Parshat Toldot

Yitzchak and Rivka had been married for 20 years and had not been blessed with children. Our Sages tell us that were physically unable to do so. Yet, at age 60, Yitzchak would have liked to see the continuation of his father Avraham’s legacy.  So, what did they do? They prayed that Hashem bless them with children. Yitzchak and Rivka implored Hashem for a child, and Rivka conceived.

She felt, however, that something was terribly amiss. The Torah tells us, “The children agitated within her.” Rashi’s comments reveal the source of the agitation. When Rivka passed a holy place, she would feel rumbling in her womb, as if the child wanted to come out; when she passed a place of idol worship, she felt the same rumbling. This presented her with a problem: one very mixed up child. How could one person have leanings to both the holy and unholy?

Our Sages tell us that to resolve this question, Rivka visited Shem, the son of Noah, who was a prophet. This is what Hashem told her through him.

ספר בראשית פרק כה

(כג) וַיֹּאמֶר יְדֹוָד לָהּ שְׁנֵי גֹייִם {גוֹיִם} בְּבִטְנֵךְ וּשְׁנֵי לְאֻמִּים מִמֵּעַיִךְ יִפָּרֵדוּ וּלְאֹם מִלְאֹם יֶאֱמָץ וְרַב יַעֲבֹד צָעִיר:

  1. And Hashem said to her – “Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated; the might shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.”

Knowing that there were twins within her answered her query, but, at the same time, presented a new challenge. The two children with opposite natures would surely have their share of sibling rivalry. But this was not necessarily bad. Each person is different, and yet, through making the right choices to control the negative tendency, can be a good person. But what would occur with hers?

The Maharal, (R. Yehudah Loeb b. R. Bezalel -1520-1609) resolves a question from the Talmud.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף צא/ב

ואמר לו אנטונינוס לרבי: מאימתי יצר הרע שולט באדם-משעת יצירה או משעת יציאה? אמר לו, משעת יצירה. אמר לו, אם כן בועט במעי אמו ויוצא. אלא, משעת יציאה. אמר רבי, דבר זה למדני אנטונינוס.

Antonius (the Roman Emperor) once asked Rabbi Judah the Prince, “When does the evil inclination enter a child, from when he becomes a person (40 days after conception) or from birth?”

Rabbi Judah the Prince answered: “From when he becomes a person.”

Antonius responded: “If that was the case, he would kick his way out of his mother’s stomach before its time! It must be from the time he exits the womb.”

Rabbi Judah said: “This is something Antonius taught me.”

This story poses a problem: If the evil inclination doesn’t enter the child until he is born, how was it that Esav (one of Rivka’s twins) was attracted to the place of idol worship? He lacked an evil inclination!

The Maharal explains that this tendency toward evil did not result from the evil inclination; it was Esav’s inherent nature. Esav had a natural inclination towards evil, and his twin, Yaakov, had a natural inclination to good.

It thus seems that poor Esav was destined from birth to be an evil person. But this cannot be so!

The Talmud informs us:


עין יעקב על מסכת נדה אות (ח)

דַּאָמַר רַבִּי חֲנִינָא, הַכֹּל בִּידֵי שָׁמַיִם חוּץ מִיִרְאַת שָׁמַיִם, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (דברים י) “וְעַתָּה יִשְׂרָאֵל, מָה ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ שׁוֹאֵל מֵעִמָּךְ, כִּי אִם לְיִרְאָה”.

Rabbi Chaninah said: Everything about a person is predetermined from heaven (looks, intelligence, wealth, etc.) except for the fear of heaven (whether he will be a righteous or evil person).

Would a person have a completely overpowering evil nature, he would have no option to be righteous, his evil side always overwhelm him. The same holds true in the opposite direction: Our Sages say, “The greater a person is, the greater is his evil inclination.” There must always be a balance or there would be no choice. One’s nature would always compel him to one side or the other. But since Hashem put us here to earn reward by making the proper choices, there must fairly be a choice for each of us to make.

Hence, we must conclude that although Esav had a stronger evil nature than most, he must also have been equipped a stronger mind to counteract that evil nature. He still had the choice of how to run his life.

Rabbi Aharon Kotler of blessed memory (d. 1963) cites the Vilna Gaon who quotes the Zohar, which says:

רישיה דעשו בהדיה אבוהון דעלמא גניז היינו כמפורש בחז”ל שראש עשו נקבר במערת המכפלה וזה משום ההשגות הגדולות והגבוהות של עשו

“Esav’s head is buried in מערת המכפלה  – Mearat Hamachpela with the forefathers and foremothers.”

Explains Rabbi Kotler: His head merited burial in such a holy place with the other holy people buried there to indicate the tremendous holy thoughts and ideas that Esav had in his head. Unfortunately, he did not act on them, but succumbed to his physical urges and desires.

In summary, Esav had the choice to be righteous or evil; he chose the path that he took.

A very important question calls out for an answer:
Because of Yitzchak and Rivka’s inability to have children a miracle was required. We can understand Yaakov’s birth. Yaakov, more than Avraham or Yitzchak, was the kernel of the Jewish people. He embodied the 12 tribes who comprised the entire Jewish nation. This is why the Sages identify Yaakov as the בחיר שבאבות  – The select forefather. Avraham had two children, Yitzchak and Ishmael. Yitzchak was a tzaddik, Ishmael was not. Yitzchak also had two children, Yaakov and Esav. Yaakov was a tzaddik and Esav was not. Thus, neither Avraham nor Yitzchak embodied the entire Jewish nation.

A subtle purification process leading up to Yaakov was occurring. Avraham came from a long line of idolaters who had passed some of their negative traits to him. Some of the negative traits were discharged into Ishmael, and Yitzchak came out more refined than his father. Yitzchak then had Yaakov and Esav, the latter further filtering the dross from the family line, leaving Yaakov pure and clean of any of those negative traits. This became apparent when all 12 of his children were righteous. Only he was capable of fathering the Jewish nation.  Because we needed Yaakov, Yitzchak and Rivka’s prayer needed answering, hence the miracle of his birth.

But why did Hashem make a miracle to create Esav? What is the logic here? Why, from the moment of conception, is he there alongside Yaakov? Would the world not be a better place without another evil person and all those who came from him?


ספר בראשית פרק א

(א) בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹקים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ:

Genesis 1:1

 In the beginning of Hashem’s creating the heavens and the earth. …

רש”י על בראשית פרק א פסוק א

בראשית ברא – בשביל התורה שנקראת (משלי ח) ראשית דרכו ובשביל ישראל שנקראו (ירמי’ ב) ראשית תבואתו

Why did Hashem create the heavens and the earth?

On the first two words of the Torah בראשית ברא  – In the beginning of Hashem’s creating, Rashi explains, “For the Torah and for the Jewish nation.” Creation’s purpose is for the Jewish people to learn the Torah and perform the mitzvot so that they can reap the reward in the world to come. If for any reason the Jewish people would cease to learn Torah and perform mitzvot, the world would lose its purpose for existing and it would have to perish.

Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, of blessed memory writes in his commentary to Pirkei Avot – רוח חיים , Chapter 1:2

שהתורה היא העיקר שבה תלוי שפע חיות כל עולמות ואם ח”ו היה העולם כולו מקצהו ועד קצהו בטלים מן התורה רגע אחד כאחת היו ממש כל העולמות בטלים וחוזרים לתהו ובהו

If G-d forbid, from one end of the world to the other, there would be no study of Torah going on for one second, the world would have to return to תהו ובהו – nothingness, as it was before Creation.  

The Jewish nation must always remain alive and well, committed to the Torah- way of life, learning Torah and doing mitzvot, or the world loses its raison d’etre, and would have to be destroyed. This is why Yaakov’s miraculous creation necessitated the miraculous birth of his twin brother Esav, whose role it would be to preserve Yaakov throughout the ages.

Preserve Yaakov??

From the beginning these two brothers clearly had very different interests in life. The Torah tells us:

ספר בראשית פרק כה

(כז) וַיִּגְדְּלוּ הַנְּעָרִים וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד אִישׁ שָׂדֶה וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם ישֵׁב אֹהָלִים:

  1. The lads grew up and Esau became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Jacob was a wholesome man, abiding in tents:

Esav was a hunter and a man of the world. He was not designed to stay indoors all day and study the Torah. The Midrash informs us that Esav was an extremely accomplished hunter, and was considered the world’s best. He commanded the respect of his peers and became a very wealthy man.

Yaakov, on the other hand, was designed to study Torah all day and become a very holy man. He was preparing himself to become the greatest forefather of the Jewish nation.

Had Esav chosen to be righteous, he could have used his hunting skills and his wealth to support his brother’s uninterrupted Torah study so that he would not have to worry about whence would come his sustenance. This is what Zevulun, one of Yaakov’s sons, did for his brother Yissachar. Zevulun was a merchant who split his profits with his brother Yissachar so that the latter could dedicate himself to the study of Torah without having to worry about the source of his next meal. Had Esav chosen this path, Yaakov’s future would have been guaranteed; he would have had no rival, and, to the contrary, he would have had constant support and sustenance without worry or trouble. This would have been a win – win situation. Yaakov would have what he needed in this world, and Esav would earn a place in the world to come through his support of Yaakov’s Torah.

This is why, when the time came for Yitzchak to bless his children before he died, he wanted to give the primary blessing to Esav. Because Esav had successfully duped his father into thinking that he was righteous, Yitzchak assumed that Esav was supporting his holy brother Yaakov. Therefore, Yitzchak felt, Esav would need abundant blessing so he could do his holy task without difficulty.

This was Yitzchak’s blessing to the righteous person he thought Esav was:


ספר בראשית פרק כז

(כח) וְיִתֶּן לְךָ הָאֱלֹהִים מִטַּל הַשָּׁמַיִם וּמִשְׁמַנֵּי הָאָרֶץ וְרֹב דָּגָן וְתִירשׁ:

Genesis 27

  1. And may God give you of the dew of the heavens and of the fatness of the earth, and abundant grain and wine:

Rivka, however, knew Esav’s true nature. She realized that if Esav received the blessing for all the worldly wealth, he would share none of it with his brother Yaakov, who would starve to death. Rivka realized that this would be the end of the Torah, which requires total dedication without interruption. She urged Yaakov to take the blessing so that he would have an independent source of sustenance and be able to subsist without Esav’s support.

Esav, unfortunately, chose the evil path. Yet even in this capacity, he serves as Yaakov’s guardian to ensure that Yaakov remains true to his calling. In this scenario, when Yaakov stays true to his mission, Esav takes on the role of his supporter. When Yaakov, however, slips from his holy vocation and tries to join Esav in his pursuit of worldly pleasures and goods, Esav reacts in the most hostile way and totally rejects Yaakov, very often killing his progeny in the most horrific ways. This negative response reinforces Yaakov’s mission and prevents him from joining Esav and completely disappearing.

This mechanism operates like the circuit breaker in your home. When a wire becomes too hot and in danger of catching fire, the circuit breaker blows and stops all the electricity from passing through the wire. This prevents the house from catching fire and burning down. So, while you may be experiencing the discomfort of not having the air conditioning on a 95° day, you are much better off than the alternative.

This is why Yaakov’s creation necessitated Esav’s, and why the latter’s creation was essential to the creation of Yaakov.

The prophesy, that Esav can only rule over Yaakov when Yaakov is not studying the Torah and keeping mitzvot, is explicit in Yitzchak’s subsequent blessing to Esav. Just after Yaakov exited with the blessings, Esav walked in with the meal for his father. Yitzchak asked him, “Who are you?” to which Esav responded, “I am your eldest son, Esav.”

When Yitzchak explained to Esav that he had just given Esav’s blessing to Yaakov, Esav said to his father. “Have you only one blessing, father? Bless me too!”

This is the blessing that Yitzchak ultimately gave Esav.


ספר בראשית פרק כז

(לט) וַיַּעַן יִצְחָק אָבִיו וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו הִנֵּה מִשְׁמַנֵּי הָאָרֶץ יִהְיֶה מוֹשָׁבֶךָ וּמִטַּל הַשָּׁמַיִם מֵעָל:

(מ) וְעַל חַרְבְּךָ תִחְיֶה וְאֶת אָחִיךָ תַּעֲבֹד וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר תָּרִיד וּפָרַקְתָּ עֻלּוֹ מֵעַל צַוָּארֶךָ:

  1. So Isaac his father answered, and said to him – “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above:
  2. By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.”

Yitzchak clearly tells Esav that he will be subservient to his younger brother Yaakov. After all, the purpose of the world is for Yisroel and for the Torah. You will be there to serve him and help him in his holy work.

“yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.”

What would Yaakov do to aggrieve Esav that would allow Esav “to cast off the Yolk of Yaakov” and reign over him?

Rashi explains.

רש”י על בראשית פרק כז פסוק מ

והיה כאשר תריד – לשון צער כמו (תהלים נה) אריד בשיחי כלומר כשיעברו ישראל על התורה

ויהיה לך פתחון פה להצטער על הברכות שנטל ופרקת עלו וגו’:

This means to say, when the Jewish people will transgress the Torah’s laws, and you will have a valid reason to feel aggrieved about the blessings that Yaakov stole, then you will be able to cast his yolk off of you.

Yaakov’s entitlement to the blessings is because he is the purpose of the world, to be Hashem’s servant. Acknowledging that, Esav is prepared to take a back seat to him. When, however, Yaakov abdicates his position, Esav says, “How are you any better than I am? Why should I take a back seat to you?”

The Malbim in his commentary on these words says:


מלבים על בראשית פרק כז פסוק לט

(מ) ואת אחיך תעבד. וזה יהיה לך לאושר הנפש, וזה תלוי בתנאי, אם יעקב יעסוק בתורה ויעבוד את ה’ שאז תכנע לפניו, אבל בזמן שירפו ידיו מעבודת ה’ אז תהיה אתה המקל והרצועה לרדות וליסר אותו, וז”ש והיה כאשר תריד, עת שאתה תרדה בו ע”י שלא יעבוד את ה’, אז ופרקת עלו, כמ”ש בזמן שאין הקול קול יעקב אז הידים ידי עשו

And your brother you will serve: And this will be a tremendous source of satisfaction to you. However, this is conditional. If Yaakov learns the Torah and serves Hashem, then you will be subservient to him. But when he will weaken in his service to Hashem, you will be the stick and staff to punish him. As it states, והיה כאשר תריד “And it will be when you beat him,” When you will punish him when he is not serving Hashem anymore, then you will cast off his yolk, as it states in the Midrash:


מדרש רבה איכה – הקדמה פסקה ב

הקול קול יעקב והידים ידי עשו כל זמן שקולו של יעקב בבתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות אין הידים ידי עשו וכל זמן שאין קולו מצפצף בבתי כנסיות ובתי מדרשות והידים ידי עשו

Whenever the voice of Yaakov is heard in the study halls and shuls, Esav’s hands are ineffective, but when there is no voice of Yaakov in the study halls and shuls, then Esav’s hands take over.


 The Malbim continues:


וכן היה באמת שכ”ז שעבדו ישראל את ה’ היה אדום למס עובד כמו שהיה בימי דוד ושלמה ומלכי

ישראל הצדיקים, ועת חטאו ישראל כתיב בימיו פשע אדום וגו’ וימליכו עליהם מלך (מ”ב ח):


And so it has been. As long as the Jewish people served Hashem faithfully, Edom (Esav) was a servant to them. This is how it was in the days of King David and King Solomon and all the righteous kings of Israel. But when the Jewish people sinned, Edom chose a king to rule over them.


This has been the roller coaster of Jewish history, going all the way back to the Jewish people in the land of Israel. After a great start under the leadership of Joshua, we read in the Prophets how the Jewish people strayed from the Torah and worshipped the idols of their gentile neighbors. This brought the wrath of Hashem upon them, and their gentile neighbors warred with them.


For example, in Judges chapter 6 we read:


ספר שופטים פרק ו

(א) וַיַּעֲשׂוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְדֹוָד וַיִּתְּנֵם יְדֹוָד בְּיַד מִדְיָן שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים:

1) And the Bnai Yisroel did evil in Hashem’s eyes and Hashem gave them into the hands of Midyan for 7 years.

In chapter 10 – verses 6-7 it says:


ספר שופטים פרק י

(ו) וַיֹּסִפוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי יְדֹוָד וַיַּעַבְדוּ אֶת הַבְּעָלִים וְאֶת הָעַשְׁתָּרוֹת וְאֶת אֱלֹהֵי אֲרָם וְאֶת אֱלֹהֵי צִידוֹן וְאֵת אֱלֹהֵי מוֹאָב וְאֵת אֱלֹהֵי בְנֵי עַמּוֹן וְאֵת אֱלֹהֵי פְלִשְׁתִּים וַיַּעַזְבוּ אֶת יְדֹוָד וְלֹא עֲבָדוּהוּ:

(ז) וַיִּחַר אַף יְדֹוָד בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּמְכְּרֵם בְּיַד פְּלִשְׁתִּים וּבְיַד בְּנֵי עַמּוֹן:

6) The Bnai Yisroel continued to do evil in Hashem’s eyes, and they served the Baalim, the Ashtarot, the gods of Aram, and the gods of Tzidon, and the gods of Moav, and the gods of the Children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; they left Hashem and did not serve Him.

7) Hashem’s anger flared at the Jewish people and the sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Sons of Ammon. 


The second that they repented and returned to Hashem, He accepted them and called off the tormentors, until the next time they slipped.

Because it provides us with the source of our problem with the gentile world, this idea is very important to us today. It empowers us to strike at the root of the problem instead of at the symptom.

When we keep the voice of Yaakov strong in the study halls and the shuls, like Partners in Torah, and remain committed to doing the mitzvot, we are dealing a lethal blow to the hands of Esav.  By maintaining our fidelity to the kol Yaakov, Yaakov’s voice, we assure our individual and national continuation and nullify the hands of Esav.

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