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Parashat Toldot

There is a fascinating classical question within our Parsha[1]:


"And Yitzhak loved Esav because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rivka loved Yaakov."


The question immediately is why Yitzhak loved Esav?


The character of Esav is dealt with at length in both the written and

oral Torah and a person who is not honest, who is a murderer and not a follower of the Torah, despite this Esav is not fully rejected by the Torah.


This is made especially obvious since the Torah further warns us[2]:


‘Do not hate an Edomite [a descendant of Esau], for he is your brother’.


Rabbi Aharon Kotler[3] suggests that although Esav was an evil person, his head was full of the Torah that he was taught by his father, Yitzchak and his grandfather, Avraham, therefore his head merited to be buried in the cave:


Today in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron[4], amongst the graves of Abraham, Sarah, Yitzhak, Rivkah, Yaakov and Leah (Rachel was buried near Bethlehem where she died in childbirth) is also a grave for Esav – he is clearly counted as part of the Abrahamic family.


Various interpretations within Rabbinical literature[5] of Yitzhak and

Eisav’s relationship can help shed light on their relationship. Rashi

proposes that Yitzchak was actually deceived by Eisav, who displayed false piety: Eisav would ask questions about tithing items like salt and straw, to mislead Yitzchak into believing Eisav was religiously observant.


Another possible perspective is that Yitzhak was entirely aware of

Esav and his nature, and yet despite this he loved him:


We all desire things from our children; ultimately that they have a

happy and fulfilled life, that they carry the lessons of our experience and do not make the same mistakes that we may have.

However, despite this as parents our need to love and support our children goes beyond this, ultimately as Kahlil Gibran [6] expressed:


“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”


His words echo within us – ultimately, we cannot prepare our children for the world, since by the time they become adults the world we know will no longer exist – how true this is of our time when our children experience a level of connectivity and technology that our

grandparents could never have fathomed.


Esav despite his very human failings was a person, moreover he was the son of a very righteous person – it is interesting that Jewish tradition[7] mentions that it was his head that ultimately “saved”,

Esav is seen as the embodiment of Rome[8] and many instances within Rabbinical literature refers to the Roman Empire as the Kingdom of Edom, Rome had a strong intellectual tradition and was responsible for the following innovations that many of us take for granted:


Aqueducts, which carried water from distant sources to the cities and towns.


Concrete - which was used to build durable and monumental structures.


Newspapers - which disseminated official news and announcements to the public.


State welfare - which provided food and money to the poor and disabled.

Bound books - which replaced scrolls and tablets as a more convenient way of storing and reading texts.


Many commentators understand that our modern western society is essentially a product of this Roman intellectual pursuit and despite the obvious discordance between the Torah philosophy and aspects of the secular, western paradigm – ultimately the “head” is worth saving:


our society has mapped the stars and brought us to great technological achievements, there is no need to discard these elements that make our lives better and easier, rather through the narrative of the Torah we see that ultimately it was Esav’s obsession with worldly pleasures and hedonism that brought him to sell his birthright and shun a path of self-correction and humility.


Once we are able to bring about a balance in our western lives and the spiritual pursuit of the Torah, the head of Esav – the element of

reason, questioning and intellectual achievement no longer poses a

threat to our theology or brings us to an apathetic atheism, but

rather takes all that we have and uses it in the very best and modern way to serve Hashem and each other.


Shabbat Shalom


Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2023 ©

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[1] Bereshit/Genisis: 25:28

[2] Deuteronomy/Devarim: 23:7

[3] Rabbi Kotler (1892-1962) was Orthodox Jewish rabbi and a prominent leader of Orthodox Judaism in Lithuania and the United States; the latter being where he founded Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood Township, New Jersey.

[4] Considered the second holiest place for the Jewish people, after

the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

[5] In particular the Midrash Rabbah.

[6] Kahlil Gibran a modern Sufi Poet and philosopher – 1883-1931

[7] Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer: chapter: 39

[8] Rashi to Bereshit/Genesis 36:43

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