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Posted on November 22, 2006 (5767) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape #525, Maris Ayin. Good Shabbos!

How Can The Oath of the Heretic Eisav Be Believed?

Chazal say that on the day Eisav sold his birthright to Yaakov, he had transgressed five other severe sins. One of these five sins was being “kofer b’Ikar”. [He denied G-d’s existence.] This is derived from his words “Behold I am headed to death, of what value is the birthright to me? (lamah ZEH li bechora)” [Bereishis 25:32]. The word ‘ZEH’ [this] has a special connotation, which is alluded to by the pasuk [verse] in the Song at the Sea: “ZEH Keli, v’Anvheu [THIS is my G-d and I will glorify Him]” [Shemos 15:2]. It alludes to the Almighty.

In affect, when Eisav said “Lamah ZEH li…” he was asking, “Who needs G-d, anyway?”

I saw an interesting insight from Rabbi Avigdor Nevensahl. In the very next pasuk, Yaakov demands an oath from Eisav that the deal will be binding. However, what is an oath? An oath means that one swears to G-d. If Eisav was a “kofer b’Ikar” who denied the existence of G-d, of what value would his oath be? Yaakov would certainly not have accepted an oath in the name of Avodah Zarah [idols], nor would he have accepted a perfunctory verbal statement with nothing behind it. Apparently, when the pasuk says [25:33] “and he swore to him” and Yaakov accepted the oath, Eisav swore to G-d and Yaakov felt he meant it.

How do we reconcile this with the statement that Eisav became a “kofer b’Ikar” on that day.

The Alter from Slabodka makes an interesting observation. The Torah says that Yitzchak loved Eisav because “tzayid b’piv” [usually translated ‘venison was in his mouth’ – meaning that Yitzchak had a predisposition for meat, which Eisav the hunter satisfied]. Rashi, however, quotes the famous Medrash that “tzayid b’piv” refers to Eisav, not Yitzchak, and it indicates that Eisav “trapped” Yitzchak so to speak with his disingenuous comments and questions. He would, for example, ask his father the correct way to tithe salt and straw (items which do not need to be tithed).

The Alter from Slabodka says that Eisav was not asking these questions to ‘fake out’ his father. He really meant it! At that moment, he was in fact righteous. His problem was that he could not make up his mind. He vacillated between being a Tzadik and a Rasha. One moment he could ask a question indicating great piety and sincerity. The next minute — if his passion so moved him — he could commit any of the most hideous crimes.

This is the difference between a Tzadik and a Rasha. A Tzadik is consistent. There will always be tests, trials and tribulations, in life. There are always things that come up. The righteous person stays the course. Eisav, because of his wickedness was fickle. He could change from minute to minute. He could ask his father how to tithe salt and then turn around and rape a betrothed maiden.

The pasuk in Mishlei [10:20] says, “Lev Reshaim Kim’at” – “the heart of the wicked can change quickly” Mishlei [10:20]. Similarly in Sefer Yeshaya, the wicked are compared to a wave. We look at the ocean and see a wave. One moment it is six feet tall, a few minutes later it will be flat as a board. The wicked are like waves. They can be one way one minute and the other way the next minute.

One minute Eisav said (when he needed the bowl of soup, when he had to satiate his desire), “Of what value is the birthright to me?” – I don’t need the Almighty. Two pasukim [verses] later he swore in the Name of G-d and mean it wholeheartedly. That is the nature of the wicked — driven by the whim of the moment.

Rav Baruch Sorotzkin references a Talmud Yerushalmi in Nedarim [38a]: “In the future the wicked Eisav will wrap himself in a tallis and sit together with the righteous in Gan Eden. But G-d will yell at him and kick him out.”

The standard interpretation of this passage is that Eisav never stopped being a faker. Even in Gan Eden and he still thinks he can fake everyone out like he faked out his father. Rav Baruch Sorotzkin understands it differently. This is the same Eisav, but he thinks he belongs in Gan Eden. He has these moments of righteousness in which he is convinced that he belongs in Gan Eden. That does not stop him from turning around a moment later to become a total heretic (kofer b’ikar).

That is the difference between a Tzadik and a Rasha.

Eisav’s Distinguishing Character Trait: Cynicism

The pasuk states: “And Yakaov gave Eisav bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, got up and left; thus, Eisav spurned the birthright.” [Bereishis 25:34] Eisav sold Yaakov the birthright for a bowl of soup. He got up and walked away from it. He scoffed at the value of the birthright.

Rashi comments that this action testifies to Eisav’s wickedness, for he scorned the Service of the Almighty. The Sifsei Chachomim points out that this comment of Rashi comes to answer a question. The question is “Why does the Torah need to tell me ‘Vayivez Eisav es haBechora’ [that Eisav scorned the birthright]?” It should be obvious to anyone who reads the pasukim that Eisav scorned the birthright! Rashi states that the Torah wanted to explicitly “put it on the record” that Eisav in fact scorned the birthright.

I saw a comment from Rav Hutner, zt”l, in his Pachad Yitzchak on Purim. The pasuk ‘Vayivez Eisav es haBechora’ is a fundamental pasuk. It has to do with Jewish history throughout our existence. The Torah is teaching that Eisav’s sin was not that he sold the soup for the birthright. That was a stupid mistake, but that was not the sin. The sin was that he scorned and scoffed at the birthright. The cynicism he exhibited to anything having to do with the Service of G-d was his primary crime.

“All these things Yaakov told me about the duties of the first born are not worth a bowl of soup. I’m getting the better of the deal!” He exhibited a quality that is among the worst traits that a person can have – the ability to take that which is important and sacred and noble and to say it is worth nothing. This is Eisav’s sin and this is Eisav’s distinguishing character trait.

The reason this is so fundamental is because Eisav had a descendant that played a significant role in Jewish history — then and in the time of Moshe Rabbeinu and in the time of Shaul and up until even our days. That descendant is Amalek. The distinguishing character trait of Amalek that he inherited from his grandfather Eisav is this ability to look at something that is holy and good and to say it is not worth anything.

Klal Yisrael came out of Egypt. “Nations heard about it and trembled. Panic took hold of the inhabitants of Pelashes” [Shemos 15:14]. This is one of the most outstanding events in the history of the world. It made an impression on the whole world. “Look at G-d! Look at his people!” This was a revolutionary moment in the global perception of Divine Providence.

There was one nation however that came along with that same scorn and derision, the same tendency to nullify that which is sacred and unique. They said “this is nothing!”

“And Amalek came and they did battle with Israel.” [Shemos 17:8] Chazal say that they were burnt. They suffered from it. But — “asher karcha ba’derech” (literally “they cooled you off on the road”). They took the effect of the Exodus and they ruined it! With his scorn and derision and nullification, he ruined it for the whole world. Before Amalek, no one wanted to start up with Klal Yisrael. Everyone recognized “The Great Hand” that the Almighty acted out in Egypt. The sanctification of G-d’s Name was awesome!

It takes only one idiot to come along and say “Agh! This is nothing but nothing to get excited about.” This is a characteristic that exists potentially in all of us. It is the trait whereby we can hear words of inspiration or we can witness near miraculous events that impresses everyone — everyone, except for that one guy in the crowd who says “Agh!” One nay-sayer pushes away one thousand expressions of chastisement.

That is why the Almighty has this eternal battle with Amalek. That is why Amalek has to be eradicated and wiped out. My Throne cannot be complete until Amalek is eradicated. As long as Amalek survives there will always be someone who says “Agh! This is nothing!”

Where did this originate? It originated with the sin spelled out in this week’s parsha. “And Eisav scoffed at the birthright.” This crime resounds throughout all generations in his descendant Amalek.

This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Toldos Sarah are provided below:

Tape # 031 – Marriage Between Relatives
Tape # 073 – Non-Kosher Medicines and the Birchas Hareiach (Scents)
Tape # 122 – G’neivas Da’as: Deception and Your Fellow Man
Tape # 169 – The Blind Person in Halacha
Tape # 215 – V’sain Tal U’matar
Tape # 259 – “Sorfin Al Hachzakos”: The Concept of Chazaka in Halacha
Tape # 305 – The Bracha of “Baruch Sheptarani”
Tape # 349 – Must Mincha Have a “Chazoras Hashatz”?
Tape # 393 – Neitz Hachama vs. Tefilah B’tzibur
Tape # 437 – Accepting Tzedaka from Women
Tape # 481 – Lying to Keep What’s Yours
Tape # 525 – Maris Ayin
Tape # 569 – Yichud With Relatives
Tape # 613 – Shiva and the Wayward Son
Ta[e # 658 = Fascinating Insights into the Tefilah of Mincha

Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and

Transcribed by David Twersky; Seattle, Washington.
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Yerushalayim.