This week’s Torah portion begins and ends by contrasting the bedrock values that defined the fundamental differences between Yaakov and Esav. The Torah sums up their radically divergent personalities as evidenced from their earliest years: Yaakov chose to be an Ish Ohalim, “a man of the tent,” whose primary pursuit was the fulfillment of Hashem’s will, whereas Eisav was a man of the field, a hunter who sough out power and dominion.
Throughout the parsha, we see how the two brothers were case studies in opposites: Yaakov was a person with a gentle and sensitive nature, Eisav gloried in being tough and coarse. The jealousy and anger that Eisav harbored toward his brother stands in stark contrast to Yaakov’s forgiving and non-combative nature. Towards the end of the Torah portion, another fundamental difference between the brothers surface-their utterly different ways of dealing with life’s challenges and setbacks.
Eisav is angry and disillusioned at having been by-passed when Yitzchok bestowed on Yaakov the Divine blessings of material success and prosperity. His brother had usurped him and gained for himself these precious blessings that Eisav felt should be rightfully his. The Torah describes how Eisav went on the warpath, and would have killed Yaakov were it not for the anguish this would have brought to his parents. Instead he vented his extreme disappointment by rationalizing that it was through no fault of his own but rather the fault of his idol worshipping wives that he had not been granted the blessings by his father.
The parsha relates that in line with this rationalization, Eisav took a third wife, Bosmas, the daughter of Ishmael. The commentaries shed light on his thinking. “By marrying someone from my father’s family, a daughter of Ishmael,” he reasoned, “I’ll surely regain my position of authority in the family, and will once again be able to ingratiate myself to my father.”
Let us contrast his behavior with the response of Abraham after the Akeidah. HaShem tests Avraham with the most demanding challenge possible. He instructs Avraham to slaughter his own beloved son, the son who guaranteed his legacy would be perpetuated for future generations. Unflinchingly, Avraham takes his son on this fateful journey, leading him to Mount Moriah, where he will carry out Hashem’s command. With unfaltering step, he prepares to carry out his mission. Although the angel intercedes before the act can be carried out, and tells him it was simply a test that he passed with flying colors, Avraham is not at peace.
His desire to give away his most precious possession to G-d needed physical expression. He poured this consuming desire into the sacrifice of the lamb that he found nearby. The Heavenly voice then proclaimed that through the merit of this unparalleled act of devotion to G-d, Avraham secured for himself and his future generations an outpouring of Divine blessing; eternal possession of the land of Israel and the promise of descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens.
One might expect Avraham to leave the site of the Akeidah full of satisfaction at having behaved so nobly. Yet we learn from the commentaries that he felt far from complacent. “Perhaps I could have done something different so that HaShem would have allowed me to sacrifice Isaac,” he wondered. “Perhaps I could have married him off at a younger age in which case he would have already had children, and HaShem would have allowed me to carry out the Akeidah literally, not figuratively.” The Torah tells us that immediately after this episode, Avraham was told that Rivka, Isaac’s designated bride to be, had just been born. He was thus mollified.
Avraham’s reaction to the challenge of the Akeida throws the differences in character between him and Eisav into bold relief. The name “Esav” stems from the word “ah’suy,” which means “finished, perfect,” for the wicked feel they are perfect products, never in need of improvement or change. They will never accept responsibility for their own shortcomings and are expert at shifting the blame to others. The righteous, by contrast, are always willing to self-reflect, to try to pinpoint where and how they could have behaved better.
That message is one from which we can all benefit. Only when we can admit our weaknesses, and exhibit the strength of character to work on improving ourselves will we be able to grow spiritually to the point of realizing our own spiritual destiny.
Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos!
Rabbi Naftali Reich. Text Copyright © 2012 by Rabbi Naftali Reich and Torah.org.
Rabbi Reich is on the faculty of the Ohr Somayach Tanenbaum Education Center.