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   by Jacob Solomon

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Esau was forty years old. He married Judith… the Hittite, and Bosmat… the Hittite. They caused bitter distress to Isaac and Rebecca (26:34-35).

This is the only place in the entire textual narrative of Jacob and Esau where Esau actually appears to have sinned. The Mesora's (Jewish Tradition) interpretation of the story is within the framework of Jacob the righteous and Esau the wicked. However, a superficial reading of the story would show two different personalities and temperaments - Esau the hunter, and Jacob the 'straightforward person who lived in tents'. Even in his bitter disappointment at not receiving the Blessing, he 'said to himself' that he wanted to 'kill Jacob', but it is not clear that he was going to carry out the plan. And later on, when 'Esau was coming to meet (Jacob) with four hundred men' it does not actually say that he had any plans to go to war with him - Esau seemed in the meantime to have become a man of importance in Seir, and such a person would normally not travel without a substantial retinue.

Why did Isaac not try to prevent Esau from marrying into the Hittite (one of the seven tribes listed under the Canaanites) tribe - as was the case with Samson's parents later on: 'Is there no (suitable) woman… within my people… that you should marry into those uncircumcised Philistines' (Jud. 14:3)? Indeed both Isaac and later Jacob went out of their way not to marry into the local Canaanite milieu.

The Ha-Emek Davar quotes: 'For within Isaac shall your children be called after you (21:12). Isaac knew that the traditions of Abraham would not be brought forward by all his children. By now, he perceived that Jacob's way of life would be a more suitable means of securing their being passed down to later generations than Esau's. That does not, however, suggest anything negative about Esau per se.

For the text shows that Jacob and Esau were different types of people from the very start. Jacob was a person who 'lived in tents' - understood by the Rabbis as one who studied, and received the Tradition from his father, and later 'in the School of Shem and Ever'. His source of instruction was interaction with the worthy fathers of the Tradition. In contrast, Esau was a man 'who knew hunting, a man of the field' - Isaac accepted education came from the Creation; the outside world was his teacher. He would distill the sacred truths from the experiencing reality - at the cost of many false starts and turns. Both approaches are equally valid - one suits one type of person and the other suits another. Everyone can potentially become the best possible person within his ability range, but not everyone can be a leader and bearer of a tradition.

Thus marriage to a Canaanite before the Torah specifically forbade it (Deut. 7:3) was not technically wrong in Esau's case. But Esau's actual choice of wives became a source of grief for Isaac and Rebecca. (Indeed, Rebecca dreaded that Jacob might do the same - 27:46). Their individual personalities 'caused bitter distress to Jacob and Rebecca' not just because of their negative conduct within the sacred household, but because they reflected on the types of people Esau idealized - and brought home that their allowing Esau to 'get his education from the Creation' was not the right decision in his case…

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site:

Also by Jacob Solomon:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers


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