “Rodef” (someone pursuing with intent to murder), the Torah gives permission to kill, if necessary. (8) Besides, this was war — and the Torah does not forbid fighting a defensive war.
Rather — writes the Chochma V’daas (pp. 398-399) — it is not actually a mitzva to kill the pursuer. Permission is granted if necessary, but if unnecessary, killing the pursuer may be considered murder. Therefore Yaakov was very wary of any involvement.
Chochma V’daas gives examples of similar ideas. Although the Torah forbids hatred of a fellow Jew, It is permissible to hate evildoers (Pesachim 113b). Where the verse says to help the one you hate, (9) it must be referring to an evildoer (whom it is permissible to hate.) (10)
Tosafos says more. Sometimes we are required to help someone we hate, and we must do so prior to helping our friend. (11) Tosafos writes (12) that this, too, is discussing an evildoer, whom it was permissible to hate… Even though we are allowed to hate him, we are bidden to help, and to help him before we help our friends! (13) Why would Tosafos write something like this?
The reason, writes the Chochma V’daas, is that there is a suspicion that the hatred is not just because it is permissible, but that the evil inclination takes over for personal reasons. Where there is a mitzva to hate, one’s intention must be completely pure. (14)
1. “Eisav said in his heart: ‘The days of mourning for my father are approaching; I will kill Yaakov.'” (Bereishis 27:41). Rashi explains that Eisav did not want to kill Yaakov during Yitzchak’s life, out of respect for his father. The Baalei Tosafos explain that the realization that Eisav wanted to kill Yaakov would so upset their father, that it could bring on his death.
2. Ibid., 27:42-45.
3. Me’am Lo’ez.
4. Bereishis 27:45
5. Another possibility is that “both of you” is referring to Yaakov and Yitzchak (i.e., father and son). Eisav had said that after Yitzchak’s death, he (Eisav), would kill Yaakov. She was concerned about losing her husband and son on the same day (Peirush Hatur Ha’aruch).
6. See for example, Sanhedrin 72a; Rashi, Shmos, 22:1.
7. Bereishis 32:6-7
8. Sanhedrin 73a
9. Shmos 23:5
10. Pesachim 113b
11. Bava Metzia 32b
12. Tosafos, Pesachim 32b.
13. [The halacha does not actually go this far; Tosafos explains differently elsewhere. See Ahavas Chesed, part 1, ch 4, halacha 3]. Also, see Chazon Ish (Even Ha’ezer 118:6) in the name of the Maginisa Tova (in back of Ahavas Chesed, os 17) : In our days it is forbidden to hate evildoers. See the explanation there.
14. The Meshech Chochma writes similarly in parshas Ki Seitzei. See Ha’aros — Acharei Kedoshim, 5780