Noahide Seven Commandments Torah classes
© 2016 by Rabbi Zvi Aviner
Torah Class JUSTICE-3/Esau and Jacob, the twins who sought civil right
1: Justice, only justice you hall pursue!
JUSTICE is important. By seeking JUSTICE Man emulates ELKM, the Heavenly JUDGE Who Created the World to stand a trail and JUSTICE. Finding JUSTICE and implementing it is the highest achievement of Man in the eyes of the Torah.
But JUSTICE is evasive. The Torah says “Justice, only Justice you shall pursue…” (Deut. 19:20) implying that JUSTICE should be pursued, but may never be achievable. Why? - Because Man can’t know the full truth. Only ELKM can. In fact, ELKM’s nickname is TRUTH, emeth.
Moreover, seeking to implement the truth would often lead to WAR. In the court, the losing party would not consent. It would appeal to a higher level and even then continues to grudge. Each side would continue its posture despite the court’s verdict.
ELKM too would have terminated our world, in wrath, had He not consulted with the Merciful YHVH.
All these considerations are important to remember as we start reading about the rival twins Esau and Jacob. Amazingly the Torah present them is such a way that the reader would find it difficult to opt for one twin over the other. It is as if the Torah says: here is a case of twins seeking justice. Would you the reader be able TO EMULATE ELKM and find out the truth between them? Would you be able to say who is the wicked and who is the righteous?
2: Isaac compared to Rebecca
Surprisingly, the Torah begins not with the twins but rather with their parents and grandparents, as if their impact on the twin’s character is important:
“These are the histories of Isaac the son of Abraham.
Abraham had begotten Isaac. And Isaac was forty years old
when he took Rebecca, the daughter of Betuel the Aramite from Padan Aram,
the sister of Laban the Aramite to be his wife.
And Isaac entreated YHVH, across from his wife, for she was barren” (Genesis 25:19)
Why does the first verse repeat itself? First it says that Isaac was Abraham’s son, and then it says again that Abraham begot Isaac? (Rashi)
The answer hinges on the Hebrew version of the verse. It I says that “Abraham made Isaac to give birth” or enabled him to reproduce. How could that be? The verse explains:
Opposite each other
For twenty years, Isaac and Rebecca were married but had no children. Thus they prayed “opposite each other”: he in one corner praying for her, she in the other corner praying for him (Rashi.)
But the words “opposite each other” infer that the Heavenly Court was comparing them to each other.
< b> Rebecca: a rose among thorns
The verse describes Rebecca as the daughter of Betuel. We have met he earlier when she, as a young girl, watered by herself a whole camel caravan. She is depicted as a resourceful woman, with a strong will. The name of her father, Betuel, hints that he “molested virgins” (Midrash,) not such a nice fellow.
Her brother’s name is Laban the Aramite, which in Hebrew can be read as a Master of Crooks.
Hence the verse introduces Rebecca as a “righteous girl” growing in a wicked family, “a rose among thorns,” (Midrash.) She must had seen much evil done in her father’s home.
How exactly did such a righteous girl grow in such a wicked home? We would never know the TRUTH. Was it a gene mutation? Was it her Free Will? Is there a Free Will? All these questions are relevant to JUSTICE.
The perfect Isaac
Opposite her, prayed Isaac. He was a “righteous man, a son of a righteous” man, Abraham. Unlike Rebecca, Isaac was never exposed to a wicked behavior at home. He is perceived as pure as an angel, a person who was offered by Abraham on the altar (Rashi.) That is why he never left the borders of the Holy Land (Rashi.)
To whom would the Heavenly Court hearken?
The merits of Rebecca
The Torah says “And YHVH hearkened to Isaac.” why? Because, the rabbis said, G-d listens to a “righteous person the son of a righteous” more than to “a righteous person, the son of a wicked one.” Hence G-d listened to Isaac because of the merit of Abraham (Rashi.)
This explains what we’ve said earlier, that Abraham made Isaac to begot his children.
But this also implies that without Abraham, YHVH would have listened to Rebecca!
Her merits, as individual, were greater that her husband.
Indeed, Isaac was born into righteousness, while Rebecca had to fight for it. She had to wrestle against her bad uprising for the rest of her life.
The merits of the one who repents
The RaMBaM (Maimonides) indeed writes that a person who had to overcome his ways to become righteous is ‘greater’ than one who had never faced that struggle. Such a person would get a seat near His Throne.
Would this split of character between Isaac and Rebecca affect the character of their twin boys?
If so, where is JUSTICE? Why would one twin destined to be righteous and the other to be wicked?
Do we have a Free Will?
What a marvelous introduction to the topic of JUSTICE.
In fact, Esau’s bad inclination could have served him as a springboard for great righteousness. By overcoming his bad inclination Esau could have developed into a greater person than Jacob!
3: She wanted to abort!
Rebecca’s background and her strong will explain her intermingling with her son’s fate. The verse says that after she conceived:
“And the children moved violently
against each other within her womb
And when this occurred she said, why am I?
And she went to inquire YHVH….“ (Genesis 25: 22)
Her pregnancy was so difficult and painful that she said “Why am I?” it is as if the verse left her sentence unfinished, as if afraid to quote her in full.
According to the Midrash she said: ‘Why am I alive?’ As if she entertained suicide.
Or she could have said: ‘Why am I pregnant?’ hence she entertained ABORTION!
Imagine, Abraham’s daughter-in-law, the righteous Rebecca, considering abortion, something forbidden by Noah’s Rainbow Covenant! (See our classes
Clearly, Rebecca’s past affected her thoughts. Having been grown in Betuel home, where she had seen many molested virgins, she must had witnessed many abortions. Now she had to struggle with it at her painful pregnancy.
She consulted YHVH
“So she went to inquire (consult) YHVH,” means she consulted Noah’s son, Shem, who lived nearby in his Jerusalem Torah Academy (Rashi.)
But there is another explanation, by Yonatan Ben Usiel (Fist century BC) who says: “She asked MERCY.” Here is an ancient commentary saying that YHVH stands for MERCY.
Shem, as expected, advised her against abortion, saying:
“And YHVH told her, two nations are in your womb
And two peoples from your inside will depart,
One people shall become mightier than the other,
And the mighty one (Senior) shall serve the lesser (Junior) “
Shem informed her that she harbored twin boys and that they wrestled with each other. Moreover, they would become rival nations, until: “The superior would serve the junior.”
But to increase the confusion, the prophecy can be read in two opposite ways:
That the senior would serve the junior
That the junior would serve the senior
This would make the judgment between the wins’ claim for the status of firstborn more complex.
4: Complete Twins
The Torah describes the rival twins:
“And when the days to be delivered were complete, and behold,
there were (COMPLETE) twins in her womb...” (Genesis 25: 24)
The Hebrew word for’ twins,’ te-o-mim, is written here ‘tomim,’ meaning ‘complete.’ Each twin had a complete, different personality:
One (Jacob) striving to exit the womb and join the Torah Academy
One (Esau )striving to exit and join idol worshipping.
Where is Heavenly Justice?
This split in the twins is quite common. I am sure that we all have had a chance to meet such twins in our life span. In our town we saw twin boys who, from very young age, could be distinguished by their behavior: one righteous and the other gay. It was as if each of the twin received a full doze of either righteousness of wickedness FROM BIRTH.
So where is Heavenly JUSTICE? Is there a real Free Will? Are we RESPONSIBLE for our actions?
Why should Jacob be revered , and Esau condemned?
Everyone is born equal?
The RaMBaM says that each person is bron with a full capacity to be either righteous or wicked.
But others argue that this may not be true. Has not Jeremiah said “I’ve designated (for prophecy) from my mother womb” (Jeremiah Ch. 1.)
5: Who was the real firstborn?
To increase the confusion and the uncertainty, the Torah tells how the twins came out:
“The first came out reddish, all over like hairy mantle; they named him Esau,
and after that his brother came out, and his hand holding the heel of Esau,
and he called him Yaakov (Jacob)”
Esau’s head exited first, therefore “they,” everyone, called him “the firstborn”.
But there was a complication: his twin brother exited immediately, holding his brother’s heels as if in protest.
So “he,” G-d, or his father, named him Jacob that means: ‘he will circumvent.’
It was a prophecy: Jacob would circum his opponents.
But this unusual birth raised a problem: Since they exited as one piece, who is the firstborn?
Thus Jacob would have a legitimate claim for that status.
If Esau’s fails to qualify, by his misbehavior, Jacob would be able to exercise his legitimate claim for the firstborn status.
if you, the reader, had to be the judge, what would you say? Could you arrive at a truthful decision? Could you play ELKM?
6: For a lentil pottage
The twins grew up by the same parents, received the same training,
And yet each developed into a different personality:
Jacob became a “Tam,” innocent, dwelling in tents, learning Torah.
Esau became a “hunter,” hunting animals but also people, by cheating. The rabbis said that there was no sin which Esau did not transgress.
How could he claim to be Abraham heir?
A complication: crossed love
”And Isaac loved Esau for he had a game in his mouth
But Rebecca loved Jacob”
While the “blind” Isaac loved Esau, the smart Rebecca loved Jacob.
Esau could cheat his father, but not his mother.
Her bad uprising prepared her to detect an imposter.
Bringing out the truth
Knowing that his brother wasn’t up to the job of the family firstborn leader, Jacob decided to bring out the truth to the open. The opportunity came when Abraham passed away. While the family mourned, Esau went out to the fields as usual. When he returned home tired and hungry, he met Jacob who had cooked the traditional lentils pottage for the mourners (Midrash.)
Esau, who did not care much about Abraham’s passing away, asked Jacob: “Let me gulp down this red, red (pottage) because I am faint.” The Torah remarks: “Therefore they called him Edom (red one).”
Jacob said: “Sell me as this day your birthright.”
This selling is valid only when the buyer has a legitimate claim to the title.
The hungry Esau replied: “Lo, I am going to die, of what use then is his birthright to me?”
“Jacob said: Swear to as of this day. And he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob.
And Jacob gave Esau bread and a pottage of lentils.
He ate, he drunk, he rose and he went out. Thus did Esau despise his birthright,” (Genesis 25: 19-34)
END OF JUSTICE CLASS 3<\body>
The Torah describes Esau’s reaction in a dramatic way: four successive verbs: He ate, he drunk, he rose and he went away.
He could have protested, but he did not.
The Heavenly Court attests: “And Esau despised the firstborn rights.”
Jacob brought the truth out to the open.
The unyielding litigant
Like many litigants, Esau did not recant despite “the selling.” In his eyes he remained the firstborn, entitled to receive the much coveted blessing of Abraham.
He probably claimed: my brother took advantage of my weakness and hunger. I did not really mean that I was selling him anything.
Had you been the judge, what would you say?
Was Jacob right by circumventing his tired, hungry brother?
Or did he do the right thing, helping the TRUTH to come out?
How far would he go in his attempt to bring his truth out?