Why Yitzchak Loved Eisav
Rabbi Reuven Mann
This week's Parsha, Vayetze, describes the emergence of Yaakov as the third of our Avot (forefathers). For this to happen, he had to flee from his homeland to escape the wrath of his brother. Eisav had illusions of glory and was grievously offended when Yaakov “stole” his father's blessings from him. However, as the firstborn, he could have been eligible for a leadership position in the emerging Jewish nation. Eisav was privy to the same upbringing as his brother, yet he chose a different path. We should seek to understand the unique characters of the two siblings.
The brothers could not have been more different in terms of their basic natures. Eisav was a man of powerful instinctual drives. From early youth he was a “man of the field who knew how to hunt.” It is clear that he had a brazen aggressive streak and loved the challenges and risks associated with hunting.
Yaakov was the polar opposite. He was a “simple” person who “dwelled in tents.” What is important about the fact that he lived in tents? The Rabbis comment that this is a reference to the “tents of Torah.” Yaakov sought out the greatest teachers and spent endless hours studying their ideas. The brothers who had shared the same womb could not have been more different.
The human race contains an endless variety of personality and character types. Is there a preferred kind? Are we to assume that Eisav was morally inferior because he was drawn to materialistic pursuits? Must we automatically venerate Yaakov because he found his home in the Beit Midrash (house of study)?
It is instructive to consider the attitudes of parents to their diverse children. The verse states that Yitzchak loved Eisav because “the hunt was in his mouth, and Rivka loved Yaakov.” The Torah fails to tell us about Yitzchak's attitude to Yaakov nor what Rivka felt about Eisav.
At first glance, Rivka’s preference is in line with our religious expectations. Judaism reveres the Torah scholar who sits and learns all day, not the hunter. Thus our question is about Yitzchak; why did he love Eisav, and what did he think about Yaakov?
In my opinion, Yitzchak’s love of Eisav is very significant. Yitzchak is referred to as an Olah Temima (burnt offering). This means that all of his time and energy was dedicated to the service of Hashem. It is not mentioned that he loved Yaakov for, given his spiritual nature, that is something we could have figured out for ourselves.
However, we would not expect him to have a similar attitude to Eisav, who was not steeped in learning, but in materialistic acquisition and conquest. What is the attitude of Judaism towards someone who wants to conquer the world?
The verdict of Yitzchak is that such activity can find favor with Hashem. The Creator endowed man with multifarious talents. He wants man to study nature and subdue its forces in the development of civilization. The big news is that Yitzchak also loved the son who did not sit and learn all day, but labored in the physical world. He loved him because the “hunt was in his mouth.”
Rashi says that Eisav tricked him by asking him all kinds of intricate questions concerning tithing obligations and the like. Yitzchak’s approval of Eisav’s ventures was based on the belief that he would dedicate his ample talents to the service of Hashem. Yitzchak believed that one could express his love of the Creator, not only by study, but by providing the material base for the righteous society. Was he right? Yes, but not in the case of Eisav.
The verse states, “And Rivka loved Yaakov.” This means she was suspicious of her older son and unconvinced that he was truly righteous. She feared that his personal ego came first. A great businessman can serve Hashem, but only if he is truly humble and prepared to utilize all his success to glorify the Creator. May we have the merit to do so.