SALT - Tuesday, 25 Cheshvan 5778 - November 14, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The final verses of Parashat Toldot tell of Esav’s plan to kill his brother, Yaakov, in revenge for Yaakov’s having schemed to receive the blessing which Yitzchak had intended to give to Esav.  After losing his blessing, Esav said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father will soon arrive, and I will kill my brother Yaakov” (27:41).
            The familiar explanation of this verse is that which is offered by Rashi and the Radak, who explain that Esav decided to delay his revenge in order to avoid causing his father distress.  In order to spare Yitzchak the anguish of losing his son, Esav decided that he would wait until his elderly father passed on before killing Yaakov.
            Chizkuni explains differently, writing that Esav’s intent was that he had no reason to fear killing Yaakov because Yitzchak was already elderly and would not beget any more children who would avenge Yaakov’s death.  He was saying that since “the days of mourning for my father will soon arrive,” meaning, Yitzchak is already aged, and thus no longer capable of reproducing, “I will kill my brother Yaakov” without fear of another family member avenging his blood.
            A much different interpretation to this verse is given by Malbim and Akeidat Yitzchak, one which diametrically opposes the explanation given by Rashi and the Radak.  Whereas Rashi and the Radak understood that Esav decided to delay his revenge for the sake of his father, Malbim and Akeidat Yitzchak write that to the contrary, Esav was specifically expressing his disregard for his father’s wellbeing.  He was saying that he was prepared even to hasten Yitzchak’s death by killing Yaakov, which would likely cause Yitzchak life-threatening anguish.  Esav was specifically expressing his willingness to accelerate his father’s physical decline for the sake of taking his revenge without any delay.  Malbim goes so far as to say that Esav’s rage was directed not only towards Yaakov, but also towards Yitzchak.  He resented the fact that Yitzchak refused to retract his blessing which was mistakenly granted to Yaakov, and that when he finally agreed to bless Esav, he declared that Esav would be subservient to Yaakov (“ve-et achikha ta’avod” – 27:40).  Esav there had no qualms about hastening his aged father’s physical decline by murdering his son, as he was enraged at them both.
            Rav Avraham Korman, in Ha-avot Ve-ha’shevatim (pp. 143-144), notes how this perspective – that Esav sought to exact revenge from both Yaakov and his parents – may possibly explain the final verse in this parasha, which tells of Esav’s marriage to his cousin, the daughter of Yishmael.  The Torah relates that upon seeing how Yitzchak and Rivka sent Yaakov to Charan, to the home of Rivka’s brother, Lavan, where he was to marry Lavan’s daughter, and that Yitzchak and Rivka disapproved of his marriage to local Canaanite women, Esav decided to marry Yishmael’s daughter.  This account is difficult to understand for several reasons.  Most obviously, the Torah emphasizes that Esav married his cousin “al nashav” – in addition to his two current wives, clearly indicating that he did not divorce his first two wives (as Rashi noted).  Seemingly, if his motivation for marrying Yishmael’s daughter was to please his parents, who disapproved of his earlier marriages, there was little purpose in marrying a third wife without divorcing the first two.  The explanation, Rav Korman suggests, might be that as Esav now threatened Yaakov and Yitzchak, thrusting the family into bitter conflict, alliances began to form.  Yitzchak and Rivka sent Yaakov to Lavan and told him to marry one of Lavan’s daughters, essentially trying to draw Rivka’s family’s support in this struggle.  Esav realized that he needed to counter the support his parents would be receiving from Lavan by forging an alliance with another part of the family.  His Canaanite wives were no help for him in this effort, as his parents felt no connection to them to begin with.  Esav therefore turned to Yishmael, Yitzchak’s brother, figuring he could exploit the resentment Yishmael presumably harbored towards Yitzchak, his younger brother who was their father’s inheritor and successor.  Esav’s decision to marry Yishmael’s daughter was thus in direct response to his parents’ sending Yaakov to marry Lavan’s daughter, seeking to draw support from Yishmael to counterbalance the support they sought to receive from their family in Charan.