Yoni Mozeson
FInding God's hiding places

The Midrash puts anti-semitism on trial

For the uninitiated, Midrash is part of the Jewish Oral Tradition dating back to the receiving of the Torah at Sinai. The Midrash provides the psychological backstory to the Bible. It quotes many of the same Rabbinic sages who appear in the Talmud. 

The Midrash makes an unusual assertion – that only the descendants of Rachel can conquer the descendants of Esau, (Midrash Rabbah Vayeitzei-73:7) especially the most notorious descendant of Esau – Amalek. (Although there is no specific nation today called Amalek, they are  defined as any person or group who seeks our destruction – from Hitler to Hamas).* 

Who is Esau today? In the Talmud, Esau is the progenitor of the Roman Empire  and the nations that emerged from Rome. Today, that would include Western civilization, as well as Russia and the Slavic nations.

A war crimes trial at the end of days

The Midrash describes when Esau is put on trial – a trial to end all trials. (Psikta Rabbah 12:6) As we mentioned, only the children of Rachel can stand up to Esau therefore the guardian angel of Joseph and the guardian angel of Esau are the litigants. Standing with the guardian angel of Rachel are the heads of each of the tribes of Israel. Esau is presumably on trial for all atrocities against the Jewish People throughout history. God is the judge. 

As the trial begins, the guardian angel of Esau goes on the offensive. He hurls accusations at the opposing litigants. He claims that the crimes his opponents have committed are so bad, they are ineligible to make accusations against him. The first litigant he opposes is the head of the Tribe of Reuben. After all נחשדת על אשת אביך [Reuben] “you are suspected of having relations with one of your father’s (Jacob) wives [concubines].” (Genesis-35:22) Interestingly, The judge (God) does not challenge this assertion even though the Talmud says explicitly “Rabbi Shemuel bar Nachmani said in the name of Rabbi Yonatan: Anyone who says that Reuven sinned, is mistaken.”** 

The guardian angel of Esau makes a similar accusation against Judah who is נחשדת על כלתךsuspected about [having relations with] his daughter in law.” Once again, the Judge [God] does not object even though Judah’s daughter in law, Tamar, dressed up like a prostitute so Judah did not know her identity.(Genesis-38:15) Furthermore, before the Torah was given, this was considered a legitimate form of Levirate marriage.*** Another accusation is made against the representatives of the tribes of Simon and Levi because they killed out the men of Shechem

(Bereishis-34:25). No mention was made of the fact that they were trying to rescue their sister Dina who was abducted and sexually assaulted. The final accusation is made against representatives of the nine brothers who sold Joseph into slavery. Once again the Judge (God) voices no objection even though Esau announced his plan to kill his brother Jacob.(Genesis-27:41) 

Why was the Judge silent?

As you can see, Esau’s accusations were based on lies, distortions and half truths. I believe that there were no objections raised because the Midrash is mirroring classical antisemitism of the past and of the future. Esau’s claims were reminiscent of the blood libels and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Esau came to the trial with a rap sheet stretching 4,000 years. Including all the atrocities that the Roman Empire and its descendants committed against the Jews. The crusades and the inquisition, pogroms & massacres, and the holocaust – to name a few.

God may also have been silent because God knows the outcome.

The final showdown

At the conclusion of the trial, the only litigant facing the guardian angel of Esau is the guardian angel of Joseph. Joseph could not be accused of sexual immorality because, quite the opposite, he withstood the advances of Potifar’s wife. He could not be accused of mistreating his brothers because he forgave them for selling him into slavery. Finally, he did not murder anyone. This is in stark contrast with Esau. The Talmud says that on the day that Esau sold his birthright to Jacob he committed 5 sins, including murder and sexual assault.**** 

Therefore the Midrash concludes: “However as soon as the angel of Joseph confronts him (the angel of Esau), Esau is defeated for he has no retort” (Psikta Rabbah 12:6).

The Midrash is a comment on today’s anti-Israel vitriol

I believe this Midrash wants you to know what drives antisemitism. There is a pathological need to accuse Jews of the crimes that the accuser is guilty of. Today, as in the trial of Esau, those who are more likely to commit (or condone) genocide and apartheid are the ones screaming those phrases the loudest. Look no further than South Africa, Iran ,Qatar, Hamas and Hizbollah.

The Midrash wants us to know that the way it was is the way it will be – until the end of days.


*This is the opinion of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (Kol Dodi Dofek, ch. 10). In the Bible you see that all the wars against Amalek were fought by descendants of Rachel. That’s why King Saul, from the tribe of Benjamin, fought Amalek. (Samuel I, Chapter 15) and Mordechai, also from the tribe of Benjamin, fought Haman (Amalek) in the Purim story. (The Book of Esther). 

**Talmud Shabbat 55B on the incident recorded in Genesis-35:21-22) Most commentators believe that, after the death of Rachel,  Reuben simply moved his father’s bed from the tent of Rachel to to the tent of his mother Leah.

*** Levirate marriage (yibbum) is the obligation of a surviving brother to marry the widow of his brother if he died without having children (Deuteronomy 25:5-6)

**** אָמַר רַבִּי יוֹחָנָן: חָמֵשׁ עֲבֵירוֹת עָבַר אוֹתוֹ רָשָׁע בְּאוֹתוֹ הַיּוֹםבָּא עַל נַעֲרָה מְאוֹרָסָה, וְהָרַג אֶת הַנֶּפֶשׁ, וְכָפַר בָּעִיקָּר, וְכָפַר בִּתְחִיַּית הַמֵּתִים, וְשָׁט אֶת הַבְּכוֹרָה.

Rabbi Yoḥanan says: That wicked Esau committed five transgressions on that day that Abraham died: He engaged in sexual intercourse with a betrothed maiden, he killed a person, he denied the principle of God’s existence, he denied resurrection of the dead, and he despised the birthright (Talmud Baba Batra:16b).

About the Author
(Almost 100 Midrash Video summaries can be found on my youtube playlist: After college and Semicha at Yeshiva University my first pulpit was Ogilvy where I wrote TV commercials for brands like American Express, Huggies and Duracell. My passion is Midrash Tanchuma. I am an Architect of Elegant Marketing Solutions at We are living in (where else) the Nachlaot neighborhood of Jerusalem.
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