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Two Nations – Yaakov and Eisav

הרב אברהם זיסקנד


Yaakov and Eisav may have shared a fraternal relationship but genetics was the beginning and end of this link. Yaakov was a tzaddik who sat in the tents of Torah while Eisav, a rasha, was a “hunter and a man of the field.” (Breishis 25:27)

Throughout  the course of their lives, the disparity between them grew until Eisav would come to transgress 5 aveiros in one day – murder, promiscuity, denial of Hashem, denial of the resurrection of the dead and despising the bechora (Bava Basra 16b). Yaakov, on the other hand reached the pinnacle of humanity until he was fit to become the central figure upon which all of the creation would rest, raising the world back up to the level of before the primordial sin.

When Adam HaRishon sinned in Gan Eden, he brought the whole world to a lowly physical state of darkness. The situation remained until the advent of Avraham Avinu who, as the first of the avos, started the process of the re-purification of man until through him the Jewish People were able to return to the initial high level of Adam before the sin (Derech Hashem, section 2, 4:2). Yaakov Avinu completed the circuit!

Our kabbalah is that Yaakov managed to reach the level of Adam HaRishon before the sin, raising himself above the physical world (Maharal, Bava Metzia 84a, Avoda Zara 11a) and attaining the description of Chazal – “the beauty of Yaakov was like that of Adam HaRishon (Bava Metzia loc. cit.) – The pinnacle of mankind!

While the brothers were still in her womb, Rivkah was foretold about this disparity and that they would nevertheless both grow to be the progenitors of great nations (Rashi 25:33). Each one would be the forerunner of another people – Yisrael and Edom. From Yaakov would sprout the great nation of Yisrael and from Eisav, the lowly nation of Edom.

These polar opposites have been revealed throughout history. As the lowliness of the other nations is as evident now as it ever was, in contrast to the Jewish People whose history is replete with abundant displays of unabated strength and gevura; in rising above the nations surrounding them, in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges, leaving an eternal impression on the world.

A characteristic example is when Jews were transported to their death at the hands of wild-beasts of men. At this point our ancestors were able to grasp onto eternal life as their lips uttered songs of praise to Hashem – “Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu, u’mah naim goraleinu” – praiseworthy indeed!

What is the source of this disparity?

Chazal explain that man is formed from two distinct opposites. Man -“adam” has two contrasting interpretations. On the one hand, it is derived from the word “adamah” – ground or earth – connoting the lowliness and base-physical form of man who spends his whole life running after jealousy, lust and glory. On the other hand, the word “adam” originates from the concept of “adameh le’elyon” – comparable to the Lofty One (Yeshaya 14:14) – indicating the tremendous spiritual level that man can achieve, drawing on his essence to raise himself to the loftiest heights of creation (Shelah, introduction to Toldos Adam; Tzlach, introduction).

Chazal  (Yalkut Shimoni, Yehoshua 23) reveal that Adam HaRishon was great, as the verse says “the great man among the giants” (Yehoshua 14:15). We also find similar descriptions of Avraham and Yitzchak’s greatness in the verses of the Torah (Bereishis 24:34, 26:13). Chazal add that we find an allusion in our parsha that this very same greatness was apparent both in Yaakov and in Eisav – “and the youths grew up”, or “and the youths became great.” The Medrash concludes with the comment that the act of disgracing the bechora caused Eisav to become smaller as the verse says “behold I have made you small among the nations, you are utterly disgraced” (Ovadia 1:2). The implication is that the source of his lowliness comes from his disregard of the bechora (see Rashi 25:34).

One may question what seems to be counterintuitive, that the other 4 (ostensibly worse) aveiros that he committed on the same day are overlooked and the main cause of his low state comes from the disregard for a contractual status agreement of “firstborn.”

The answer to this question can be acquired from an understanding of the far-reaching significance of the bechora. The bechora represents the highest levels in the spiritual realm – the service of Hashem in the Beis HaMikdash – which facilitates an incomparable closeness to the inner-world. Showing disregard for this opportunity, so to speak “closed off” this route to greatness for Eisav and brought him down to the lowest point of his essence, “adamah.”

Contrary to this, the characteristic of Yaakov is that he is constantly striving to get closer to Hashem as he ascends to the pinnacle of mankind. With this focus, he connects himself to his essence of “adameh le’elyon”, the driving force of a man who is determined to achieve greatness. His sole pursuit is that of holiness and purity, thereby distancing himself from the worldly drives of jealousy, lust and glory. By this means, he was successful in raising himself up to the level of Adam HaRishon before the sin!

May we all constantly strive to connect to the Divine Essence within!

שבת שלום

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