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Toldos: And They Called His Name Eisav


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At a thing’s inception, it contains the potential for both good and bad. This applies also to our forefathers. The Torah’s description of the Avos may imply that, for example, Eisav was pre-ordained for wickedness. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, explains that to the contrary, Yaakov and Eisav were each born with the potential for good and evil.

“And the first came forth ruddy all over like a hairy garment (25:25).”

This was a remarkable phenomenon. Eisav was covered with goatlike hair (27:16) to foretell one of two prophecies: either that he would have the boldness of a goat in the service of G-d, just as the he-goat is ready for battle and goes ahead of the flock; or that he would choose to behave like an animal that follows its eyes to fill its desires. Isaac believed in the first prophecy. But Eisav chose the second: when he was put to the test, he chose to follow the desire of his eyes rather than to keep the birthright.

The nations, exemplified by Eisav, choose this world; like the creatures that follow their instincts, they live solely to gratify the body. Jacob was entirely unlike the beasts: he was smooth and without hair, to emphasize Israel’s role as the true fulfillment of the human model that lives to serve not his passions but to serve Hashem. It is essential to understand that neither Eisav nor Jacob were born with foreordained righteousness or wickedness, for this would contradict the principle of Free Will which is a foundation of the Torah ideology. All prophetic omens that can be discerned in the birth of these two brothers could have become realized in more than one way. It was only subsequently, when each brother had chosen his way of life, that on looking back we can discern what the birth omens had foretold.

Eisav is derived from asah (“to make”), for Eisav was a made man from the beginning. He was ruddy and hairy, and this was apparently a portent of leadership. But these semblances of maturity were disadvantageous, because together with the birthright they caused Eisav to become overconfident and less amenable to instruction.

The weakness of childhood is intended by the Creator to facilitate the obedience to training, because the child’s dependence on his parents, and his small stature, cause him to be humble and pliable and willing to accept instruction. Eisav’s mature appearance, and also his ability to support himself by hunting (25:27) and his birthright, engendered an unwilligness to hearken to instruction and reproof.

He therefore became “a man of the field” (ibid.) in order to avoid being subjected to restraint and rebuke, unlike Jacob’s humble readiness to dwell in the tent and to be subject to his parents’ tutelage. There was another intention in the name Eisav: he was expected to be a man of action who would accomplish great achievements. His appearance as a “made” man inspired hopes that he would “make” great achievements (see 27:10). Had Eisav utilized his life properly, this meaning of his name would have come true.

One additional insight: Edom, and especially Amalek, were always bitter foes of Israel. The fact that the Torah reveals that Eisav the progenitor of Edom was derived from Yitzchak and Rivkah and was their firstborn, is a great monument to the truthfulness of the Torah. No Israelite would willingly have admitted such information had it not been so dictated by a divine Author. Therefore, despite Edom’s animosity toward Israel (as in Bamidbar 20:14), the facts of Eisav’s lineage and of his birthright were never erased from the Torah.

About the Author: The Rabbi Avigdor Miller Simchas Hachaim Foundation, a project of Yeshiva Gedolah Bais Yisroel, was founded and authorized by Rabbi Miller to disseminate his work. Subscribe to the Foundation’s free e-mail newsletters on marriage, personal growth, and more at www.SimchasHachaim.com. For more information, or to sponsor a Simchas Hachaim Foundation program, call 718-258-7400 or e-mail info@SimchasHachaim.com.


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