Who really RULES our Body and our Spirit – from the Womb to the Tomb?!
The children agitated within her…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!” (Bereishis/Genesis 25:23)
We are sharing this Special Edition Post on The Source of our Struggle in Life:
As we conclude the book of Genesis, we can look back thru the stories and ask, “So What?!” I’ve been learning the stories since I was 3 yrs old about the creation of the Universe – the Ark – the Tests of Avraham and how the Jewish People ended up in Egypt. Let’s just move on to the book of Exodus and…we all know what happens next.
But what if we really took a deeper look into these “storybook heroes” and ask…Is there anything we can learn that could explain and enrich our own personal lives; with all its tests and struggles? And guess what…one of the most profound lessons of all is sitting right under our nose, in the story of Yakov and Esav!
Check this out!
In Parsha Toldos, at the beginning, we read about the births of the TWINS: Yakov & Esav. It says in 25:26 that after Esav was born first, then “his brother emerged with his hand grasping on to the HEEL of Esav…The lads grew up and Esav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents.”
The Sifsei Chachamim comments about their PERSONALITIES that until they grew up they were relatively similar to one another. But after the age of thirteen, the essential differences became apparent with Esav turning to idols and Yakov going to the study hall.
As we know from that point on, Esav and Yakov lived completely polar opposite lives. And there was always a fight between them – who would defeat the other. Always!
But it was typically Yakov who was trying to run away from Esav. And yet it was Esav who kept trying to copy Yakov. Neither Esav nor Yakov could rule the other, but they both competed for power from the day they were born until the day they died (more about that later!)
The Accumulator versus the Builder!
Throughout their lives, both Yakov and Esav were essentially doing the very same thing! Both were acquiring wives and children…sheep and cattle…land and wealth…weapons and soldiers! But there was a huge difference between these two. Let’s look inside at various verses to help us paint a complete picture of who is Accumulating and who is Building:
- Chapter 25:Verses 29-32 – Esav came in from the field and he was exhausted. [midrash says, Esav was exhausted since he had relations with so many women] Esav said to Yakov, “Pour into me now some of that red stew for I am exhausted.” Yakov said, “Sell your birthright to me.” and Esav said, “Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is a birthright?!”
- Chapter 26:Verse 34 – When Esav was forty, he took Judith and Elon as wives and they were a source of spiritual rebellion to Yitzchok and Rifka. [R. Hirsch comments that until 40, he had been immoral, enticing married women from their husbands. But he wanted to show his “righteousness” by following his father who married at 40. However, he chose Hittite women who were known for their unbridled passion and evil nature!]
- Chapter 28:Verses 6-9 – When Esav saw that Yitzchok had blessed Yakov and sent him to Paddan-aram to take a wife; and that Yakov obeyed his father and mother – Esav perceived that his wives were evil in their eyes. So Esav went to Ishmael and took his daughter, in addition to his wives, as a wife for himself. [R. Hirsch comments that this episode justifies the portrait of Esav as a selfish person, oblivious to all but his own desires. And regardless of how his Canaanite wives caused his parents so much anguish, instead of divorcing them, he merely took another unsuitable wife in addition to them.]
The picture of Yakov and Esav is almost completed:
- In the upcoming Parshas, we follow Yakov after fleeing Esav – as he spends 36 year away from home. In this period, we witness how Yakov the “tent dwelling wholesome man” becomes worthy for his offspring – including us to be called “B’nai Yisroel.” To prepare himself for the Real World, he first learns in the Academy of Eber, expert in facing a world of manipulative, aggressive and corrupt men. Then Yakov goes to Haran to get brutal “on the job” training by serving in the house of the deceptive Laban! Just imagine how such a wholesome and principled man was able to outwit Laban and become the Patriarch of an entire family with vast wealth and strength!
- There has never been a movie or book with as much drama and emotion as the entire next Parsha of Vayishlach.
- With Esav’s anger and determination to attack and destroy his own brother…
- With Yakov’s all night battle and victory over the Angel of Esav…
- To Yakov’s skill at preparation and negotiation and ultimate peaceful reconciliation with Esav.
- To the rape of his daughter Dina by Shechem, and the ultimate deception and decimation of the city.
- And finally losing his beloved wife Rachel. Plus the later loss of his favorite son Yosef!!
As we stated at the beginning, throughout their lives, both Yakov and Esav were essentially doing the very same thing! But I believe we can now fully recognize who was the ACCUMULATOR and who was the BUILDER!!
Clearly, Esav was the Accumulator! Underlying all his thoughts and choices, Esav was only thinking about himself…always asking, “What’s in it for me?” With no end to his greed and taking, taking, taking everything he could get his hands on!
But looking from the outside, it seems that Yakov was doing the same thing – acquiring and collecting and growing his family and wealth. Except there is one significant difference – Yakov was the Builder always looking outside of himself asking, “Who am I serving now?” Yakov was fully aware of his personal strengths AND his weaknesses! And dedicated his life to learning how to INTEGRATE his service to G-d and still navigate amongst our very self-centered world. For sure Yakov had to be tough, he had to fight and he had complete Emunah that G-d would be by his side!
So WHO ARE WE? Are we Esav or are we Yakov?
THE ANSWER TO THIS VITAL QUESTION IS THAT WE ARE BOTH!!
From a spiritual perspective, we can see that our PERSONALITY is made up of two very different and contradictory parts. We are made up of two “inclinations”- The Yetzer Tov (Yakov) and the Yetzer Hara (Esav). One side of us is reaching up to serve G-d. And the other side is pushing us down to serve OurSelves! The STRUGGLE between Yakov and Esav is the same struggle we experience inside ourselves – every single day of our life!!
As addicts, we know all about self-gratification, self-reliance, dishonesty, resentment and fear. We want to be like Esav – living a life that is seemingly independent and exhilarating! And then we hit Rock Bottom and come into The Program. But we don’t really become a New Person – that’s not possible. Rather, we RECOVER our inner and most humble, honest and pure self!! It’s always been there, we never lose it – it’s being suffocated by our Esav-Self.
From the WOMB to the TOMB… where do you want to be at 120?
So let’s get back to the Lives and the Deaths of Yakov and Esav
And here’s where the real Chidush is in this Special Edition Post:
As we have learned, when Rivkah gave birth to the twins, Yakov was holding onto the heel of Esav. Yakov KNEW that as a spiritual and modest being, that he could not survive in the tough world he was headed. He knew that his role was to BUILD Klal Yisroel. That’s why he had to HOLD ON TO THE ESAV INSIDE OF HIM! For the benefit it would have keeping him CLEVER and STONG enough to fill his critically important mission.
But the end of Yakov’s life, was also the end of Esav’s life – (another hint to the symbolism that they were just one person.) See the last Post discussing Parsha Yayechi in which we learn that at the burial of Yakov, when Esav showed up to declare his rule over Yakov, Chusim hit Esav so hard that his head was decapitated from his body and it rolled into the Kever with Yakov!!
The Midrash connects the name Rivkah (Rebekah/RVKH) with hakever (hkvr), literally “the grave,” which is Rivkah spelled backwards. And if the reader finds the link between this name and that word a bit startling, I might remind you that throughout the Tractate Nidda, the word kever(literally grave) is used as a synonym for womb (rehem)!
And guess where Esav’s head ended up in the Kever with Yakov?
AT YAKOV’S FEET!!! AT HIS HEELS!!!
Our story of the life of these two giants has now gone full circle!
When we come from the WOMB into this World, we must have some (healthy balance of) Esav in us to BUILD and to ACCOMPLISH our Mission in Life!
But when we leave this World in the TOMB, it is Esav that needs to grab at the heels of Yakov to merit the WORLD TO COME!!