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The Plot Thickens – Jacob & Esau: Two Nations


Ishmael Won’t Go Away

What an absolute outrage! It’s open season on attacking Jews. Who would have believed that in the year 2015 — after what the entire world witnessed (mostly in silence) just 75 years ago — Jews would become target practice.

But now the attacks are being perpetrated exclusively by Muslims, and of all ages. And not just in Israel, which is bad enough, but throughout Europe (in case anyone was still trying to distinguish between anti-Israel and anti-Jew).

What are we to think when we see Muslim children as little as 13 year old knifing innocent men, women and children? When you witness that — amidst a climate of jungle-like lawlessness, in the form of random stabbings, the latest one happening in Milan, Italy — you know that there is something seriously wrong with that part of the world. What kind of life is it when Jews feel they need to remove their skullcaps in Paris to conceal their Jewish identities from would-be assailants?

Whether we like it or not, whether true or not, any prudent person is beginning to look at every Muslim as a potential danger.

The Bible tells us that Ishmael “will be a wild man. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him” (Genesis 16:12). But to this extent? And still today — over 3500 years since that statement was made?!

So… let us return to the Bible and see what this week’s chapter has in store for us.


Just when you thought that the story of Ishmael is over…

He returns for a curtain call.

This week’s Torah portion concludes with Esau, elder son of Isaac, marrying the daughter of Ishmael, Machlat.

Hmmm, what does that do to the gene pool, and what are its effects today?

But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves.

Following the chronicles of Ishmael’s life at the end of last week’s portion, today’s Torah portion begins with the chronicles of Isaac: “And these are the chronicles of Isaac son of Abraham…” the 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 Ishmael’s 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 Rebecca’s pregnancy was a difficult one. “The children clashed inside her.” Confused she asks of G-d: “Why is this happening to me?” G-d’s 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 I’m 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… a stew?!

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 Esau’s 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. “Isn’t 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 Isaac’s bidding, Jacob leaves and goes to Charan to find a wife.

Finally this week’s portion concludes with Esau following suit. Hearing that Isaac is displeased with the Canaanite girls – and therefore sent Jacob to find a wife among Abraham’s family – Esau goes to Ishmael and “marries Machlat daughter of Abraham’s son Ishmael, a sister of Nebayoth” [Ishmael’s 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 children.

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 week’s portion, Chayei Sarah) – Ishmael’s excessive faith must be tempered with the appropriate measure of discipline. When Ishmael did teshuvah and was humbled (‘fell’), he is elevated (tikkun).[1] (see at length last week’s article).

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 purpose.

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 Abraham’s times, the new chapter carries this over to the next level. Just like Abraham’s 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.”[2] 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 excessive.

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 soul’s wisdom. It’s 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 body’s) terms and slowly direct and align it to a higher goal. The soul feeds the body with “stew” and gratifies the body’s immediate needs, with the intention to harness and channel the body’s 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 Esau’s 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[3] – “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

Isaac looking into the depths of Esau’s 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 Ishmael’s excess of chesed, and Isaac’s gevurah and Esau’s 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). Machlat is her name, which means forgiveness, signifying the forgiving of sins upon marriage.[4]

The implications of these chronicles today are quite evident.

Following the confrontations between Ishmael and Isaac, Ishmael’s 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 Esau’s 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 Esau’s intentions in marrying Ishmael’s 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 Abraham’s legacy and property! Ishmael refused: ‘Am I then like Cain who killed his brother?! No, I will not do as you suggest.” Esau’s intention was to then kill Ishmael, and he would be left the sole heir.[5]

What a wedding it must have been!

Though Esau and Ishmael join hands,[6] this marriage is far from simple. Ishmael refuses to participate in Esau’s 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 Jacob’s 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 call.

Abraham, Sarah, Ishmael, Isaac, Esau and Jacob – all the players and characters are in place. The question is: Are we?


Our hearts, condolences and prayers go out to all those that have suffered recent losses, and to all our brethren in Israel.


Create a passionate spiritual revolution for the good.

As passions of violence have been released on us, against humanity, our most powerful response is to counter with a passionate revolution of purpose, with no less passion and drive than the evil being waged against us.

Please see War in Israel: What We Must Do for a list of practical suggestions.

For an elaborate related discussion on this topic, please go here to view Rabbi Jacobson’s latest class: Two Conflicting Voices: The Battle of the Twins.

[1] See Klei Yokor at the end of last week’s portion.

[2] This week’s portion, Genesis 27:40.

[3] See Rashi Vayishlach, Genesis 33:14.

[4] Talmud Yerushalmi Bikkurim 3:3. Bereishis Rabba 67:13.

[5] Midrash Or Ha’afeilah at the end of our portion (cited in Torat Shleimah note 27). See also Bereishis Rabba 67: 8. Midrash Tehillim 14:2.

[6] See Abarbanel, Mayonei Yeshua (intro to Daniel), 2:3.


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I think a great point is missed in this story. In Stephanie asks that this story should be deleted because there are many in the world, she emphasises, in the US, that aren’t Muslim but also hates the Jews. I am not Muslim, I do not hate the Jews, yet I do not trust them. Issac took Esau’s birthright by using leverage” Esau was hungry as he had been out hunting, presumably to provide meat for the whole family and Issac used his Esau’s hunger to manipulate him out of his birthright, (stupid custom, if you asked me. Why would… Read more »


The point that the evils of the world is using this message from the Bible to daily destroy families by (buy ) division of the masses in the world My Grandfather stood with his brother and told me all I need to know at times like this


Why, do you say G-d? Instead of God?

Rath O'Leebrall

You should edit this essay or delete it. You pretend that only Muslims attack Jews. As you saw this past summer (2017) and as it continues, there are many in the United States who are not Muslim and who hate Jews, who hate Freedom, who hate intelligence, who hate historical knowledge. Do you, like them, expect the world to pretend that all Muslims and only Muslims are driven by hatred? Shame on you.


I’ve always seen it this way… Ishmael – Islam Esau – Judaism Christianity – Jacob The Quran is Cabalistic and very much seems to have been written by rabbis. Much of southern Europe was under Muslim occupation for centuries with Hebrews at the helm. Jacob is the younger brother who received the birthright of his older brother Esau. Jews rejected the gospel of Christ because they didn’t want to give up their birthright. Esau married Ishmael’s daughter (Jews adopted the Babylonian Talmud) and tried to have Muslims kill off Christians with the idea of Holy war (Esau tried to have… Read more »


The path of God is straight. It is man (or woman) that finds the crooked pathways. However God knows/knew that and put in place the atonement for all thru one. And on this day of his ressurectiom I praise the name of Jesus! The ONLY way, truth and light of the world! From Adam, to Abraham, Noah, David to Jesus. 360 old treatment proficies fullfilled In the life , death and ascension of Jesus.

Adrean M

I will never exchange the Truth of GOD for A LIE. ROMAN 24 verse 25. because THEY exchange the TRUTH of GOD for a LIE and worshiped and serve CREATURES rather than the CREATOR. Whom is blessed forever! Amen.

Lois Dobbs

Researching Abraham and Sarah you will find that the great division started when Sarah disobeyed God and sent her handmaiden ,Hagar to carry the child God told Sarah to carry, but Sarah thought she was too old to carry a child…both Hagar and Sarah had sons…both were to receive inheritance…thus the huge problem

Stan Barton

Who can wrap his mind around the mind of God? I think the separations of Issac & Ishmael and then Jacob & Esau are all in God’s plan to save as many souls as He can. All these men set the stage we, as people, are given in these end times to choose truth over lies, life over death, and Finally, submission over surrender. Thus us our small part in a much greater battle between the Mercies of the Son of God over the condemnation of the Son of Perdition. Our part in the final cosmic battle between the Creator… Read more »


There is places where my comment is not clear, line 7 and 8 from the bottom to top of the comment, where I said I’m hoping to gain a friend as a Muslim I’m reaching for friendship with article writer, -1. 2- where I said I’m asking the article writer to keep my comment for everyone to help one another to love and unit the heart and minds. Thanks


The writer of this article is in dangering every Muslim child including the children of this world. If what you say is true and every Muslim knows its not. Then, why do you preach evil. Why do you preach to hate instead of love like you claim you are, People of love and understanding. Didn’t the prophets struggle with there nation to follow them, to a point where some prophet blood for us. Were they patients with the world or did they preach hate and lies and wrote articles full of evil and bloody view. You speak to have the… Read more »


Why was my comment deleted? why was my cmoment deleted? The truth hurts right, I wanna know why was my comment deleted. I I said instead of evil preaching show love, why was my comment deleted?


Very good article with the proper perspective in many ways. This article must have been written by a Rabbi indeed. Still the Christian perspective not really different on the history of Abraham & his decedants this seems more like new world order Speech in between the history lesson. Israel will indeed regimen supreme someday but only through Christ our lord The rest of the picture is laid out in the Newtestament & exactly why the USA backs Israel.


‘Abdelbaset, Yaqub (AS) known as Jacob was a prophet. I struggle to imagine that he would have deceived or lied.

Abdelbaset Youssef

Did Issac stole birthright of his older brother Ismael !. The Prophet Joseph was the eleventh Son of Jacob, did he stole Birthright of his ten brothers? Did Moses birthright of Aaron? According to Quran Jacob got blessing directly from GOD as any other prophet.

Marco Sassano

The firstborn of twins is usually the younger as the child deeper in the womb is usually the first egg to have been fertilized. The lord states “the elder shall serve the younger” …the lord does not state “the firstborn shall serve the second born.” The two brothers represent contending aspects of the tribe of Israel. Esau represents chaos, Jacob represents control. It is clear that the tribe can only be complete with the merging of the two halves! I thus foresee Esau and Jacob will merge. (The process began when part of the tribe of Esau was forcibly converted).… Read more »


The two nations are representative a long struggle between people of color(“negros” and whites. That’s why Esau is described in appearance and his brother is not because his brother looks like the parents, Esau may have had albinism which results in red, blond hair and red, blue, eyes. The only race that shares those recessive traits at a high level are Europeans. The prophecy regarding the tribes of Israel state that the curses placed on Israel would include being taken by ships into a shameless nation, yoke of iron placed around neck and scattered among the nations along with many… Read more »


Yes. This is the way i understand the Esau – Ishmael branch of history.

Andrea Bella

Jesus was a decendant from David, not Esau as your essay suggests. Very interesting observations though.


I’m also wondering why the G-d instead of simply GOD


Why do you, in your writing, refer to God as G-d?
I’m just curious. Thanks


That was some essay!! Ill have to read it a few more times to really digest it.

Good thoughtful article. But, at the end of the day, Isaac, Rebbecca and Jacob were guilty of deception. They had a higher purpose and thus did what they needed to do but it leaves their motivations to the reader. It would have been better, in my opinion, if the parsha was more explicit on the necessity for this deception in order justify continuation of a specific legacy.

It seems like Ishmael (before Teshuva) represents a wild, aggressive force against the world. So not sure how to reconcile this with the idea of him reflecting passion/love (albeit in excesss) Any ideas how to understand this?