Yael Chaya Miriam Gray

Who Are The Firstborn and Why Should We Care?

Under Torah Law, the firstborn male in a family inherits a double portion of his father’s estate upon his death.[1] As between Esau and Yaakov, however, the question of which brother is the firstborn son is not an easy oneThe Torah recounts, in all apparent simplicity:
“This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham, the firstborn of Terach. Abraham begot Isaac[, the firstborn of the righteous Sorah]. Isaac was forty years old [2] when he took to wife Rivka, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean.[3] Isaac pleaded with G-d on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and G-d responded to his plea, and his wife Rebekah conceived. But the children struggled in her womb[4], and she said, “If so, why do I exist?”[5] She went to inquire of G-d, and G-d answered her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.’[6]“When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so they named him Jacob.”[7]
Yet, although Esau emerged first from the womb, our Sages seem to agree that Yaakov was the first to be conceived:
“A Roman matron challenged R. Yosei Ben Chalafta: ‘Why did Esau come out first?’ Said he to her: ‘If you insert two pearls into a tube, would not the one you inserted last come out first? So, too, the seed of Yaakov came down.'” [8]
The Alshich explains this principle with a penetrating example from agriculture:
The husk is formed before the fruit.[9] Night precedes day, and the temporal world – which Esau took as his portion – precedes the World to Come. Thus, the name ‘Esau’ is conjugated in the present tense (‘ready-made‘); whereas ‘Yaakov’ (‘will follow‘) indicates the future. But what comes last in actuality is primary in intent and essence.” [10]
Why does this matter? Because the “estate” we’re talking about here is the estate of Avrohom, which G-d promised to Yitzchok,[11] Avrohom’s firstborn son by the righteous Sorah, and which Yitzchok inherited from his Father upon his death, in accordance with Torah law[12]. It’s not merely land, gold, silver, servants, and livestock that are a part of that estate, abundant though they may have been. The ARIZAL tells us that such corporeal possessions – when they are mentioned in the Torah – are mere symbols of a spiritual prosperity beyond any conceivable material price.[13]. For the real wealth of Avrohom lay in his relationship with His Creator, whom he served so completely, perfectly, unquestioningly, uncomplainingly, and un-self-consciously, that, in the words of R. Abraham Abulafia, “He was he.”[14]
Which of Avrohom’s sons would inherit this priceless legacy? Esau the red, the mighty hunter, with his vigorous lust for the material world – symbolic of earth and Olam HaTohu – the one who emerged from the womb first? Or Yaakov Avinu, the thoughtful talmid chocham, the spiritual “dweller in tents’ – symbolic of heaven and Olam HaTikkun, who was conceived first? The answer seems obvious, but it isn’t.
R. Yanki Tauber asks – but confesses that even the Talmud cannot answer – this perplexing question:
“[W]hen it is prophesied in the opening phrases of Toledoth that ‘the elder will serve the younger,’who is the elder and who is the younger?The ambiguity runs deeper: On the day of Avrohom’s passing, Esau [‘the red’] sells his birthright to Yaakov for a mess of [red] potage. Has Yaakov, now the ‘elder,’ only maneuvered himself into a subservient position? Or does Yaakov now hold both cards in his hand, and can he now lay claim to both worlds?
“The same conundrum attends the relationship between spirit and matter. Which came first, heaven or earth? [Bereishis] 1:1 has it one way. [Bereishis] 2:4 has it another. If spirituality is a vehicle for divine self-expression, and matter is a reflection of G-d’s absoluteness of being, which is more deeply rooted in the Divine essence? Which is greater – the power to reveal or the power to withhold? ‘This question has no resolution’ is the Talmud’s response to the query of whether light was created before darkness, or darkness before light.’
“In the terminology of Kabbalah, this is the paradox of the ‘inverted seal.’ As the stamping of a seal in wax leaves protrusions where the seal is recessed and impressions where it protrudes, so is every entity and phenomena an inversion os its state in a higher realm. Light is loftier than darkness, but the source of light occupies a higher space in the hierarchy of creation than darkness’ source – and so on. In the words of the Lecha Dodi hymn authored by R. Shlomo Alkabetz, ‘what is last in deed is first in thought.'” [15]
As if all of this isn’t the tops in complexity, consider this passage from the Ohr HaChaim, which equates heaven – here symbolic of Olam HaTikkun and Yaakov – with Earth – here symbolic of Olan haTikkun and Esau – at least in their original state, echoing the famous Midrash about the sun and the moon originally being created by G-d to be equal[16]:
“The first verse of the Torah [‘Bereishis bara Elokhim bara et ha shamayim et ha eretz’] may have yet another meaning. It is to inform us that at the beginning G’d established earth [Olam haTohu] as equal to heaven [Olam HaTikkun] in spite of the fact that the heavens are the “upper” parts of the universe. Nonetheless, the earth [Esau] started out by being pure. We need no other proof for this than that man [Adam] was created from earthly materials.[17] Once he had been created the angels even mistook [Adam] for a divine being until they realised that man required sleep (Bereshit Rabbah 8,9). Not only that, G’d chose to have His residence on earth, sharing it with His creatures, preparing a house on earth for His “rest,” so to speak. It is obvious that G’d’s “home” must be perfect and sacredPrior to Adam’s sin G’d was as much at home on earth as He is in Heaven nowadays. All of this is part of the meaning of the words: ‘At the beginning G’d created heaven and earth.’ They shared many of the same properties as far as purity is concerned, etc. Isaiah 66,1 alluded to this when he said: “The heaven is My throne and the earth My footstool.” Evidently earth was an abode fit for G’d Himself. It is only the deeds performed by people on this “lower” part of the universe that caused Tohu Vavohu to become an integral part of earth. The author understands the word hayatah as a development which followed creation of heaven and earth instead of as a condition which preceded the creative process. Ed.] The earth then became something tangible and opaque, hence dark.” [18]
So both Esau and Yaakov started out being equally significant, equally pure, and equally a part of G-d’s design for humankind, fully conforming to it in their every individual particular. [19] But they did not start out equally powerfulfor Esau, being G-d’s putative firstborn, received a double portion of his Father’s – G-d’s – vigor. So powerful were the lights of Esau – the souls of Olam HaTohu – that their very intensity shattered their vessels which received them, and fell they into the kelipot (forces of evil). [20]
From ancient times until the sin of the chet egel, it was the privilege of the firstborn – the first to be actually be born, not the first to be conceived – to offer sacrifices at the private altars before G-d. [21]. They lost these privileges when, during their incarnation as the Eirev Rav [22], they precipitated the sin of the Golden Calf, leading to the shattering of the first Luchot [23].
“Said Eisov [to Yaakov]: ‘What is the nature of this Service?’ He [Yaakov] responded: ‘There are many prohibitions, punishments, [even] punishments by death that are involved with it—as we learned [in the Mishnah,] ‘The following are punishable by death: [those performing the service] having drunk wine, or without a haircut.’ So he [Eisov] said, ‘I will eventually die as a result of it [my birthright]; if so, why should I desire it?”[24]
Eisov scorned. Scripture testifies to his wickedness, that he was contemptuous of God’s Service.[25] Yitzchok couldn’t see through Esau. [25]. Yaakov couldn’t see through Esau. Only Rivka, who grew up among idolators, realized that Esau was incapable of channeling his oceanic energies wholly and consistently into his avodas Hashem (the worship of G-d) to the extent that would be required of the Abrahamic heir. [26] That’s why Rivkah engineered Yaakov’s stealing of Esau’s blessings.
But although he clearly prepared to acknowledge Esau as the firstborn of his father, Yitzchok, and therefore his superior in some ways[27], Yaakov doubted that Esau was fit to be the Abrahamic heir [28]. Nevertheless,
“Yaakov did not desire the task. His encounter, in his incarnation as Adam in the Garden, with the roiling passions of tohu, had resulted in a catastrophe. He was perfectly content to cultivate his realm of the spirit and leave the material world to its own devices. I was Rivka, who in her previous incarnation as Chava had fallen prey to the cunning of the serpent and was instrumental in causing the collapse of Tohu, who was determined to turn that selfsame cunning on its head. She dressed her spiritual son in a materialists, put imitation game in his hands, and thrust him into the role of the one who engages, masters, and develops the Esau in himself and in creation[29].”
“Rivka was convinced that the material world cannot be left to the materialists. Rather, it is the people of the spirit who must achieve mastery over the physical world – not because spirit is greater than matter, but because in its present, unredeemed state, the material self is handicapped by an opaqueness of vision and a confusion of priorities that only the spiritually connected can penetrate and untangle[30].”
“And Yaakov said to his mother, Rivka: “Here my brother Esau is a hairy man and I am a smooth man. Perhaps my father will feel me and I will be in his eyes as a trickster, and I will bring upon myself a curse, rather than a blessing”[31]
Says R. Yaakov Zvi Meckenburg:
“It is significant that Yaakov uses the term, ‘perhaps’ (alef-lamed-yud, ‘ulai’) and not ‘lest’ (peh-nun, ‘pen’). The former has a positive connotation, indicating that the speaker is hoping for that outcome, while the latter denoted an undesirable possibility. We see here Yaakov’s great reluctance to carry out his mother’s plan, to the extent that he actually hopes that his father will discover the ruse and prevent him from receiving the blessings by deceit.”
So although truth is the seal of Yaakov, Rivka’s plan for Yaakov to obtain Esau’s blessing by deceit makes perfect sense:
“A force can only be overcome by turning its own power against itself. The primordial serpent, from whom Esau draws his power, was ‘cunning’, so Yaakov had to assume that very cunning in order to wrest the blessings from Esau.”[32]
R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi explains further:
“It was the cunning of the serpent in tricking Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge that brought about the collapse of the world of Tohu and the scattering of its immense divine potential as ‘sparks of holiness’ buried in the material world. The only way to reverse this primordial deception is with a counter-deception. Yaakov must therefore don the garments of his materialist brother to obtain the blessings that will empower him to infuse the material world with G-dliness and elevate these fallen sparks. For had Yaakov not received these blessings, the Torah would have been drawn down only as far as the spiritual realm, and the material realm would have remained the jumble of good and evil it became when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree.”
Why does this matter?
“Ever since Yaakov dressed himself in Esau’s garments to receive the blessings… there is an inherent duplicity in the Jew’s interactions with the material world. As Jews, we present ourselves as a full-fledged participant in physical life. We act as if we eat because the food is tasty, do business because we want the money, pursue a profession because there is where our ambitions lie. But it’s all a facade, for in truth we regard the physical existence as but a means to a higher end. We don this disguise to engage a world that is all surface, whose very definition is that it is a shell that obscures its own inner truth, when we break away from our material involvements in order to pray, we know that our interest in ‘the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land’ is only to utilize them to serve our creator.”[33]
But most importantly of all, it’s important for what it portends for our future:
“Yitzchok slowed the expansion of the influence of the tree of knowledge by means of the birth of the twins Jacob and Esau. This was an indication that even evil can be rehabilitated….Our sages phrased it thus: Esau’s head reposes within thlap of Isaac; such is the mystery of how evil can be rehabilitated….All of these events will occur at the time when G–d will “slaughter” the angel of death. This is the plain meaning of Isaiah 25,8 בלע המות לנצח, “He will destroy death forever.”…The very name סמ-אל Samael, reflects the dual nature of evil. On the one hand the name, KEL, G–d, is part of that definition, on the other hand the word סם represents the סם המות, lethal poison….In such a future the סם aspect of S*tan/ Samael will be abolished. We, the Jewish nation however, are called by the name of G–d.” [34]
[1] So important is the fact of being firstborn that even the firstborn of the firstborn of the flocks and the first fruits of the earth belong to G-d.
  • As to Livestock: “Every firstborn that is born in your cattle, and in your flocks—a male—you must consecrate to Adonoy, your God; you may not work with your first-born ox, or shear the first-born of your flocks”. Deuteronomy 15:19
  • As to the first fruits: “When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the first fruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, ‘I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your G-d.” Deuteronomy 26: 1-11.
[2] Talmud Bavli 91b.
[3] Yaakov’s wives, Leah and Rachel, were the daughter of Rivka’s uncle, Laban. Bereishis 29:16-17.
  • “When Rivka would pass a house of study, Yaakov would rush forward to come out; and when she passed a house of idolatry, Esau would rush forward. Another explanation: They were struggling amongst themselves, fighting over the inheritance of the two worlds.” Midrah Rabbah; Yalkut Shemoni; Rashi.
  • “If Esau desires only the material world, and all Yaakov wants is the World To Come, what is their quarrel? In truth, however, both the ‘perfectly pious’ and the ‘conqueror’ inhabit and require both worlds. Where they differ is in their perspective on these two realities. For the perfectly pious, the material world is a means to an end, the corridor that leads to the palace of the World to Come. For the conqueror, it is the other way around: the World to Come serves as the goal that defines, inspires, and empowers the journey, but the true meaning of life is the journey itself – in the struggle with the imperfect self. This is the deeper dimension of the conflict between the twins in Rivka’s womb: a clash of two worldviews, both positive and necessary, both indispensible components of our mission in life.” The Rebbe.
[5] “The Hebrew word, zeh (“thus”) has a numerical value of twelve. Rivka was supposed to give birth to the twelve tribes of Israel, but Esau destroyed her womb, and they were born to Yaakov and his wives instead.” Midrash Rabbah; Yefeh Toar.
[6] This event is similar to the incident with the birth of Peretz, the ancestor of moshiach ben dovid, and his twin brother, Zerach, to Tamar:
“And when she gave birth, there were twins in her womb. And it occurred when she was in labor, that one child stretched out a hand; and the midwife, wanting to establish his right as the firstborn, took a scarlet thread and bound it on his hand saying: ‘This one came out first.’ But, as he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said: ‘What a strong breakthrough you have made!’ therefore, he was named ‘Peretz,’ meaning ‘Breakthrough’” Bereishis 38:27-29.
[7] Alshich. See also the ARIZAL, Etz Chaim, by R. Chaim Vital Calabrese.
[8] Midrash Rabbah.
  • Bereishis 17:15-16: “God also said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.'”
  • Bereishis Genesis 18:10): “Then one of them said, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.'”
  • Bereishis 21:12:”But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.'”
  • Bereishis 22:15-17: “The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.'”
[10] “When he [a man] gives to his son his inheritance, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn over the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn. But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; the right of the firstborn is his.” Deuteronomy 21:17.
[11] The ARIZAL. See “Apples From The Orchard,” R. Moshe Wisnefsky.
[12] R. Abraham Abulafia, Sefer Olam HaBa; RAMBAM on Shemot.
[13] R. Yanki Tauber, “The Book Of Genesis With Commentary By 500 Sages And Mystics,” Introduction and Overview, Parashas Toledoth, pp. 279-280.
[14] “Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi said: Two verses contradict one another: ‘And God created the two great luminaries’ [Bereishis 1:16], and it is written, “the great light… and the small light” [ibid.]. The moon said before the Holy One blessed be He: Master of the Universe, can two kings wear one crown? He said to her: Go and diminish yourself. She said before Him: Master of the Universe, because I said a proper thing before You, must I diminish myself?! He said to her: Go and rule over the day and the night. She said to Him: Of what benefit is a candle in bright daylight? Of what benefit can I be? He said: Let Israel count days and years by you. She said to Him: the day is also impossible, nor are tekufot counted according to me. As is written: “and they [i.e., both the sun and the moon] shall be for seasons and appointed times, for days and years” [ibid. 1:15]. [He said:] Go and let the righteous be called by your name—Jacob the Small [Amos 7:5], Samuel the Small [1 Sam 2:19], David the Small [1 Sam 16:11, 17:14]. See Chulin 61b and Midrash Rabbah.
[15] “G-d first extracted from absolute nothingness an extremely refined intangible ekement that is pure potential – what the greeks call hyle – out of which G-d formed and made all existences. All spiritual creations are of one substance, and the earth and all it contains are of one substance. These two primal substances – ‘the heavens’ and ‘the earth’ – were created out of nothingness, and everything else was formed from them.” Nachmanides.
[16] Ohr HaChaim on Bereishis 1:1.
[17] “Once G’d directed that light should come into existence, i.e. that Torah should be given to its inhabitants, earth returned to its pristine state, capable of dispensing spiritual light, a place fit for G’d to dwell in together with His people” Ohr HaChaim On Bereishis 1:1].” Ibid.
[18] In his overview of Parashas Toledot, R. Yanki Tauber points out: “[T]here is more to the Yaakov-Easau story than the classic dichotomy of good and evil, or the more subtle divide betweem selfishness and altruism. After all, the very first verse of our parashah designates both Esau and Jacob as ‘the progeny of Yitzchok.’ The two are twins, born of the same righteous mother and father, conceived, birthed, and raised in the same holy environment. Both are described as attaining greatness under the tutlage of Avrohom. Both, therefore, must represent intrinsically positive forces. Indeed, how else could we explain Yitzchok’s preference for Esau over Yaakov, if Esau does not embody a potential equal to, or in some sense greater than, that of his younger sibling.” R. Yanki Tauber, “The Book Of Genesis,” Ibid., p. 207.
[19] This explains why evil predominates in this world. But there is a deeper meaning, as well. See also:
  • R. Dov Ber of Lubavitch on Bereishis 26:18, “Yitzchok returned and he dug the wells”: “The nature of water is to flow from above downward. But a well exemplifies the reverse: the digger bores through the earth to uncover a source of water below, causing it to well upward to the surface. This is why the life-work of Yitzchok is defined by his well-digging. Where Avrohom personified the top-down qualities of benevolence and love, Yitzchok exemplified the from-below-upwards qualities of self-discipline and self-abnegation. Where Avrohom’s role was to draw down G-dliness into the world, Yitzchok’s role was to bore down to the essence of creation and to bring forth the G-dliness inherent within.”
  • R. Shmuel of Lubavitch: “The ‘well of living water’ unearthed by Yitzchok is a metaphor for the soul. Well water originates as rain falling from above. As it seeps through the soil, it is filtered and purified by the very substances that obstruct it, so that the water that pools in the depths of the earth becomes ‘living water,’ possessing a purity and vitality far superior to its original state. Similarly, the soul descends from its lofty spiritual origins to be invested within a phsyical body amd world. Yet this is ‘a descent for the purpose of ascent.’ Compelled to force its way through the earthliness and materiality of the body and the negative character traits they engender, the soul itself is refined to an even greater state of purity. It becomes a well of living waters with a passion and desire for G-d it could not have otherwise attained. This is the power of the ‘rebounding ight of teshuva.”
[20] The Eirev Rav originated in a blemish in the place of the holy covenant which occurred incident to the first sin, when Adam separated from his wife for 130 years. These souls fell into the kelipot (evil forces). Originally, they were incarnated as the Generation of the Flood. They returned as the Generation of the Tower of Babel, whereupon they were reincarnated as the people of Sodom, for who Avrohom Avinu prayed. Next, they were reincarnated into the Egyptians whom Yosef HaTzadik circumcised and converted in return for grain during a worldwide famine. This is because Yosef prophetically saw the origin of these holy, captive souls, and he wished to return them to their source in the Creator. Yosef HaTzaddik was uniquely qualified to do this because of his righteous actions in fending off the persistent advances .of Potiphar’s wife and preserving the sanctity of his bris. When he was reunited with his brothers and his father and before he died, Yosef haTzaddik laid an oath on his heirs to carry his “bones” out of Egypt when they left. The Hebrew word for “bones” also means “essence.” So Yosef was also commanding his heirs to bring his “essence” out of Egypt, along with his body. What is the essence of Yosef? He began to rectify the blemish which Adam HaRishon caused to the place of his bris during the 130 years he spent separated from his wife, Chava.
[21] Olam HaTohu preceded this world and is therefore, in a sense, G-d’s “firstborn.” But it was created with the intent that it be destroyed, and that Olam haTikkun should be built upon its ruins. Perhaps that is why the souls of Olam HaTohu received a double portion of their Father’s “estate”: to compensate them for their death, as Hashem compensated Iyov with a new family?
  • “From this verse, ‘for Mine is every firstborn; on the day when I smote every firstborn in the Land of Egypt,’ etc. And it is written, and on all gods of Egypt I shall pass judgment , etc….Rivka took the desirable garments of her older son Esa, which were with her in the house . [To what does the “desirable garment’ refer? To the garments that would eventually be worn by the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) when he served in the Besi HaMikdash]…That he [Esau] was acting as High Priest….Rebbi Levi said, the Eternal broke the staff of the evildoers , these are the firstborn who were the first to sacrifice to the Calf. Mishnah Zevaḥim14:4: Before the Tabernacle was erected private altars…were permitted and the service was in the hands of the firstborn. 471 Num. 3:13….The reference is to the later part of the verse, I sanctified for Me every firstborn in Israel. 472 Ex. 12:12. Talmud Yerushalmi Megillah 1:11:2.
  • Says the Gemara: “Lest you say that whereas that verse indicates it is not required that the service on a private altar be performed by a priest, nevertheless consecration of the firstborn is required…for this purpose, as was the case initially, i.e., before the Tabernacle was constructed….Perhaps the only non-priests who may perform the service on private altars are the firstborn sons….Therefore, the verse states: “Every man whatsoever is fitting in his own eyes,” which teaches us that with regard to private altars, each person may sacrifice his own offerings.” Zevachim 118s:4.
[23] Parashas Ki Sisa, Shemot 30:11 – 34:35.
[24] Ibid. See also Rabbeinu Bacya on Shemot 34:20:1. “Although the firstborn were no longer accorded the privilege of performing priestly functions, they did retain the distinction of being firstborn, a distinction vis-a-vis people who are not firstborn….The Jewish people who are described as being set aside for G’d with the words.” I have separated you from the other nations to belong to Me,” are an example…It is incumbent upon a firstborn to devote himself to Torah and G’d’s commandments more than other people who do not share this distinction with him….the pilgrimage to the Temple is to remind people to redeem the firstborn as the firstborn who have been redeemed will experience the privilege of welcoming the Shechinah and will live to see the Temple…Those who have not been redeemed will not see the rebuilding of the Temple.”
[25] Bereishis 25:33 and Bereishis Rabbah 25:33.
  • “Yitzchok’s blindness was caused by the smoke of the offerings that Esau’s wives burned for their idols. Another explanation is that when Yitzcohk was bound on the altar and his father was about to slaughter him, the heavens opened and the angels wept. Their tears fell into his eyes, which dimmed. Another explanation: This came to pass by divine providence, in order to enable Yaakov to receive the blessings.” Tanchuma; Midrah Rabbah; Rashi.
  • “His eyes were dimmed of sight figuratively, as well, as he failed to perceive the true nature of Esau. Keli Yakar.
  • “As a ‘perfect offering,’ sanctified upn the altar, Yitzchok’s sight had grown so refined and ethereal that the husk of evil was all but invisable to him. He was capable of seeing only Esau’s lofty potential.” Shem Mi-Shmuel.
  • “Yitzchok is speaking from a very lofty place – the gevurah of atik yomin – a level that precedes the ‘shattering of the vessels’ of the world of tohu. Thus he says, ‘I do not know the day of my death’ – I am above the knowledge of death and corruption. From this place, Yitzchok rperceives the tremendous divine potential inherent in Esau, and believes he can redeem him by raising him to his level.” R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
[27] “In the terminology of Kabbalah, Esau’s source is the ‘abindant light and scant vessels’ of the world of tohu – a world that shattered due to the sheer intensity of its own energy, scattering ‘sparks of holiness’ to the farthest reaches of the material world – while Yaakov embodies the ‘scant light and abundant vessels’ of the world of tikkun. Yitzchok belived he could redeem Esaus completely, along with the positive potentials he contained, or else this great light would also have been swallowed up by the negativity of Esau. Rivka recognized that the only way to redeem Esau is through a generation of engagement and refinement. by which the broad vessels’ of tikkun channel the ‘abundant light’ of tohu and restore it to holiness.” R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi.
[28] As a daughter of pagan priests, Rivka knew idolatry when she saw it. See also R. Elimelech of Lizhensk: “Rivka represents the Shechinah (divine presence)… Jacob is reluctant to obtain the blessings of ‘the dew of the heavens and the fat of the land,’ fearing that material abundance will ‘bring upon me a curse’ by coarsening his soul and distancing him from G-d. To which Rivka replies, ‘Take for me’ – if you do it for the sake of the Shekhinah, not only will you not be dragged down by the material world, but will rather uplift it. For example, Eating is a mudane act when it is merely done for the sake of self-gratification. But when we eat with the intent to elevate the ‘sparks of holiness; within the food by using the energy we derive from the meal to serve the creator – and similarly with all of our material involvements – then these become holy acts.”
[29] “Rivka…perceived that the very nature of Esau’s volatile energies is that they cannot channel themselves. The redemption of Esau can only be achieved by a painstaking process of engagement and rectification on the part of his younger twin. It is not enough that Yaakov rule the world of spirit – he must be given matery over the material world, as well.” Tauber, “The Book Of Genesis,” Introduction And Overview to Parashas Toledot, Ibid., p. 208.
[30] See Chizkuni to Bereishis 32:5: “Thus has said your obedient servant Yaakov,’ Yaakov used this subserviet posture in order to cool Esau’s burning anger at what he perceived that Yaakov had done to him. He hinted broadly that his father’s blessing which had portrayed Esau as subservient to him had not been fulfilled at all. In fact, he, Yaakov, was quite ready to recognise his older brother as also his senior.
“‘To my lord, to Esau.” We find Yaakov addressing Esau as “my lord,” no fewer than eight times in this portion. This may be the reason why eight kings ruled in the land of Edom before the first king ruled in the land of Israel.”
[31] R. Yanki Tauber, Genesis, Introduction and Overview of Parashas Toledoth, p. 280.
[32] Shaloch.
[33] R. Shalom Dov Ber Of Lubavitch.
[34] Shenei Luchot HaBerit, Torah Shebhiktav, Chayyei Sorah, Torah Ohr 14.
About the Author
Jewish Mystic.