Encountering Eisav in Parshat Toldot


In many ways, Parashat Toldot can be thought of as “the parasha of brachot,” since both Ya’akov and Eisav received blessings from their father Yitzchak.

While Ya’akov’s first blessing was initially designed and designated for Eisav, his second one was specifically formulated for him. In contrast, Eisav received only one bracha. Yet, on a certain level we can readily ask, “Why was Eisav given a bracha at all?” After all, juxtaposed to Yitzchak’s announcement to Eisav that he was prepared to give him his blessing, the Torah informs us that Eisav married two Hittite women, Yehudit bat B’ari and Bashmat bat Alon. These women were a complete “vexation of the spirit to Yitzchak and to Rivka” since, as Rashi explains, “they worshipped idols.”

A number of meforshim wrestled with our question and gave a variety of answers. In my estimation, Rabbi Chayim ben Moshe ibn Attar in his sefer Ohr HaChayim, offers one of the clearest responses: “The reason why Yitzchak desired to bestow a bracha upon the evil Eisav was because he thought that as a result of the many blessings contained therein, he would alter his behavior and acquire positive ethical characteristics and, thereby, improve his actions. This is the case, since the tzaddikim suffer greatly when their children act in an evil manner; as such, he [Yitzchak] tried to bring him [Eisav] to improve his ways. In addition, it is entirely possible that this could have succeeded, for as our sages teach us, Ya’akov was punished for withholding Dinah from Eisav, since she would have had the ability to bring him back to all that is good.”

In sum, according to Rav Attar, Yitzchak sought to bless Eisav for two reasons: To alleviate his own pain and suffering, and to help his eldest son do teshuvah and return to the path of proper behavior. Unfortunately, neither of these potentialities were achieved, and Eisav’s anti-Semitic descendants ceaselessly plague us today. As Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai so poignantly taught us: “It is a well-known fact that Eisav hates Jacob…” (Sifrei Bamidbar 69)

In 1732, the British poet, Alexander Pope, coined the now proverbial phrase, “Hope springs eternal.” (An Essay on Man) While this is true for humankind in general, it is particularly true for the Jewish people. We steadfastly hope for a nobler and gentler tomorrow wherein all people will recognize the truth of Hashem’s existence, accept His kingship, turn toward Him, reject false idols and stand shoulder to shoulder to create an equitable world for one and all. In short, as we recite in the second paragraph of the Aleinu:

“And so, we hope in You, Hashem our G-d, to soon see Your splendor when You will sweep idolatry away so that false gods will be utterly destroyed and You will perfect the world through Your kingship. Then, all humanity will invoke Your name, and all the evil ones of the earth will turn unto You. Then all who live will know that unto You every knee must bend, every tongue pledge loyalty. May all bow in worship to You, Hashem. May they give honor to Your glory; may everyone accept Your dominion. Reign over all, soon and for all time. Kingship is Yours in glory, now and forever. As it is written in Your Torah: “Hashem reigns for ever and ever.” And so, too, does it state: ‘And Hashem will become King over all the earth; on that day Hashem will be one, and His name one’.”

With Hashem’s help and our fervent desire, may we witness the realization of the prophet Zechariah’s stirring words soon and in our time: “And Hashem will become King over all the earth; on that day Hashem will be one, and His name one.” (14:9) V’chane yihi ratzon.