• Gabbai

Toldot – Critique of a Relationship

And the lads grew up, and Esau became a man who knew to trap, a man of the field; and Jacob was a wholesome man, a dweller of tents. (Genesis 25:27)

Our sages read the description of Esau as a euphemism. Our tradition views Esau as an evil and selfish man. When Esau returns from the field weary and ravenous, begging Jacob for a morsel of food, Rashi reports that Esau was weary from bloodshed. The Midrash further notes that this was the day Abraham died, prompting Jacob to cook lentils – a traditional food of mourning. Abraham died a few years earlier than ‘his time’ in order that he should not have to witness his grandson Esau in such a wicked state. The Midrash makes other incriminating statements about Esau as well.

How is it that Esau came to be a product of the house of Isaac? How could such a man develop in a household that was committed to righteousness? We can understand how Ishmael came to be what he was in the house of Abraham. His mother, Hagar, was a maidservant of Sara’s and she essentially became a surrogate to raise a child on behalf of Abraham. Ignoring the Midrashic interpretation of Hagar’s disposition, Ishmael was raised by a woman who’s ways were not those of Abraham. But Esau? Esau was the child of Isaac born to Rebecca! Isaac and Rebecca are part of the founding trunk of G-d’s chosen people. How could such a child stem from this union?

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks mentions the comment of the Netziv on last week’s Parsha, Chayei Sara. The reading concluded with the meeting of Isaac and Rebecca. Approaching the estate of Abraham Rebecca spies a man from afar, returning from the field. Upon asking who the man is she is told that he is Isaac, the master of the home. Rebecca covers her face with a veil. Isaac brings her into the tent, they marry and Isaac is comforted after the death of his mother.

Abraham likely courted Sara before choosing to marry her. Jacob first met his wife Rachel at the well, where it was love at first sight. When it comes to Isaac, however, his wife was chosen and brought to him by Abraham’s servant. He did not encounter her on his own. Furthermore, their first meeting, as described in the Torah, was that Rebecca ‘saw him from afar.’ He was distant, and not only physically. As a holy man, returning from meditation in the fields, Isaac was distant mentally and emotionally as well. His close encounter with death, having been designated as a sacrifice to the Almighty, placed Isaac’s existence on a plane more spiritual than others.

Interestingly, Rebecca’s first action upon learning that this was Isaac was to cover herself with the veil. Her response to his ‘distance’ was to further the distance by her own action. Isaac brought her into the tent and was comforted after his mother  – perhaps because his marriage to Rebecca was an extension of his relationship to his mother. He didn’t know how to have another relationship.

It appears that this distance was prevalent throughout their marriage. Their communication was never optimal. Rebecca never confided her concerns about Esau to her husband Isaac. His chumminess with Esau was clear to all, as he enjoyed Esau’s hunting and was enamored with Esua’s bravery. He was blind t