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Jewish World Review
An evil seed that didn't have to be
Binyamin L. Jolkovsky
Based on ideas developed by Rabbi Ahron Rapps
Esau, and eventually his descendants, would become Jewry's arch-enemy. History just doesn't happen. The lives of those who are at its center deserve examining. What can be learned from Easu's?
According to the Sages, Easu possessed great spiritual qualities. His father, after all was Isaac, a direct link to Abraham. And he was Isaac's oldest son.
But like so many born with potential, Esau never brought his gifts to fruition. The development and growth that was to be the purpose of his life never occurred.
At birth Esau had features particularly, hair of somebody considerably older. And it is for this reason that he was so named, according to the foremost commentator, Rashi. The name Esau is a derivative of the Hebrew word "assa", meaning "make." Esau emerged from his mother's womb already "made", so to speak.
What was it about Esau's hair, though, that made this so evident?
Rabbi Judah Loew, known as the Maharal of Prague (1525-1609) and one of the most seminal thinkers in the post-medieval period, explains the essence of hair. The human body grows and, eventually, reaches its maturity; at which point it is complete. Hair, however, grows and grows, only to be shorn. The hair of the head never reaches completeness. With his full mane, Esau, at birth, appeared to have skipped the growth that all people must experience to reach their destiny. He was identified as one who must rise above his born nature and become spiritually complete. Yet instead of conquering his pre-dispositions, his life's choices would make him the personification of one who never fulfilled his great potential.
One of those choices that would ultimately impact Esau's spiritual makeup was his lack of circumcision.
The Maharal wonders why the Divine left it to man to complete the physical structure of a human being when everything else in our world seems to have been put in working order. He answers that the act of circumcision, for those commanded to observe it, was entusted to teach that just as we must physically complete ourselves, we are likewise required to spiritually complete ourselves. Through the process of circumcision, we are able to glean the actual purpose of our lives.
|Without the desire to grow, tomorrow is condemned to the inadequacy of today |
When Esau was young, according to the Sages, there was a concern that due to his ruddiness, if his foreskin were removed, he might bleed to death. When Esau became physically stable, he rebelled and refused to perform this religious duty. He refused to embrace his purpose of life; to develop and perfect his spiritual nature.
The Torah describes at length the exchange between Jacob and Esau about the birthright. One verse in particular epitomizes Esau's worldview: "Here I am going to die," proclaimed the man who was to be Isaac's spiritual heir, "so what good is the birthright to me?"
To Esau, the future is indeed bleak, for without the desire to grow, tomorrow is condemned to the inadequacy of today. He would not live a life of development; to one day have his great spiritual destiny realized. But in Jacob, we see a future.
In describing why Yaakov (Jacob) was so called, the Torah says it was because Isaac's son emerged grasping his brother's heel.
The lowliest part of a person's body is the heel (eikev); it is closest to the ground. The head is the highest and closer to the heavens. In the Holy Tongue, the letter "Yud" is used to portray the future when referring to a third person. Our forefather Jacob was named "Yaakov" eikev plus a "Yud" to reveal to us that he will take the ultimate end and give it a future.
Our sages tell us, "Jacob, in some sense, didn't die." Absolute death is found only by one who has died while alive. Our responsibility is to recognize our latent imperfections and strive to develop our spiritual potentials. The Divine gave us His Torah and mitzvos (religious duties) with which to grow and realize what we truly are meant to be.
May we merit to truly represent the holy children of Jacob.
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