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Toldot | Yaakov and Esav (Malakhi 1:1-2:7)

Rav Yehuda Shaviv
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  1. a. Love


Generally, the weekly Haftora is relatively short and focuses on one issue, while the parasha is much longer and covers several subjects.  This week, however, the Haftora contains many different ideas while the parasha is mainly concerned with one central issue: the relationship between Yaakov and Esav, specifically their ongoing conflict.


It would seem at first glance that only the first few pesukim of the Haftora are connected with the parasha.  These pesukim which speak about Yaakov and Esav or – more precisely – God's attitude towards them.


In the parasha we are told: "And Yitzchak loved Esav for he loved his venison, but Rivka loved Yaakov" (25:28) – as though the love of these two partners was equally divided: his - directed towards the elder, hers – towards the "little" one.  Which side does God – the third partner in the creation of a child, as we know – take? The Haftora comes to teach us: "Yet I loved Yaakov..." (1:2).


  1. b. "...And I hated Esav"


The parasha speaks only of the love of the parents for their children. Each loved one son most, but we have no doubt that each felt some love for the other son, as well.  But God's relationship with them introduces a degree of hatred.  God loves one son while His attitude towards the other is, "And I hated Esav..." (1:3). This hatred finds practical expression: "... and laid his mountains waste."  This hatred, it appears, is a measure-for-measure punishment.  Hatred arouses hatred.  The hatred which Esav feels for his brother ever since the beginning of their conflict, as recounted in the parasha, is passed down to his descendants. Indeed, there have been many periods throughout history when the children of Esav have brought death and destruction upon the children of Yaakov.


At first glance it would appear that with the destruction of the First Temple the fate of these twin brothers is identical.  The land of each of them is left desolate and arid.  But in contrast to the "return to Zion" of Yaakov's children, no real chance of redemption exists for the nation of Edom.  "For Edom says, We are desolate, but we shall return and rebuild the ruins.  So says the Lord of hosts, They shall build, but I shall throw down..." (1:4).


And this, it seems, reflects the fundamental difference between Yaakov and Esav.  Even at the time of his birth, Yaakov grasps Esav's heel, attempting to improve his chances and to progress, looking towards the future with hope.  Esav, on the other hand, is complete upon his arrival in the world – he is "like a hairy garment"; there is no possibility of renewal, only eventual decay.


  1. c. Who receives the Blessing?


God's hatred towards Esav leads to the destruction of his cities and the desolation of his mountains.  What does the love of Yaakov bring in its wake? While hatred leads to destruction, love leads to rebuilding and an overflowing of goodness.  We would expect the Haftora to provide us with a picture contrasting a blessing and a curse, as opposed to the parasha which contains a double blessing: a blessing for Yaakov and a blessing for Esav.  The blessing to Yaakov, however, is nowhere to be found in the Haftora.  On the contrary, the prophet declares: "And I shall send a curse upon you and I will curse your blessings; I have cursed them already, because you do not take it to heart.  Behold I shall rebuke your seed..." (2:2-3). It is no wonder that the nation is taken aback and complains, "In what have You loved us?" The prophet and the nation debate this point, and the crux of the prophet's argument is as follows: the blessing is not assured.  It depends on the actions of the nation of Israel.  Their present behavior will lead to a curse, and only if they mend their ways does God promise an outpouring of blessings.


Hence we conclude that the blessing which Yaakov, our forefather, receives in the parasha – a blessing which he goes to a considerable amount of trouble to obtain – is still not an unconditional one; everything remains dependent on the actions of Israel.


  1. d. Respect for Parents


It turns out that the fulfillment and realization of the blessing depend on howthe actions of the nation of Israel reflect their identity as the children of Yaakov.  If they emulate Yaakov then they will be rewarded with the blessing.  If not, "I shall curse your blessings." 


But the prophet hints at the fact that not only is the nation not behaving as Yaakov did, but in fact they are failing even to perform the good deeds for which Esav is recognized: "A son honors his father and a servant his master; if I am a father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is the fear of Me?" (1:6).


In other words, it is an elementary and simple fact that a son honors his father.  But you not only fail to honor Me, you even show contempt for My name.  How is this scorn expressed? "You offer disgusting bread upon My altar." The offering you bring to Me is blemished.


In saying "a son honors his father" in the context of the imagery of sacrifice and offerings, the prophet clearly bears in mind the image of Esav. Esav, who was otherwise wicked, fulfilled the mitzva of honoring his father in exemplary fashion.  The Midrash teaches, "'And Rivka took the finest clothes of Esav, her elder son' – for this is how he would serve his father. Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel comments: All my life I served my father, and I never reached one hundredth of the way in which Esav served his father... Esav, when serving his father, would wear nothing but royal clothing, saying, 'It is not honorable for a father to be served in anything but royal clothing'" (Bereishit Rabba, 65:10).


And it was apparently owing to this great honor that he showed Yitzchak that the latter returned his love and wished to bless him.  The prophet thus shows the nation, and the kohanim in particular, that this is their test: are they giving honor to their Father in heaven when they offer their sacrifices? If so, then they are assured of a blessing.  If not, God forbid... (see beginning of chapter 2).


  1. e. Who Is Worthy of the Covenant?


We may ask, if Esav indeed excelled in his performance of  the mitzva of honoring his father, why is he despised? Why was he, the biological elder of the twins, not the one who would continue the family tradition, chosen by God? We find a hint to the answer in the description of the personality worthy of standing before God and serving Him.  Who is it that bears the covenant of standing before God?


"The Torah of truth was in his mouth and there was no sin on his lips; he walked with Me in peace and uprightness and turned many away from wrongdoing.  For the lips of the priest shall guard knowledge and they shall seek Torah from his mouth, for he is a messenger of the Lord of hosts." (2:6-7)


The wicked Esav is certainly far from fulfilling this description.  Of the twin brothers it is Yaakov, a "simple man dwelling in tents," who represents the more likely candidate.


And for this reason Yaakov presses upon Esav to sell him the birthright and the merit of serving God:  "Why was Yaakov ready to give up his very life for the birthright? We learn: Until the sanctuary was established, altars were permitted to be built anywhere and the service was performed by the eldest sons... [Yaakov] said to himself, 'Will this wicked person [Esav] stand [before God] and offer sacrifices?' He therefore gave all he had for the birthright" (Bereishit Rabba 63:18).


  1. f. The End is Resembles the Beginning


The prophecy of Malakhi concludes the prophecies that were given to Israel.  Prophecy forms a bridge and link between God and mortals.  The prophet himself serves as the liaison, proclaiming God's words to the people – it is through him that the dialogue between God and man takes place.  In the book of Malakhi this issue is particularly highlighted; his entire prophecy is constructed in the form of a dialogue:


"I have loved you... but you have said, 'In what have you loved us?'... Where is My honor?... But you have said, 'How have we shown contempt for Your name?'"


Where do we encounter for the first time this form of prophecy, of the transmission of God's word via a prophet-messenger? In our parasha! At the beginning of the parasha we read, "And she said, If this is so, why am I thus? And she went to ask of God.  And God said to her..." (25:22-23).


Rashi explains, " 'God said to her' – via a messenger.  This was revealed to Shem through Divine inspiration, and he told her."


The word of God conveyed to Rivka via a messenger with Divine inspiration-regarding the two nations struggling within her-introduces the period of prophecy. The word of God conveyed by Malakhi regarding the future destruction of Edom and the possibility of blessing upon Israel-is its conclusion.


(Translated by Kaeren Fish)


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