The Legacy of Yaakov

In this week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to two men whose divergent paths and different choices left a lasting imprint that can still be felt today.

On the one end of the spectrum, we are introduced to Yaakov (Jacob). Yaakov, a grandson of Avraham (Abraham) and the son of Yitzchak (Isaac), was in many ways the ultimate product of such a distinguished lineage. He combined the kindness and wisdom that he learned from his forefathers, and developed into a great and pious individual, representing the traditions of strength, love, devotion to G-d, and tenacity of spirit. On the other end, we are introduced to his brother, Esav (Esau). While a product of the same home, Esav took a very different path. The Torah describes Esav as a man who was cruel, callous, and almost entirely hedonistic. It is hard to imagine two brothers who were so extraordinarily different.

Yaakov and Esav, men with opposing priorities, goals, and values, set the stage for mankind’s struggles for millennia to come. As the Gemara (Megilla 6a) explains, when one of these personalities rises, the other must fall.

One might expect the Torah to provide a detailed description of each of Yaakov and Esav’s abilities and tendencies, and to explain how these traits accounted for their differences. Surprisingly, when we look in the Torah we find just a few descriptive words about each of them.

The Torah explains that Yaakov was a “tent dweller;” Esav was a “man of the field.” Precisely what these words mean is left unexplained, and no more details are provided.

Rav Yerucham Levovitz (the late Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva) explains that these very descriptions are not simply ancillary character traits, but rather the very essence of each personality introduced. Yaakov, described as the “tent dweller” is, according to the commentators (Targum Yonasan, etc.) “one who strives for G-d.” Explains Rav Yerucham, this is what defined Yaakov and his descendants in the fullest way possible. Living with this as one’s essential purpose, a man will inevitably work on improving his interactions with others, with himself, and with his personal relationship with G-d. As Rav Yerucham underscores, Yaakov lived with this idea in the fullest sense, and that allowed for his incredible development in all areas.

It is this very trait, a passionate longing to be close to G-D, that allowed Yaakov to grow into one of the most important figures in our history. He imbued in us the drive to work on ourselves, to help others, and to feel the desire to cultivate and form our personal relationship with G-D. This finds expression in our modern world when we feel motivated to support others, develop our moral character and become bigger people. Stagnation and indifference are the antithesis of such a life’s mission, and a man who consistently works towards a close relationship with his creator will find his life impacted in every way.

Conversely, Esav was a “man of the field;” the commentators (Rashi, etc.) understand this to mean a “man of idleness.” As Rav Yerucham goes on to explain, this too is a core definition. Idleness describes something that is not in motion. In this context, it refers to an individual who remains unmoved and indifferent; it represents apathy and laziness.

Understandably, one who is uncaring and unmotivated will not change in any meaningful way. Change and improvement require effort and constant work, and the man who cannot be bothered will simply stay in the same place. This too finds expression in the modern world when we find ourselves feeling unenthusiastic and apathetic towards any form of meaningful growth or effort.

These opposing personalities represent a dichotomy that many of us find ourselves struggling with in our lives. Apathy and indifference remove a person from a life lived with spiritual connection, devotion, and empathy. However, if we try to emulate Yaakov, one who strives for G-d, we can be confident with the knowledge that our lives will undoubtedly be richer and more fulfilled, through our relationships with ourselves, others and ultimately G-d Himself.

About the Author
Ari Walfish was born and raised in Toronto. After graduating high school, Ari spent several years learning in Yeshivos in both Israel and America. Ari earned an MBA from Emporia State University and is currently learning in a Kollel in Yerushalayim.
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