SALT - Sunday, 26 Cheshvan 5779 - November 4, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we noted the unusual term “chamudot” with which the Torah refers to Esav’s garments which Rivka had Yaakov wear when he came before Yitzchak disguised as Esav in order to receive the blessing intended for Esav (27:15).  The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 65), cited by Rashi, explains this term to mean that these were garments which Esav had “coveted” (“chamad”).  They had originally belonged to Nimrod, the powerful emperor briefly mentioned earlier in Sefer Bereishit (10:8-10).  Esav desired these special garments, and so he killed Nimrod and seized the clothing.
            A more elaborate version of this Midrashic account appears in Da’at Zekeinim Mi-ba’alei Ha-Tosafot, and specifies the unique quality of these garments.  These garments had on them pictures of every type of beast and bird, and could thus be used by a hunter to attract the animal or bird he sought the capture.  The beast or bird he wanted would naturally come to him, seeing the image on the hunter’s shirt, and could thus be hunted without any effort.  Esav very much desired these garments, and so he killed Nimrod.  (See Torah Sheleima to this verse, note 66, and to 25:27, note 157, for other versions of this Midrash.)
            How might we explain this “magical” quality of these garments described by the Midrash, and why might it be significant that Esav strongly desired to obtain them?
            We might suggest an allegorical approach to this Midrashic passage, and explain that it speaks of Esav’s penchant for deceit.  Esav is described earlier in Parashat Toldot (25:27) as a “yodei’a tzayid” – an expert hunter – and the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 63) explains this to mean that Esav knew how to ensnare people with his mouth, through duplicity.  The depiction of Esav’s magical garment could perhaps be understood as a metaphoric description of his mastering the art of deception, how he was able to attract people through his charm and charisma, thereby ensnaring them, earning their trust which he then used to rob them.
            If so, then Yaakov’s donning these garments when approaching his father disguised as Esav becomes especially significant.  Yaakov here needed to “wear” Esav’s dishonesty and manipulation.  These characteristics, which, ordinarily, must be utterly rejected and abhorred, were deemed necessary on this particular occasion, when, at least in Rivka’s mind, Yitzchak’s blessing needed to be diverted from Esav to Yaakov.  On this one occasion, Yaakov “wore” the “garments” of Esav, he adopted Esav’s deceptive techniques, taking advantage of his father’s impaired vision and pretending to be his brother.
            However, Yaakov’s attitude towards these “garments” was very different than Esav’s.  For Esav, deception and trickery were “chamudot” – something he relished and loved.  Yaakov, however, as the Midrash elsewhere (Bereishit Rabba 65) describes, went along with his mother’s scheme “annus ve-kafuf u-vokheh” – “coerced, in submission, and weeping.”  He consented reluctantly, and loathed every moment spent pretending to be somebody he wasn’t.  Nothing made him more uncomfortable than having to deceive and manipulate his father.  Although he was forced to “wear” Esav’s “garments,” and adopt his cruel techniques, he did so with disgust.  This is in direct contrast to Esav, who “coveted” these “garments,” who savored every opportunity to ensnare people and trap them with his duplicity.