By Simon Jacobson
November 15, 2001
Just when you thought that the story of Ishmael is over
He returns for a curtain call.
This weeks Torah portion concludes with
Esau, elder son of Isaac, marrying the daughter of Ishmael,
Hmmm, what does that do to the gene pool, and
what are its effects today?
But lets not jump ahead of ourselves.
Following the chronicles of Ishmaels life
at the end of last weeks portion, todays Torah
portion begins with the chronicles of Isaac: And these
are the chronicles of Isaac son of Abraham
story of Esau and Jacob, children of Isaac and Rebecca.
And (these are the chronicles) emphasizes
that the chronicles of Isaac are not a separate story but
an extension and continuation of Ishmaels chronicles.
In other words, the story of Ishmael and his children continues
with Esau and Jacob.
What is the story of Esau and Jacob?
The Torah tells us, that Rebeccas pregnancy
was a difficult one. The children clashed inside her.
Confused she asks of G-d: Why is this happening to me?
G-ds reply: Two nations are in your womb. Two
governments will separate from inside you. The upper hand
will go from one nation to the other. The greater one will
serve the younger.
The twins Esau and Jacob are born the
father of these two nations. Esau is the elder of the two.
The brothers are diametrically different characters. Esau
is a skilled hunter, a man of the field. Jacob
was a wholesome man, who sat in the tents - a scholar
who dwelled in the tents of study.
The story continues: One day Esau comes home
exhausted from hunting in the field. Jacob is simmering a
stew, and famished Esau asks for a swallow of the red
stuff (he is therefore called Edom, which
means red). First sell me your birthright [first born
rights] and then I will give you to eat. Esau agrees.
Here Im about to die, what good is a birthright
to me? He sells his birthright to Jacob and in return
gets his meal.
Strange story. How could honest Jacob, Jacob
the scholar, manipulate his brother for the birthright? G-d
decided that Esau be the first-born! Additionally, the birthright
is a spiritual right; can it be sold for
But the story gets stranger yet.
Rebecca overhears Isaac telling Esau that he
wants to bless him. When Esau goes out to the field to bring
back a meal for Isaac before blessing him, Rebecca tells her
son Jacob what she overheard, and she says to him that he
should go to his father Isaac and pretend that he is Esau
and receive the blessings. Rebecca prepares a tasty meal and
dresses Jacob in Esaus garments. She places animal skins
on his arms and neck, so that when Isaac (who was blind at
the time) would touch him, he would think that Jacob is Esau.
Jacob approaches his father. Father
he says. Yes, who are you, my son? Isaac asks.
Jacob replies: It is I, Esau your first born. I have
done as you asked. Sit up and eat the game I trapped, so that
your soul will bless me. Isaac asks Jacob to approach
him. Let me touch you, my son. Are you really Esau or
not? When Isaac touches him he says: The voice
is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.
Isaac then proceeds to bless him with the most powerful blessings,
May G-d grant you the dew of heaven
Just when Isaac finishes blessing Jacob and
Jacob leaves him, Esau returns only to discover that Jacob
had stolen his blessings. Your brother,
Isaac tells him, came with deceit and he already took
your blessing. Esau lets out a very loud and bitter
scream. Isnt he truly named Jacob (Yaakov).
He went behind my back (akav) twice. First he took
my birthright and now he took my blessing.
This incident, documented in such detail, is
absolutely bizarre. How could Rebecca and Jacob so blatantly
deceive husband and father Isaac?! Can blessings be won through
deceit? Even if Rebecca was convinced that Jacob deserved
the blessings, why did she not attempt to communicate that
to Isaac? And what was Isaac thinking; is he not a tzaddik
who knew what he was doing? The questions go on and on.
The Torah portion continues with Rebecca sending
Jacob away out of fear that Esau will kill him. At Rebecca
and Isaacs bidding, Jacob leaves and goes to Charan
to find a wife.
Finally this weeks portion concludes with
Esau following suit. Hearing that Isaac is displeased with
the Canaanite girls - and therefore sent Jacob to find a wife
among Abrahams family - Esau goes to Ishmael and marries
Machlath daughter of Abrahams son Ishmael, a sister
of Nebayoth [Ishmaels eldest son].
So what is the story?
Recall, that this entire account of Esau and
Jacob are the chronicles of Isaac son of Abraham
which is a continuation of the chronicles of Ishmael and his
The story begins with Abraham, man of passionate
faith. He sets the tone and establishes a relationship with
G-d. He educates his children Ishmael and Isaac in this spirit,
and they carry on the faith that Abraham taught them, each
in their own way. Ishmael is excessive and untempered chesed
(passion and love). Isaac is gevurah (discipline),
the antithesis of chesed, that balances and channels
the love of Abraham.
Ishmael in his wildness wanders
away, only to return years later when he does teshuvah.
On the face of all his brethren he fell (end of
last weeks portion, Chayei Sarah) Ishmaels
excessive faith must be tempered with the appropriate measure
of discipline. When Ishmael did teshuvah and was humbled
(fell), he is elevated (tikkun).
(see at length last weeks issue).
So, if Ishmael does teshuvah, why are
we still having problems?
Because the forces unleashed have affected the
universe and we still need to refine the world. Even after
Abraham began the process of transforming the material world
into a G-dly home, but that was just the beginning; even after
all Abraham accomplished, the world is far from its intended
And so the story continues and
these are the chronicles of Isaac. The next generation
continues the process began by Abraham.
Following the struggles between chesed
and gevurah in Abrahams times, the new chapter
carries this over to the next level. Just like Abrahams
chesed becomes excessive in Ishmael, the gevurah
(severity, discipline) of Isaac becomes excessive in Esau.
Esau is a warrior, a man of the field. As Isaac tells him:
You shall live by your sword.
Jacob, on the other hand is a man of peace, a
wholesome scholar dwelling in the tents of study.
The stage is set for another confrontation.
Esau and Jacob are two nations that initially
cannot co-exist in peace. They represent two forces in each
of our lives and in the world as a whole. Esau symbolizes
the body, the material world, whose untamed elements need
to be conquered. Jacob symbolizes the soul, the spiritual
world. Initially these two worlds do not co-exist. Matter
and spirit are at war with each other. When one rises
the other falls. Yet they need each other they
are twins. The vulnerable soul without an aggressive
body would not be able to survive in this harsh world. Each
of us needs to have a warrior dimension to protect
and defend against the difficult forces of material existence.
But the body must have a soul within, and the soul must be
the directing force in life. The greater one
the powerful body will serve the younger [gentler]
soul. Your body has to be a vehicle for your soul not
the other way around. If the body and material drives are
in control then the gevurah of the warrior becomes
How do you reconcile and integrate body and
soul, matter and spirit G-d and the universe? The soul
must train and teach the body to sublimate itself so that
together they can both serve and fulfill their purpose on
Earth. The only way to relieve the tension between them, without
compromising either, is to spiritualize the material.
But the body has its own agenda; it is not ready
to listen to the souls wisdom. Its
busy hunting, surviving in the best way it knows how. The
solution is that the soul must satisfy and nourish the body
on its (the bodys) terms and slowly direct and align
it to a higher goal. The soul feeds the body with stew
and gratifies the bodys immediate needs, with the intention
to harness and channel the bodys powerful spirit (birthright)
toward its Divine calling.
The soul must dress itself up in the garments
of the material world in order to refine the world and channel
the hidden blessings and strengths of the material world.
Thus Jacob dresses in Esaus garments to receive the
blessings. The soul is not taking the blessings away from
the body; it only protects them so that the body not destroy
them, and the soul uses them to help train and refine the
body until the time when the body can co-exist peacefully
with the soul, as one seamless harmony - The voice is the voice
of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.
Isaac looking into the depths of Esaus
soul, felt that Esau might be ready. But Rebecca, his mother,
saw that the time had not yet arrived. The world (Esau) was
not yet refined, and she realized that Jacob would have to
harness these blessings.
Jacob introduces the third dimension called
Tiferet, beauty, compassion. Following the chesed
(love) of Abraham and Ishmaels excess of chesed,
and Isaacs gevurah and Esaus excess of
gevurah, comes Jacob the third and central pillar,
that synthesizes and fuses the two in a healthy balance.
Esau in his own way tries to balance his excessive
aggression (gevurah) by marrying the daughter of Ishmael
(chesed). Machalot is her name, which means forgiveness,
signifying the forgiving of sins upon marriage.
The implications of these chronicles today are
Following the confrontations between Ishmael
and Isaac, Ishmaels banishment and ultimately his teshuvah,
the next stage begins with Esau and Jacob joining the scene.
We now have before us Abraham, father of all nations, Ishmael
father of the Arab/Muslim world, Esau, father of the Roman/Christian/Western
world and Jacob, father of the Jewish world.
Though Ishmael does teshuvah, the world
is not yet refined. Thus we need to go through the Esau-Jacob
battle the war of two nations to achieve balance
and harmony between G-d and the universe. The Romans destroying
the Holy Temple, and then the wars of Christianity against
Judaism imposing their religion by the sword
are all manifestations of Esaus gevurah approach
in his battles with the world.
While this battle gets under way, Esau attempts
to join forces with Ishmael, only to backfire. The Midrash
tells us that Esaus intentions in marrying Ishmaels
daughter was to then to ensnare Ishmael in the following plot:
You Esau said to Ishmael
kill your brother Isaac. I will kill my brother Jacob. Then
we will become one nation, remaining sole heirs to all of
Abrahams legacy and property! Ishmael refused: Am
I then like Cain who killed his brother?! No, I will not do
as you suggest. Esaus intention was to then kill
Ishmael, and he would be left the sole heir.
What a wedding it must have been!
Though Esau and Ishmael join hands,
this marriage is far from simple. Ishmael refuses to participate
in Esaus plot against Isaac and Jacob. This sets the
stage for later wars to come between Ishmael and Esau.
Ultimately the only healthy way to refine Ishmael
and Esau (excessive chesed and gevurah) is through the balance
of Jacobs tiferet, which is driven by humility and selflessness.
Chesed and gevurah as great as they can be, are driven by
their own particular personality features. Tiferet is connected
to bittul. Tiferet is the middle pillar, that runs up and
down from ketter to malchut, and thus, like the spine holds
up the entire structure. Tiferet is dedication and commitment
to G-d and His will, and that is what allows it to transcend
and unite the opposing personalities of love and aggression
(chesed and gevurah).
So just when you thought that it was safe to
go back into the water
Ishmael returns for a curtain
Abraham, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau and Jacob
all the players and characters are in place. The question
is: Are we?
 See Klei Yokor at the end of last weeks portion.
 This weeks portion, Genesis 27:40.
 See Rashi Vayishlach, Genesis 33:14.
 Talmud Yerushalmi Bikkurim 3:3. Bereishis Rabba
 Midrash Or Haafeilah at the end of our portion
(cited in Torat Shleimah note 27). See also Bereishis Rabba
67: 8. Midrash Tehillim 14:2.
 See Abarbanel, Mayonei Yeshua (intro to Daniel),