Head Over Heels – Toldot
וַיֵּצֵא הָרִאשׁוֹן אַדְמוֹנִי כֻּלּוֹ כְּאַדֶּרֶת שֵׂעָר וַיִּקְרְאוּ שְׁמוֹ עֵשָׂו. וְאַחֲרֵי כֵן יָצָא אָחִיו וְיָדוֹ אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב עֵשָׂו וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב וְיִצְחָק בֶּן שִׁשִּׁים שָׁנָה בְּלֶדֶת אֹתָם. (בראשית כה, כה-כו)
In this week’s parsha we read about the birth of the twin brothers Eisav and Yaakov, possibly the most disparate twins ever in history.
Eisav the firstborn was born “ready-made”, with a mane of red hair and also, the Mefarshim say, with a full set of teeth and a beard. Everyone who saw him named him עשו. Actually his name was meant to be עשוי (ready-made), but the letter yud was transferred to his twin brother. After Eisav, his twin brother emerged, clutching Eisav’s heel, and he was named יעקב.
Who named him Yaakov? Unlike Eisav where the passuk uses the plural וַיִּקְרְאוּ שְׁמוֹ עֵשָׂו, when Yaakov is born it uses the singular וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ יַעֲקֹב, and Rashi offers two explanations – either Yitzchak called him יעקב because he was holding on to Eisav’s heel עקב, or HKB”H Himself gave the name יעקב.
If Hashem named Yaakov, it makes sense why he was called יעקב. The Da’at Zkeinim explains the significance of the name:- 4 letters corresponding to the four עטרות, “crowns” of tefila (Yechezkel 16, 12) that Yaakov’s descendants will glorify Hashem with. Also each letter corresponds to something -
י – the 10 Commandments
ע – the 70 elders
ק – the length of the Heichal in the Mikdash, 100 amot (משנה מידות ה, א)
ב – the two luchot
However, if Yitzchak named יעקב thus, because of his clutching the heel of Eisav (Rashi, above), it does not seem to make sense to call him יעקב because literally that does not mean “he is clutching” or “he was clutching”, but is rather in the future tense “he will be clutching”. If Yitzchak was referring to something in the present or the past, a better name would have been עקב or עקיבא (actually there is a link to עקיבא as we will see later on). If Yitzchak took the yud from עשו(י) and transferred it to יעקב, which is in the future tense, he must have had a good reason to do so.
Chazal tell us that until age 13 the boys were indistinguishable in character, they both studied in the same Talmud Torah, they both seemed like “goodJewish boys”. Only from age 13 did their distinct personalities begin to emerge. Eisav was an אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד אִישׁ שָׂדֶה while Yaakov was an אִישׁ תָּם יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים. From the lashon of the passuk, it seems that Eisav had a split personality - it uses the word איש twice, while with Yaakov איש is only used once. As we will soon see, this tiny detail in the passuk gives us a glimpse into the essence of the difference between the two brothers.
Our parsha begins with the episode of Yaakov purchasing the בכורה from Eisav. How can one pay to alter something that is “chronological”? You cannot, using a business transaction, reverse the passage of time, one child emerging from the womb before the other! The Mefarshim tell us that there are two types of בכורה - one which is unchangeable from birth to death and the other that is dependent on behavior.
Certain firstborn rights, such as the right of the firstborn to a double share of the monetary assets of the parents, are unalterable. In fact the Torah is very adamant in this regard (בן השנואה הבכור), that this right is independent of behavior or character of the firstborn. However, there is a second type of בכורה that can be transferred. Until Matan Torah, the right to perform the Avodah (the korbanot etc.) was given to the firstborn. However, if that firstborn misbehaved, he could relinquish that right, for example if he was guilty of murder. Kayin was the firstborn, but when he killed his brother Hevel, he forfeited the right to perform the Avodah and that was passed down to his youngest brother Shet. Similarly here, Eisav forfeited the right to do the Avodah, because he was guilty of murder.
Chazal in the Midrash provide some background to Eisav's sale of the בכורה to Yaakov. They say that Avraham Avinu passed away five years earlier than he was originally meant to because HKB”H did not want him to be alive to witness his grandson Eisav’s straying from the path. This episode, Yaakov preparing נְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים, was in fact a סעודת הבראה on the day of the funeral of Avraham.
Eisav arrives “tired” וַיָּבֹא עֵשָׂו מִן הַשָּׂדֶה וְהוּא עָיֵף. Chazal and the Mefarshim tell us that Eisav was extremely “busy” that day. In one day Eisav managed to sleep with a נערה מאורסה, to be כופר בעיקר - to reject olam habah and תחיית המתים, and, as if that were not enough, he also killed Nimrod on that day.
From the pshat of the psukkim it appears that Eisav arrived to find Yaakov making stew, not knowing that Avraham had died. However, we will soon see that this was not the case, he knew very well that Avraham had died and this fact is what profoundly influenced his activities that day.
Chazal tell us that Eisav was a man of two parts, his head and the rest of him below the head. Chazal say that the “head” part was good while the remainder was rotten.
The Gemara (Sota 13a) tells us a story of Chushim the son of Dan which took place a few good years after this episode of the selling of the בכורה. Yaakov Avinu had just passed away and his sons, the Twelve Shvatim were on their way to bury their father in Me’arat Hamachpeila. Suddenly, up pops Eisav and voices his opposition to Yaakov being buried in Me’arat Hamachpeila, claiming that he, Eisav, is the firstborn and that he should be buried there. The deed of Eisav’s sale of the בכורה to Yaakov (from our parsha) to prove that Yaakov had the right to be buried there was back in Egypt, so Naftali, who was fleet of foot, ran back to get it. Meanwhile the son of Dan, Chushim, who was a deaf mute, didn’t hear or understand what was going on. All he saw was that his grandfather Yaakov was lying there בביזיון and that Eisav, the source of the furor, was standing there gloating. Chushim seized a sword and decapitated Eisav. According to Pirkei de’Rebi Eliezer (chap. 39), Eisav’s head rolled all the way into Me’arat Hamachpeila and landed in Yitzchak’s lap where Yitzchak embraced it and prayed to HKB”H to forgive Eisav. The remainder of Eisav’s body was sent to Se’ir for burial.
From this we see that Eisav’s head had enough of a spiritual madrega to be buried in Me’arat Hamachpeila (where it remains to this day), but the rest of him did not.
Slowly Eisav’s true character begins to emerge. Eisav was not a simple character, an all-out villain - there was a part of him that was extremely spiritually uplifted. This is hinted at the passuk וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד אִישׁ שָׂדֶה. On the one hand Eisav is an אִישׁ שָׂדֶה, which if taken literally means that he was a man of the field, a hunter. If so, why the need for repetition, the passuk has already said he was an אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, why repeat that again? unless … אִישׁ שָׂדֶה has another meaning, which warrants it being mentioned separately to אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד.
In last week’s parsha we read about Rivka meeting Yitzchak for the first time וַיֵּצֵא יִצְחָק לָשׂוּחַ בַּשָּׂדֶה. The חזקוני says that Yitzchak had just returned from the שדה, another name for Gan Eden, where he had been since the Akeida. This is what Rivka saw, Yitzchak returning from Gan Eden. According to some opinions Yitzchak was radiating a Divine light, according to others he was descending upside down (feet up, head down – since in Heaven everything is opposite to down here on earth). When Rivka saw this incredible sight it made her fall off the camel.
Why did Yitzchak love Eisav? He loved the אִישׁ שָׂדֶה part of Eisav, a part that was reminiscent of Gan Eden. Later he gave Eisav, the firstborn, the כותנות עור that HKB”H made for Adam Harishon in Gan Eden, which had been passed down through the generations, to the firstborns. These were the בִּגְדֵי עֵשָׂו הַחֲמֻדֹת that Rivka dressed Yaakov in to receive the ברכה. They smelled like Gan Eden and Yitzchak gave them to Eisav, because part of Eisav was an אִישׁ שָׂדֶה.
Yitzchak may have been physically blind, but his spiritual and mental faculties were working just fine. Yitzchak prophetically saw that part of Eisav was good, spiritual - the “head”, the part that deserved to be buried in Me’arat Hamachpeila in Yitzchak’s embrace. This part of Eisav emerged throughout the centuries, Shmaya and Avtalyon, Rebi Akiva, Rebi Meir – all sons of גרים אדומיים descended from Eisav. Rebi Akiva, for example, like Yitzchak was able to visit Gan Eden (Pardes) and emerge intact.
That was one part of Eisav. The other part was an אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד which we literally understand to be a “hunter”, someone who hunts animals. However Chazal teach us that the “hunting” was much more subtle. We have another “hunter” before Eisav – Nimrod כְּנִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד לִפְנֵי ה'. Nimrod, like Eisav, was an expert at “hunting”, not animals like the pshat of the passuk would lead us to believe, but hunting people with his mouth (Rashi). Nimrod and Eisav after him, was a slick talker who had the gift-of-the-gab, which he used to sweet talk people and convince them to rebel against HKB”H.
Eisav, like Nimrod was not a boorish barbarian, he was highly intelligent and eloquent, a philosopher! However, instead of using his talent to serve HKB”H he used it to rebel again HKB”H. Chazal liken Eisav to a pig, a חזיר. A pig has one of the two סימנים of a kosher animal. It has a cloven hoof, but does not chew the cud. The pig loves to pretend and flaunt its cloven hoof – “look I’m kosher”, when in fact the pig is טמא. I once read an article in the Reader’s Digest about interesting facts about animals and they say that the eyes of a pig are anatomically structured that it can never look upward – a pig cannot see the sky.
On a spiritual level – the pig does not recognize HKB”H, it cannot see the השגחה פרטית in the world. A pig only recognizes the physical world, the natural order of things. Eisav, is likened to a pig, although he had the same pre-schooling as Yaakov, in the Yeshiva of his father Yitzchak Avinu, he did not accept the philosophical concept of השגחה פרטית. To him there were physical beings with great power to affect things in the world, people like Avraham his grandfather, like Yitzchak his father. Eisav was petrified his father would curse him, because he believed that Yitzchak harnessed great power in this world.
Eisav mistakenly believed that Avraham Avinu was like G-d. Avraham was in reality what Adam Harishon was meant to be (had he not sinned) - the pinnacle of Creation. When the angels saw Adam Harishon for the first time, they also mistook him for G-d. Adam said to them “I am not G-d, let us praise the real G-d” and he led them in tefila – ה' מלך גאות לבש, the שיר של יום for erev Shabbat, the day that Adam was created. Like the pig, who is focused with his eyes down on the physical, material world and believes that there is no greater power Above, Eisav believed that Avraham had incredible power and he revered him. When Avraham died his belief system was shaken.
The אִישׁ שָׂדֶה part of Eisav, the good part, was shaken to the core. If Avraham was no longer, the man he feared and revered, then he could not allow Avraham’s nemesis Nimrod to continue to live, so he killed him. Chazal tell us that when HKB”H creates a luminary in the world, at the same He time creates the luminary’s nemesis. When one dies, so does the other – there is no reason for the nemesis to continue to exist. On the same day Avraham died, so too did Nimrod have to die. Eisav was the instrument of his death (similarly, years later almost immediately following Yaakov’s death, his nemesis Eisav also died by Chushim’s hand).
The other part of Eisav, the bad part, the אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד, was also shaken to the core. Eisav’s belief system that Avraham was like a G-d was shattered when Avraham died. Eisav, who could not look up and see beyond this physical world lost his entire belief system. Until Avraham died, the brothers Eisav and Yaakov were indistinguishable. The day Avraham died, everything fell apart for Eisav everything he believed in fell apart. Therefore, on that same day, he completely lost it. Eisav dared to do things he would never have contemplated while Avraham was alive, sleeping with a betrothed woman, denying Avraham’s faith in G-d, השגחה פרטית and תחיית המתים. It all occurred on that day and was triggered by Avraham’s death. Eisav had the capability for good and evil in his genes (Rivka felt him, as a fetus, kicking when they passed a house of עבודה זרה), but ultimately Eisav made a conscious choice. Of his own volition he chose the path of the חזיר. Eisav continued to retain a fear and reverence for his father Yitzchak, as he had for Avraham, but as opposed to when Avraham was alive, Eisav now rejected Yitzchak’s faith. Ironically, Eisav turned into the man he had just killed – Nimrod.
It was the turning point for Eisav, the fork in the road that set him on a different path to Yaakov.
Yaakov was not two parts, he was one part אִישׁ תָּם יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים. Again the passuk, as with Eisav, uses two descriptions and the second seems superfluous. However with Yaakov the word איש is only written once. Unlike Eisav, there was no disparity in Yaakov, the head and the rest of the body - were one and the same. On a spiritual level Yaakov was אִישׁ תָּם as it says (Devarim18, 13) תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה' אֱ-לֹקֶיךָ. Unlike Eisav, the physical part of Yaakov was יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים, he used his natural talents to serve HKB”H, not rebel against Him. Yes, Yaakov was genetically more predisposed to choose the right path, but again, HKB”H judges us not on our genetics, but on our choices. Yaakov, of his own volition chose the path of the יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים. Yaakov managed to look upwards beyond the physical and recognize the metaphysical. Like his name, Yaakov dedicated his life to עקב. Rashi on the passuk וְהָיָה עֵקֶב תִּשְׁמְעוּן אֵת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים הָאֵלֶּה explains the word עֵקֶב – it is referring to observance of the מצות קלות שאדם דש בעקביו, the small, seemingly insignificant, mundane mitzvot that we tend to overlook.
Eisav, the hunter, the philosopher, like Nimrod before him - enjoyed using his gift-of-the-gab and hifalutin buzz words that sounded so convincing and rolled so easily off the tongue – “equality”, “fraternity”, “liberty”, “human rights”, “global economy”, “union of nations”, etc.. They appeared to be so ethereal and so “spiritual” and those who espouse them seemed to be so “enlightened” and “advanced”. Eisav flaunted them as a pig flaunts its cloven hoof – look how “enlightened” I am, how “advanced”, how “intellectually superior”! However, the rest of him was rotten - the hifalutin concepts were not translated into practice in a day to day, mundane level.
Yaakov also espoused ethereal, spiritual concepts, but unlike Eisav, he followed them up with actions, on a real, mundane, day to day level, that matched the ethereal concepts. Yaakov’s entire body was one unit, not two separate parts like Eisav.
Why did Yizchak call him Yaakov יעקב – in the future tense? Why was Yaakov grabbing Eisav’s heel when he was born? Why didn’t he grab his arm, or his knee?
To understand this we need to understand another aspect of Eisav. In addition to likening Eisav to a חזיר, Chazal also say that the guardian angel of Eisav is the נחש הקדמון, the same נחש that caused Adam and Chava to sin. To answer the above two questions we need to examine HKB”H’s curse of the נחש, following the sin of עץ הדעת.
וְאֵיבָה אָשִׁית בֵּינְךָ וּבֵין הָאִשָּׁה וּבֵין זַרְעֲךָ וּבֵין זַרְעָהּ הוּא יְשׁוּפְךָ רֹאשׁ וְאַתָּה תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ עָקֵב (בראשית ג, טו).
On a literal level the passuk seems to mean that you will strike the snake at the head, but the snake will strike you at the heel. Many Mefarshim (Rabbeinu Bachyei, Kli Yakar, amongst others) explain this as the battle with our yetzer harah, that unless we prevent it at the ראש, at the beginning, the yetzer harah will come back to haunt us and gain power over us at the עקב where we are most vulnerable.
However on a grammatical level that explanation does not gel. The grammatical expression in the passuk is in הופעל context – יְשׁוּפְךָ and תְּשׁוּפֶנּוּ, which reverses the order. Not that you will rule the snake at the head and the snake rule you at the heel, but the opposite – that the snake will rule you at the head and that you will rule the snake at the heel.
This is the gist of the translation of this passuk by Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, that what is being referred to here is the progression of history. During the first part of history ראש we will be ruled by the נחש, but at the tail end עקב of history, בְּעִיקְבָא בְּיוֹמֵי מַלְכָּא מְשִׁיחָא we will rule over the נחש. This is why Yitzchak prophetically named him יעקב in the future sense – in the future, when the Mashiach comes. This is why Yaakov grabbed Eisav, symbolizing the כח הנחש, at the heel, because at the "heel" – בעקבתא דמשיחא Yaakov will grab control.
We are currently experiencing גלות אדום, the longest of the four exiles. Am Yisrael has been, seemingly interminably, subjugated by אדום who espouse hifalutin, “ethereal” philosophies, flaunting their cloven hoof and making themselves appear “superior”, “enlightened”, “advanced”, while in fact the reality of their society is barbaric and rotten. The purpose of this long exile is to allow the emergence of the “head” of Eisav, the few sparks and rays of light amongst the goyim to reveal themselves, like Rebi Akiva. These are the parts of Eisav that merit Me’arat Hamachpeila with the rest of Am Yisrael and the Avot. Another purpose of this interminable exile is to enable the attribute of the חזיר – Edom's role to subjugate Am Yisrael and cause us to לחזור בתשובה.
We need to wise up and break free of the shackles of the “hunter” Eisav, Edom, the נחש ….. and their enticing gift-of-the-gab, that seems so “enlightened” and seems to sparkle so brightly, appeal to the “intellect”. Recognize it for what it really is – all smoke and mirrors! We need to unlock our eyes that we will once again be able to gaze upwards to recognize the truth and do tshuva. That is the purpose of this galut.
When we do, we will finally merit the prophecy of Ovadia (1, 18) –
וְהָיָה בֵית יַעֲקֹב אֵשׁ וּבֵית יוֹסֵף לֶהָבָה וּבֵית עֵשָׂו לְקַשׁ וְדָלְקוּ בָהֶם וַאֲכָלוּם וְלֹא יִהְיֶה שָׂרִיד לְבֵית עֵשָׂו כִּי ה' דִּבֵּר.