Yaaqov and Esau – hunter and investigator

Imagine you are at a wide open assemblage of all types of people. Strewn across the scene, there are entertainers and artists, entrepreneurs and scholars of every interest and field. Everyone is there to share their knowledge and interests and to meet new people and experience new things.

In this environment, you will be utilizing two archetypal behaviors: your ability to bring things to light in being meticulously alert to what is around (Yitshhaq)1 and your ability to lasso upon things from experience (Rivqah).2 But as you move about the scene you feel torn, something catches your eye and you take a bit of time to investigate it more closely. And suddenly there is another thing that grabs your attention and distracts you from the first. Those two behaviors: the suddenly being drawn to something stirring that catches your eye and the desire to investigate something more closely seem to be wrestling with each other. First, there is the seeing of everything, taking notice of whatever is stirring all around – this is Esau, “one’s patrolling experience so as to grab at things noticed when stirred up by them.” Then there is the grabbing at what comes around so as to investigate – this is Yaaqov. But your Yaaqov is thwarted by your Esau, for whenever you intend to approach a particular thing, suddenly as if from nowhere and everywhere at once, something else catches your eye and you are off in that direction instead.

The name Esau (עשו) comes from the root \aSaH (עשה). It literally means “to persist at,” but it is used to mean to wander and patrol (at night)(Arabic & Ugaritic), to do and perform, and to grope and grab at something (piel). Furthermore, the related words \uSh (make haste – עוש) and \aShaN (be volatile, flare up – עשן) suggest an impulsive quality as well. The text describes him having much hair (Sae\aR – שער) which is related to a similar Arabic root meaning to take notice of things (in being stirred up). On the other hand, the name Yaaqov (יעקב) comes from a root that literally means to curve around. However, derived from that idea, it also means to follow after, trace, approach and investigate in other Semitic languages. Yaaqov’s grabbing at Esau’s heel indicates that the act of grabbing at what comes around so as to investigate follows after Esau’s taking notice of something in being stirred by it. Your Esau is a hunter of things to be engaged in experience, going back and forth as if in a field, whereas your Yaaqov spends time becoming familiar with what is around in the general vicinity (of his tent). The Arabic cognate of the Hebrew word for tent actually means “to be familiar.”

But your taking notice of new and exciting things (Esau) has a tendency to steam roller over your ability to sit tight and investigate something (Yaaqov). So it behooves you to allow the later to contain the former. Or as haShem said: שני גיים בבטנך ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר “There are two nations within your belly and two peoples from your entrails shall be separated. And a people shall be mightier than a people, that the greater shall serve the younger.” Allegorically this means “In your bursting forth (into experience), there are two passions of billowing up and of drawing in. And two ways of things being amassed together, as a result of your twisting about, shall be separated. And one way of things being amassed together shall be stronger than (the other) way of things being amassed together. And the one of abundance shall serve the one that is restrained.”3 Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate that the first thing that wells forth – represented by the birthright (B’KhoR – בכור) – as a result of your taking notice of things (Esau) gets passed over to your Yaaqov, for investigation. However, Esau in turn spurns the birthright, indicating that he is not easily subdued. Yaaqov’s attempt to investigate is thwarted by Esau’s relentless hunger to dispose of himself to the next thing noticed.

Although the story returns to Yitshhaq, bringing things to light in being meticulously alert to what is around, despite it not being explicitly stated, allegorically this remains a battleground for Esau and Yaaqov. There is a hunger in the land and so he travels to G’rar. The word for land (/eReTs – ארץ) comes from the root RaTsaTs (רצץ), to run and crush. However, its allegorical meaning of “one’s disposing of oneself to experience” comes from the related word /aRTsuT (ארצות), derived from RaTsaH (רצה). In bringing things to light in being meticulously alert to what is around, Yitshhaq goes to G’rar (גרר), a place whose name means “what inexperience tugs at one’s attention.” There the men, representing ways for a person to apply oneself inexperience,4 ask for Yitshhaq’s wife, which based on a false etymological association allegorically means for his ability to set out with initiative. This is based on allegorical context and because the word meaning “his wife” (/iShTo – אשתו) appears to share a similarity in structure with the root ShaTaH (to start something – שתה). Nevertheless, because the bringing to light of many things in experience feels all too overwhelming, Yitshhaq does not know where to start. So he retorts “She is my sister.” Once again because of their similarity in structure, the word meaning sister (/aChoT – אחות) derives its allegorical meaning, “what subdues,” from the root ChaTaH (חתה – to subdue, frighten), even though they are not related etymologically. Your Yitshhaq states that he is afraid that the men of the place would kill him. But the root HaRaG (הרג) only means to kill in Hebrew and Ugaritic. Since it literally means to make a sway back and forth, it means to muse in Syriac, whereas in Arabic it means to blur the mind. Allegorically, Yitshhaq is concerned that his hunger for experience, the abundance of noticed options, will overwhelm his ability to mentally process them.

But as the days were prolonged, Avimelekh, his giving over to deliberating about the experience, looks out the window and sees Yitshhaq playing around with Rivqah. The word MeLeKh (מלך – king) means both one who deliberates and one who is deliberate. Furthermore, from the Akkadian cognate, the P’lishtim (פלשתים) represent one’s tendency to gaze at and consider what goes from one end of the experience to another. By deliberating over the situation, his Avimelekh understood that the feeling subdued by what was available had led to indecisiveness, to the playing around with the ability to lasso upon a particular thing with which to engage (Rivqah). Furthermore, because he was unable to choose a thing with which to engage, it was possible that any of the many potentialities could instead impose itself upon him. Indeed, this is what occurred as indicated in the following sentence “And Yitshhaq was sowing in that land such that he was found in that year one hundred gates. And haShem was blessing him.” Instead of settling in on one particular opportunity, he scattered and sowed his seed into many, and allegorically, took notice of an abundance of things that were stirring him (gate, Sha\aR – שער ).5 This is emphasized further in the line: “And there was to him acquisitions of flocks and acquisitions of cattle…” The word Tson (flock – צאן) is cognate with an Arabic word meaning to consider. While the word for cattle (BaQaR – בקר) is of a root meaning to investigate. So rather than select one of the innumerable options, he was instead trying to bring to light all of them.

Therefore, the P’lishtim (פלשתים), acts of gazing out at what goes from one end of the experience to another, were fixated (jealous) on him,6 they were stopping up all of the things that had been elucidated (wells – בארות) with dirt.7 The word \aPhaR (dirt – עפר) literally means what completely covers over the face (surface). So his deliberating over the situation (Avimelekh) sends him away so that he might unearth other elucidations (wells), away from being overwhelmed by them. Nevertheless, he still had to contend with the shepherds of G’rar, things in an experience that were leading by tugging at him. Based upon his naming of the wells, he felt harassed (\eSeQ – עשק) by them and considered them to be an ardent and steadfast adversary (SiTNah – שטנה). Although the peshat of the text states that the dispute between his ability to bring things to light (Yitshhaq) and those things that were tugging at him (G’rar) was resolved because “he moved away from there,” the word used, v’ya\taeq (ויעתק) also means “to maturely consider.” So the resolution that led him to call the other well, the alternative way of elucidating experience, R’hhobhot (רחבות) “latitudes” occurred as a result of his taking his time and considering the situation more maturely. He was, therefore, able to ascend to B’aer Shebha\ – to an ability to elucidate a satiating amount of many different things from experience.8 There G-d’s bringing forth of existence appeared to him (YHWH). There Avimelekh, his ability to deliberate over all of the experience, returned to him. Together, they cut a B’rit, a clear understanding of the experience. This clear understanding was achieved by his bringing things to light in meticulously being alert to what was around (Yitshhaq) and his deliberating over experience (Avimelekh).

Nevertheless, Esau, his patrolling experience so as to grab at things noticed when stirred up by them, took up two wives, ways for him to conduct himself through experience.9 Both were Chittites indicating that due to the sheer volume of information coming in, they were subduing and frightening (Chaet – חת). One was named Y’hudit bat B’aeri10 meaning “his acknowledging G-d’s bringing forth of experience, a behavior of elucidating experience.” The other was named Basmat bat /aelon meaning “his driving into and splitting through experience, a behavior of repeatedly advancing forward with initiative.”11 For this reason they were a bitterness of spirit for Yitshhaq and Rivqah, his bringing things to light and his lassoing in things from experience. Like the previous story regarding G’rar, the P’lishtim, and Avimelekh, this report on Esau’s wives showed us how the archetype continued to clarify and elucidate large amounts of information from experience. However, in bringing in such a large amount of information from experience, there was no time for the archetype to engage in the closer investigation characterized by Yaaqov.

In the final story in this parsha, the competition between Yaaqov (investigation) and Esau (patrolling and taking notice of stirring things) comes to ahead. Yitshhaq’s eyes (eyeings-observations) were dim as a consequence of Esau’s previous actions as the hunter, patrolling for stirring things inexperience. Nevertheless, Yitshhaq hopes that the actions of a more restrained Esau might be able to hunt the one thing in an experience that can draw him out, with which he can engage. To this end Yitshhaq instructs Esau: שא נא כליך תליך וקשתך “Lift up your tools (what contains you), your quiver (what suspends you) and your bow (your firmness).”12 However, the responsibility of lassoing in a particular thing from experience belongs to Rivqah (his lasso). So she enlists Yaaqov, his grabbing at what comes around so as to investigate, to achieve the task. The means of deception – placing Esau’s clothes and skins onto Yaaqov – allegorically serves as a transfer of information from Esau to Yaaqov in a way similar to the previous sale of the birthright. Yaaqov then presents himself to Yitshhaq as if he were Esau, giving Yitshhaq, one’s bringing things to light in being meticulously alert, the opportunity to engage with that information. Thereupon, Yitshhaq blesses Yaaqov and his grabbing at what comes around so as to investigate. When Yaaqov leaves and the real Esau returns, Yitshhaq has no choice but to give him a pseudo-blessing, one that subdues him under the yoke of his brother.

Esau, his patrolling so as to grab at things in taking notice of stirring things, has now been relegated to serve Yaaqov, his grabbing at what comes around so as to investigate. Of course, as archetypes, this is perfectly appropriate. What would be the point of becoming aware of something, only to be distracted by something else, before having the chance to become familiar with the first? But the impulsive drive to allow oneself to be distracted by stirring things is a constant threat to one’s ability to investigate any particular thing. So Rivqah instructs Yaaqov to flee to Lavan, her brother: “until the anger of your brother shall settle down.” This word for anger (HhaMaH – חמה) evolved from HaMaH (to stir up – המה) and literally means “churning.” Allegorically, the word for brother (/aCh – אח) means “what points things out” (HhaWaH – חוה), even though they are not etymologically related. The potential of Esau remains a constant threat to one’s ability to focus and not become distracted. Lavan (לבן) symbolizes one’s ability to stratify the things in an experience that are prodding.13 So rather than being overwhelmed by the acts of endeavoring14 (into experience) as a result of what intimidates and frightens (the daughters of Chaet) and the acts of endeavoring (into experience) as a result of the becoming subdued by what draws in from experience (daughters of Canaan),15 Yaaqov is sent to Padan Aram (the repeatedly letting things go, being at liberty and swerving about the experience, in feeling elated)16. The house of B’tuael,17 one’s forcing oneself to advance into an experience with initiative. There he can be free to traverse experience and choose for himself what things to prioritize and engage.

1 – YiTsHhaq (יצחק): derived from the root TsaHhaH (צחה) meaning to be bright or clear. Unlike most roots in Hebrew, the root Ts.Hh.Q. (צחק) exhibits consonantal fluidity in both Hebrew, Ugaritic and Arabic. In more than half the cases, this root is spelled with a letter Sin (ש) instead of a Tsade (צ) in Hebrew. Similarly in Arabic can be found S^aHha/ (become clear, bright, aware, alert); D^aHha/ (become visible, appear, bring to light); D^aHhaK (to jeer, scoff, mock, scorn, fool, laugh). As an archetypal behavior, it results from one’s ability to focus (Sarah) with one’s spreading out so as to take notice of and give forth to things stirred up (Avraham) – meaning “one’s bringing things to light in being meticulously alert to what is around.”
2 – Rivqah (רבקה): from the root R.B.Q. (רבק), literally meaning to make larger > draw together. In Hebrew it is a bringing together of a team of animals, in Sabaic it means to conspire, and in Arabic it is a lasso used to draw together animals one at a time
3 – שני גיים בבטנך ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר
ShaNayim (שנים – two) from ShaNaH to repeat
GoY (גוי – nation) literally to draw inward, arch inward; Arabic cognate passionately stirred (love / grief)
BeTeN (בטן – abdomen, belly) literally to burst forth; rel to בטה בוט to burst forth with words without restraint
L/uM (לאום -amassed, people) from words with LM (לם) be very close together. LMD (למד) teach, learn; HLM (הלם) to join, to weld, fasten; /LM (אלם) to bind, join together
Mae\ayim (מעים – innards) from \aWaH (עוה – to twist, twist away)
Tsa\iR (צעיר – younger) from Tsa\aR (צער) to be smaller, younger; from TsoWR (צור – narrow in)
4 – Men (/aNaShim – אנשים) from the noun /eNoSh (אנוש), evolved from the root /aNaH (אנה) meaning to impose or apply oneself. Therefore the meaning is those applying-imposing themselves in experience
5 – gate (Sha\aR – שער ) Although not at all related to the roots Sh\R (שער) & S\R (סער) which all mean “to stir up” in one way or another, but allegorically the word for gate is used that way as a play on words.
6 – jealous (zealous) (QaNa/ – קנא), literally meaning to be fixed on something. It is derived from QaNaH (קנה) also meaning to be fixed in place but used for “to acquire.” Related to other Q.N. words, all meaning fixed in place, such as the word for nest and arrange.
7 – well (B’/aeR – באר). Derived from the word BoWR (בור) pit = clearing. The verbal form Ba/aeR (באר) means to clarify, declare clearly and elucidate.
8 – Sheva/ (שבע). Although with a shin, this word appears to have been derived from the similar root with a letter sin, SaBha\ understood as satiated, it derives from either NaBha\ (נבע – to swell or well up) or Ba\aH (בעה – to bubble up, boil). Perhaps it means the number seven because it fulfills a period of one week, although this too is not completely clear. Metaphorically, from context and this etymology it means “being satiated by what bubbles up” or just “a bubbling up of something.
9 – wife (/eeShaH – אשה) It is believe that the words forth husband-man (/eeSh – איש) and wife-woman (/eeShaH -אשה) are not related etymologically. Perhaps, wife-woman (/eeShaH -אשה) is related to its plural (NaShiM – נשים). This word is related to NaSa/ (נשה) which like NaSa/ (נשא) means to lift up and carry along. Thus wife-woman (/eeShaH -אשה) could mean “one who lifts up and carries.” Allegorically, based on this and context, it means “one’s conducting oneself through experience.”
10 – Y’hudit bat B’aeri “his acknowledging G-d’s bringing forth of experience, a behavior of elucidating experience” Related to Yihudah (יהודה) which is derived from HoDaH (הודה – to acknowledge, praise) and Ba/aer (באר) to elucidate.
11 – Basmat bat aelon “his driving into and splitting through experience, a behavior of repeatedly advancing forward with initiative” Requiring a longer proof than there is space for, this root is related to BaS (בּשׂ – Arabic – (to drive into > split > ) to crush, pulverize). BaSaM (בשם) in Arabic means “smile (split)” and in Hebrew “spices (crushed).”
12 – שא נא כליך תליך וקשתך “Lift up your tools (what contains you), your quiver (what suspends you) and your bow (your firmness).”
K’Li (כלי) – container, tool, utensil, weapon; from KaLaH (כלה) to contain, restrain, hold back
T’Li (תלי) – quiver from TaLaH (תלה – to hang, suspend)
QeSheT (קשת) – bow, from QaSh (קש) to be firm
13 – Lavan (לבן) means both white and brick. The verb means to layer bricks. A comparison of related words indicate that this root means to layer out and stratify things such as LaBhaSh (to layer clothing – לבש), LaBhaBh (to layer a cake – לבב), ShaLaBh (to join layers, rungs of a ladder – שלב), HhaLaBh (milk, what layers out – חלב) and L’BhoNah (frankincense, what layers out – לבונה). In Arabic it means undertaking, enterprise, object, wish, aim, and goal.
14 – daughters (בנות) – From the root BuWN (בון) to push between. The masculine Ben (בן) is used to express belonging to category of, or of the characteristic of: such as בן הכות deserving of death penalty, בן לילה of the night, expressing one’s age, בן חיל one of endurance. Allegorically, a son is a subsidiary behavior and from context daughters are ways of endeavoring.
15 – Canaan – from the root KaNa\ (כנע) meaning to subdue or oppress. A comparison with related roots such as KaNaS (כנס to enter), KaNaPh (כנף wing, (what is drawn in)), KaNaN (כנן to wind around), and KineReT (כנרת the lake, ?drawn into) suggest that literally it means to draw in upon. So Canaan allegorically means one’s being subdued by the many things drawing in from experience from context.
16 – Padan Aram – PaDaH (פדה) in Hebrew to separate, save, place aside, let go; in Akkadian to spare, set free; and in Syriac P-D (פד) means to stray, miss, fail, fall short, swerve. Aram (ארם) from RuWM (רום) means height or high plain. Wikipedia suggests Padan Aram means the field of Aram. From context Padan Aram means the repeatedly letting things go, being at liberty and swerving about experience, in feeling high-elated.
17 – B’tuael – from the verb BaTaH (בתה) meaning to push inward and El (אל) meaning one advancing forward with initiative such as in el (אל) to, toward; El (אל) G-d (=one advancing forward experience); ayil (איל) ram forward; Ya/aL (יאל) to endeavor to advance forward etc

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Hans Wehr. Ed by J Milton Cowan (1979) Hans Wehr A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic. Ithaca, NY: Published in the United States by Spoken Languages Services, Inc with permission of Otto Harrassowitz

Jeremy Black, Andrew George, Nicholas Postgate, eds., A Concise Dictionary ofAkkadian, 2nd corrected printing (Santag Arbeiten und Untersuchungen Zur Keilschriftkunde, 5; Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2000)

Marcus Jastrow (1996) A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushlami, and the Midrashic Literature.New York: The Judaica Press

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About the Author
David Kolinsky is a retired physician born and raised in Monsey, New York. While living in Monterey California, David initially lived as a secular, agnostic Jew. However, in his spare time, he delved into twenty years of daily study of Hebrew etymology and Torah study culminating in the writing of an etymological dictionary of Biblical Hebrew and a metaphorical translation of Torah. Abandoning his agnostic views, David was simultaneously a spiritual leader of the world's smallest conservative synagogue, a teacher in his local reform synagogue, and a gabbai at Chabad. He is currently sheltering in place with his family in his new home in Plano, Texas.
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