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Torah Portion


Home > Torah Portion > Vayishlach



Torah Portion: Vayishlach
Genesis 21:4-6
Rabbi Stephen M Wylen

TORAH
Jacob sent messengers ahead to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom, and instructed them as follows: this is what you will say - "to my lord Esau, thus says your servant Jacob. I have stayed with Lavan and remained until now. I have acquired cattle, donkeys, sheep, and male and female servants, and I send this message to my lord in the hope of gaining your favor." (Genesis 21:4-6)

COMMENTARY
Why does Jacob mention to Esau all of his acquisitions? Jacob knew that Esau was the type of person who honors people of means and people who are rising on the tide of good fortune. That is why Jacob told Esau that he, too, was wealthy and it would be worth his while to buddy up to him, which is the meaning of "gaining your favor." Jacob knew that Esau is the type of person who measures the value of another person only according to his possessions. (Derosh Darash Moshe, in Itturei Torah, ad loc.)

LESSON
In the Torah, Esau is a frightening but pathetic character, a man without the cleverness to control his own violent tendencies and his need for immediate gratification. In Jewish Scriptural interpretation, Esau becomes the epitome of all that is wicked and unworthy in the human soul. What is his sin? He is a murderer, a thief, a conniver, a con man. No vice is beneath him. Esau becomes the symbol of the enemy, the antithesis of every Jewish virtue and ideal. Our commentator gives a new perspective on the evil that is epitomized by Esau. Esau's character flaw is not murderous hatred, nor burning envy, nor uncontrolled impulses to violence. No, Esau's essential flaw which leads him astray is that Esau is a snob. When my wife Cheryl and I went to New York City for our honeymoon, we wanted afternoon coffee and cake. We went to every hotel on Central Park South and were turned away from each one, because we were dressed for tourism and our appearance did not match the hotels' stereotype of the kind of guest they wanted seen in their café. Finally, out of other options, we tried the Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel. They welcomed us, and we had the most pleasant and most expensive cup of coffee we have ever enjoyed. The other hotels would not let us in, of course, because they were trying to be the Plaza. The Plaza let us in because they didn't have to try to be the Plaza. They were the Plaza. That is the difference between snobbery and true class. Esau, the snob, really has been the worst enemy of the Jew. When nations, peoples and individuals are trying to put themselves up a notch, they pick a minority group to place beneath them. But when the nations, people or individuals have true elevation of soul, they are able to graciously accept the presence of an accomplished minority in their midst. Who is this enemy that is symbolized in our tradition by the biblical character Esau? Be wary of "Esau" the murderer, but be more worried about "Esau" the snob!












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