Why was the soup red? Why a ladder? And what is it to be Yisrael?
Let’s look at the personal profiles provided at the beginning of the story: Esav – born first, hairy, ruddy (Edom), a knower of the hunt, a man of the field (understands nature), loved by his father, passionate. Yaacov – born second, a heeler (ekev), smooth skin, innocent or naive, a man of the home, a cook, loved by his mother. Now putting aside all commentaries and midrashim, try the following exercise with your family and friends: If you met Esav today what would he look like? What clothes would he be wearing? What transportation would he use (type of car, bicycle, bus, scooter etc.)? What job would he have? What food would he prefer? What would his relationships be like with women, with his mother, with his father? Would you want to befriend him? Now do the same for Yaacov. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers. After you have done this read on.
What follows is my own personality profile.
I see Esav as a macho man, that is: externally he puts on the show of being tough but inside he’s actually immature and weak. He’s a father’s boy. He understands the ways of the world whether it’s hunting for food, surviving in the wilderness of nature, or the jungle of the business world. He has an easy time being with women, drinking in the pub. He likes his meat and rides a Harley-Davidson. He is definitely more connected with his masculinity than with his femininity. But actually, he yearns for his mother’s love.
Yaacov is a mother’s boy, shy, and inhibited. He prefers to stay at home, providing, studying, dreaming, cooking. Definately a vegetarian, maybe even a vegan. Rides a bike and wears John Lennon glasses. He has a very difficult time making friends, especially with woman, especially since his mother is always around. He longs for his father’s love and approval. And even though he is constantly stifled by his ‘Jewish’ mother he knows that he is born to greatness (compare to Yosef).
And day after day he watches his brother return from the ‘hunt’ – the big world. “What would it be like to be Esav, to be out in the big world, to have hair on my chest, to be a man?” So one day he makes a red pottage, since red (adom) is the colour of earth (adamah), of blood (dam), of yang (male – adam) energy, the energy of Esav who is called Edom, the Red Man. “Maybe if I eat this ‘magic potion’ I will become a little bit like my brother? Maybe if I rub it on my chest…?”
But Esav bursts in: “What are you doing with my energy? Don’t you know that I need it, for it is adom like me and without it I will die?!!” So instead of the soup Yaacov gets the birthright. Or maybe that was his intention in the first place?
And see whom Esav marries: Yehudit the daughter of the Well (Beeri) and Basemat the daughter of the Tree (Elon); he marries into nature!
Later, during the deception for Yizhak’s blessing, Yaacov actually gets to feel what it’s like to have hairy (Seir) arms, a hairy (Seir) chest, and smell of the field. For a moment, at his mother’s prompting, he becomes Esav in all but his voice (whether the pitch of his voice or the manner of his speech, you can decide). “So this is what it feels like to be what I am not.” But this is all false. What Yaacov wants cannot be achieved by cheating and lying.
Now here’s a surprise: after the material blessings have been given, first to Yaacov disguised as Esav, and then to Esav, Yizhak gives Yaacov the true spiritual blessing as the inheritor of the Abrahamic destiny. So why did he have to cheat? For this Rivka takes upon herself the ‘curse’ for her actions – the worst possible punishment for a mother – she will never see her beloved son again!
Now Yaacov is off into the big, dangerous world to face his destiny. And he dreams of a ladder. Why a ladder? We will come back to that later. Then he arrives in Haran, and, with mother far away, what is the first thing that he does? Like a macho-man, he flexes his muscles and rolls back the stone from the mouth of the well. All on his own. And for a woman too! Isn’t this what you would expect perhaps from Esav?
22 years later Yaacov returns. What does he look like now? He is muscular, tanned, and wealthy; he knows the ways of the world and of nature, for he had the greatest teacher, Lavan – the White Man! He now has four woman and 12 children (one more on the way). And who does he resemble now? Esav! Maybe he’s even grown some chest hair (Seir). When they finally meet, Esav sees someone so much like himself – a true brother – and kisses him. “Finally you’ve grown-up and learnt to be a real man… just like me!” But Yaacov has not become Esav – he has become Yisrael, the integration of Yaacov, the Man of Spirit, with his shadow – Esav – the Man of Earth. For this was the struggle with the stranger (the Angel of Esav?) in the night, as it was at the beginning, in the womb of their mother. Finally Yaacov becomes whole (mushlam), that is, he becomes Yisrael (Yishar El – Straight with God): the bridge between Heaven and Earth; a triangle from below and a triangle from above, kissing and locking together right there in the heart; a ladder for the angels to ascend and descend.
This is Yaacov’s journey.
It is also our journey – the journey of Yisrael.
But what of Esav? He never tries to integrate his heavenly-self with his earthly-self, his yin with his yang. He never goes to therapy to ‘figure it out’. He never changes – except, and do not belittle this exception, he finds it in himself to forgive his brother. And when it comes to traveling together Esav says: “Hey bro’, let’s hang out together, we must have so much to talk about, drink about; maybe we can do some business together? Discuss sports? Women? Whatever. Come with me.”
But Yaacov declines, he gives an excuse – the lambs are too young. Meaning “Brother, I’ll catch you up.”
Esav doesn’t/can’t understand. “You’re not still doing that meditation, spiritual, touchy-feely stuff are you? Come on, get real!” He shrugs his shoulder and goes on his way back, to Seir, which is Edom. Nothing’s changed.
But it can happen that this inability to integrate worlds, to face the shadow-side, becomes overwhelmingly insidious – then it can turn into jealousy and hatred, where the one tries to belittle, to nullify, to exterminate the other. This is Amalek, Esav’s grandson…
Finally, to put it all together:
We are given this opportunity as human beings to participate in the divine plan. Then, in the arms of God’s compassion, we return to our true nature to be one with the Beloved and thus fulfill God’s will on earth. We are the bridge between heaven and earth, and we can return to God through the sacrifice of all that we think we are, while at the same time acting as a channel for the divine will to manifest on earth. In this way we are turning to God and to earth like a vortex, or spiral, moving up and down at the same time. We turn to God so that the will of God may manifest through us.
(Reshad Feild – The Alchemy of the Heart)