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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Eisav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field. (25:27)

Eisav is not simply a rasha, wicked person, who performs his iniquity without a care in the world. He is not one to whom popular opinion means nothing. Chazal teach us that Eisav's nature is complex. Indeed, he wants to live a life of iniquity. On the other hand, he also wants everyone to accept and revere him. The Yerushalmi in Meseches Nedarim 8:3 says that in the future, Eisav ha'rasha will don a Tallis and seat himself together with the tzaddikim, righteous, in Gan Eden until Hashem drags him out of there. Chazal cite a pasuk in Ovadiah 1:4 which implies that Hashem will remove from his lofty perch the wicked man who raises himself as an eagle, making his nest high up among the stars. They interpret this pasuk as relating to Eisav and his desire to be accepted by the righteous.

We observe a new insight into the calibre of Eisav's chutzpah, an attitude that is prevalent among many of those who want to have their cake and eat it, too. They want to live a life of abandon. Yet, they still want to be respected and ask to sit among the righteous! Well, they had a suitable mentor - Eisav, the archetype of evil.

Returning to the Yerushalmi, we wonder how Eisav was allowed to enter Gan Eden. How did he get a "pass" to enter? Furthermore, once he is in, wrapped in his Tallis, ensconced between the righteous, is there no one who has the ability to evict him? Is it only Hashem bi'Kvodo u'be'Atzmo, in His exalted glory, who must personally drag Eisav from Gan Eden? Why is this?

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, explains that, indeed, this is the case, because this is Eisav's essence. Yes, the evil Eisav also has areas in which he demonstrates piety and righteousness. So great was his performance of the mitzvah of Kibbud Av v'Eim, Honoring Father and Mother, that the greatest Tannaim asserted they could not compete with Eisav in this area. This was not the only mitzvah in which he displayed exemplary conduct. He sought to follow in the traditions of his ancestors. Yitzchak married at the age of forty; so did Eisav. He wanted to be like his father - or, at least, that is the impression he gave.

Indeed, explains Rav Ezrachi, Eisav succeeded in putting on a great show. It was all, however, merely a show. He disguised himself as Yaakov, by wrapping himself with the Tallis, as well as by performing some of his virtuous activities. He talked the talk, and he even made it appear as if he was walking the walk, but it was a sham. When Yaakov presented himself to his father wearing Eisav's clothes, Yitzchak expressed the dilemma he was facing, "The voice is that of Yaakov; yet, the hands are those of Eisav." Ultimately, Yitzchak believed that it was Eisav who stood before him, because Yaakov could never have acted like Eisav, not even superficially. It was possible, in contrast, for Eisav to have presented himself with the kol, voice, of Yaakov.

Eisav's disguise as a tzaddik is exemplary. It is so good that he could even cheat his way into Gan Eden. He can fool everyone - except for Hashem. After all, he is Eisav. It is all a show. There is no truth, no integrity, to his virtue. Underneath the Tallis lies the evil Eisav. The evil has not changed. It has just been brilliantly concealed. Hashem knows Eisav's true personality and, therefore, yanks him out of Gan Eden. This is not a place for charlatans. The quality control is too exacting.

Yitzchak loved Eisav, because game was in his mouth. (25:28)

There is no question that Yitzchak Avinu, the Olah Temimah, Perfect Sacrifice, the Amud ho'Avodah, Pillar of Service to Hashem, was the paragon of virtue and pure piety. His total commitment to Hashem during the moments that he lay bound as a sacrifice during the Akeidas Yitzchak secured eternal atonement for Klal Yisrael. Every thought, every action, every movement was geared to, and focused on serving Hashem. Yet, we find that this great Patriarch loved Eisav, that he was prepared to grant him the eternal blessings that really should belong to Yaakov. How did it occur that Yitzchak loved such a murderer, idolater, individual who was the archetype of evil and everything reprehensible?

Horav Avigdor Halevi Nebenzhal, Shlita, explains that the answer lies in the Torah's words, ki tzayid b'fiv, "because game was in his mouth." The Torah teaches us that shochad, a bribe, an allurement, any form of gratuity, has an adverse effect on a person. In other words, once one has benefited in some manner from another person - accepted a gift or has been made to feel good - he is no longer able to be impartial to his beneficiary. Understandably, Yitzchak Avinu was not aware that Eisav's surreptitious behavior was having a detrimental effect on him. He was viewing Eisav in a totally different light than what others saw in him. Make no mistake, Yitzchak was not the kind of person who falls for the average person's charlatan behavior. Eisav, however, was not your average person. He was capable of putting on such an incredible show that even Yitzchak was swayed, his impugned neutrality.

Rav Nebenzhal explains how shochad functions, how it impedes a person's ability to think rationally. Chazal interpret the word shochad as an acronym for sh'ehu chad, they are one: the benefactor and the beneficiary are one because of the gift he has accepted. If this is the case, we understand why one who accepts a bribe can no longer see with clarity of vision. For now, he and his benefactor are one. A person naturally cares about himself and, by extension, those whom he considers to be a part of himself. Just as a person does not see his own shortcomings, he, likewise, cannot see the shortcomings of he who has bribed him. They are now one entity. Eisav used his guile to convince Yitzchak that he was deserving of the blessings. Yitzchak could not see through Eisav's convincing fa?ade because he and Eisav were now one. Just as Yitzchak was not able to see beyond himself, he could not see beyond the Eisav who presented himself before him. When you think about it, one who is bribed is in a more inferior position than one who cannot see. The individual who does not see is acutely aware of his limitations. Regrettably, the individual who is bribed thinks he has no limitations.

Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff… He, therefore, called his name Edom. (25:30)

Sforno explains that onlookers saw Eisav's total commitment to coarse, meaningless labor, not befitting a civilized man, to the extent that he was incapable of recognizing the lentils for what they represented. He only saw their color - red. Hence, called him Edom - red, which is to be understood as an imperative: "Be red by the pottage that you swallow." The name that he was given was derogatory in nature, a name which was more of a curse than an appellation. "If this is the life you want to lead, then you should be red like the stew you wish to swallow." The following story, narrated by Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, lends a deeper insight into Sforno's words.

Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, was known for carrying candies in his pocket to be handed out to children who either came to him for a blessing or took a bechinah, oral test, from him. The sweet candy was to impress upon the children the sweetness of Torah. Once, when Rav Matisyahu was with Rav Shach, the Rosh Yeshivah called over his grandson and offered him a candy from a large bag of candies. "You probably want the red one," commented Rav Shach to his grandson. Hearing this, Rav Matisyahu responded, "The rebbe is making him into an Eisav." Rav Shach's reply teaches us a lesson in chinuch, education, while it also gives us an insight into Eisav's character.

"You do not understand," Rav Shach explained. "Eisav acted like a child. A young child lives in the world of imagination, something which he is allowed to do - because of his tender age. The criticism against Eisav is that he had no business living in the olam ha'dimyon, world of imagination, the world of a child. Eisav has to live in the real world, the world of reality and truth. A mature person can no longer live a life filled with imagination. He must now use common sense and confront reality in its true nature, something Eisav refused to do. One who follows in this path, who takes the Eisav approach to life, cannot accept upon himself the concept of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. He is like a fool, gravitating to every foolish image which he or others conjure."

Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. (25:27)

The commentators interpret yoshaiv ohalim, abiding in tents, as a reference to the ohalah shel Torah, the tent of Torah learning, the bais ha'medrash. Yaakov Avinu's entire life revolved around Torah study. The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel goes a bit further when he says Tova ulpan min kadam Hashem, "he claimed/demanded Torah from Hashem." Horav Moshe Shapiro, Shlita, observes that the Targum Yonasan is teaching us a derech, method/manner, for Torah study. First, one must be tove'a, demand it, as if he cannot live without Torah. It is his lifeline, and he cannot let it go. Second, as the Torah writes, Yaakov was an ish, man, who was yoshaiv ohalim. His overwhelming desire to study was an integral component of his personality. It was part of his ishiyus; it defined his essence.

In addition to his inner desire to study Torah, a desire which characterized him, there was a third aspect to his Torah study which may be noted. Min kadam Hashem "[He demanded to study Torah] directly from Hashem." When Yaakov Avinu sat in front of his Gemara, he considered it as if he was sitting right in front of the Almighty. Indeed, this applies to anyone who studies Torah. At that moment, he is privileged to receive a personal Mattan Torah, Giving of the Torah, from Hashem.

In contrast, the Targum defines Eisav as the ish sadeh, man of the field, as a person who sought relaxation and free-time. One who seeks to involve himself with nothing, to squander away his time doing absolutely nothing, is slowly traveling on the road to becoming the ish sadeh personified by Eisav. We are put on this world for a purpose. To waste it with frivolous behavior, with dwindling away the precious time allotted to us by doing nothing, is to prepare oneself for the materialism and debauchery that characterized Eisav. A Jew is to toil in Torah and in spiritual endeavor. A vacation is for the purpose of rejuvenation of the spirit and the emotion. It avails one the opportunity for continued spiritual growth - something in which Eisav was not interested.

"Pour into me, now, some of the very red stuff for I am exhausted." (25:30)

Horav Moshe Shternbuch, Shlita, makes a powerful observation. Yaakov Avinu had been spending his life studying Torah, far removed from the materialistic world in which Eisav, his brother, lived and thrived. He lived simply, subsisting only on the very basic necessities. Eisav, on the other hand, lived off the fat of the land. He hunted and ate to his heart's content. Yet, we see how Hashem guides the world and the fortune of man. He designed the situation so that Eisav would be exhausted and so hungry that the only one to whom he could turn in his moment of need was none other than Yaakov! He was so beholden to Yaakov that he sold his birthright for a bowl of red lentils! This is how Hashem switches around the roles. Everything is suddenly topsy turvy. The one who thought he was on top of the world is, in the flash of an eye, cast into the role of begging for food - from the very person whom he had, until now, scorned. Yaakov, the yeshivah bachur, became the benefactor, and Eisav, his beneficiary.

Hashem's ways are not for us to comprehend. They are beyond the rationale of our limited minds. Even today, His People are considered by the rest of the world as being nebechlech, unfortunate ones. This is supposed to be especially true of the chareidi, observant Jew. A day will soon come when it will change. When Hashem will so decide, suddenly the nations of the world will realize who we are and what it is that distinguishes us from them. Until that moment arrives, we can just wait anxiously and believe in its advent.

He cried out an exceedingly great and bitter cry. (27:34)

Chazal tell us that Eisav cried three tears, each alluded to in the pasuk: "he cried out"; "exceedingly great", "bitter." They say that Moshiach Tzidkeinu will not arrive to liberate us from our present exile until the tears of Eisav have ended. This is both a compelling and condemning statement. Why should Hashem be concerned about Eisav's tears? What about our tears? Have we not cried enough over the last two thousand years - and Moshiach still has not come? Horav Shmelke zl, m'Nikolsburg gives an interesting response based upon the halachic axiom of min b'mino afilu b'elef lo batil, "a species mixed with its own type is not considered nullified, even if there is a ratio of one to a thousand." While, under most circumstances, annulment occurs if two unlike species mix with a ratio of 60 parts to one, if they are of the same specie, this rule does not apply.

The tears of Eisav were specifically in response to olam hazeh, this materialistic world and matters relating to it. He did not care about his spiritual dimension. He prioritized the physical dimension and all it had to offer. When our tears are shed for material losses, for matters that concern us in this materialistic world, they are similar to Eisav's tears, and hence, we cannot overwhelm them. It is only when we shed tears for matters relating to Hashem, for matters relevant to the spiritual, Hashem's sovereignty over the world, when we cry about the Shechinah's exile - not just about our own - then our tears are different from Eisav's, such that we have the power to annul them.

It is true that the righteous cry for the right concerns; they cry for Hashem, but their love for all Jews is so great that they also pray for the material welfare of the Jewish People. In order to nullify the power of Eisav's tears, we must see to it that we cry for the right purpose.

In an alternative explanation, I think the issue is, what about Eisav's tears gives them such a deleterious effect against us? He cried - we cry constantly. What makes his tears so special? First, it is not the actual tears that are so castigating, it is the fact that we/Yaakov inadvertently caused them. To make another person cry is terribly odious. When a person cries, he releases his inner emotions; he loses control and expresses his hurt and pain. To be the cause of such a loss of emotion is particularly detestable. In Yaakov Avinu's situation, he certainly did nothing wrong. On the Heavenly barometer of judgment, however, he was party to a situation wherein another person, albeit an evil one, was brought to tears. This is held over the heads of his descendants until we correct the hurt and make sure that we are not responsible for another person's pain.

In yet a third approach, we suggest that Eisav's tears were unique. How often do we cry when we do not receive a blessing? We cry when we are in pain, when we hurt. Eisav cried because he did not receive something positive, his father's blessing. This is a lofty form of tear, one that should be envied. Do we cry when we do not understand the Gemara? Do we cry when we have missed out on an opportunity to daven with a Minyan? Do we cry when we have missed a great shiur or shmuess, Torah lecture or ethical discourse? Eisav cried because he missed out on a blessing. Do we do the same? Regrettably, the Jew has no shortage of reasons for which to cry. We derive from here that there are priorities even in expressing emotion.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'tigmileinu chasadim tovim - and bestow upon us beneficent kindness.

Is there such a thing as kindness that is not tov, beneficent? The Shalah Hakadosh cites the pasuk in Bereishis 32:11, where Yaakov Avinu fears that Katonti mi'kol ha'chasadim, "I have been diminished by all the kindness." Rashi explains that Yaakov was concerned lest his "stored up" merits had been depleted by all of the favors and good fortune that Hashem had bestowed on him. Thus, we ask Hashem that the kindness He renders to us should not result in diminished merits for us. Alternatively, the Eitz Yosef explains that these are chasadim that, in our limited perspective, do not appear to be beneficial. For example, Hashem will repay our negative activities middah k'neged middah, measure for measure, as a way of imparting to us an important lesson: "Do teshuvah, repent. You have erred in a specific area. Mend your ways and correct your faults." This is a chesed from Hashem. Regrettably, we do not always realize the benefits that are availed to us through such action. Hence, we entreat Hashem to bestow upon us good that is essentially good - not chesed that appears negative, but, in reality, has a positive connotation.

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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