SALT - Wednesday, 29 Cheshvan 5777 - November 30, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read towards the end of Parashat Toldot of Esav’s decision to kill Yaakov in revenge for his having stolen the blessing which Yitzchak had intended to give to Esav: “Esav said to himself: The days of mourning for my father will soon arrive, and I will then kill my brother Yaakov” (27:41).  The Torah then tells that Rivka learned of Esav’s murderous plans, whereupon she instructed Yaakov to flee to Charan and reside with her brother, Lavan.

            Rashi, citing the Midrash, comments that Rivka heard about Esav’s intention to kill Yaakov through ru’ach ha-kodesh (prophetic powers).  Presumably, Rashi made this comment in order to answer the question of how Rivka would know of plans which, as the Torah explicitly states, were not verbally expressed, and were made only in Esav’s mind.  The Torah tells not that Rivka feared or intuited that Esav would seek revenge, but rather that “Rivka was told the words of Esav, her older son,” indicating that Esav’s precise plan was somehow relayed to Rivka.  Rashi therefore explained that she learned this information through her prophetic powers.

            We might wonder why Rivka waited for this prophetic revelation before urging Yaakov to flee.  According to Midrashic tradition, Esav was a violent murderer (see, for example, Rashi’s comment to 25:29, citing the Midrash), and Esav was clearly enraged by Yaakov’s ruse, crying loudly and condemning Yaakov’s treachery (27:34,36).  Was there not reason to fear Esav’s vengeance even without ru’ach ha-kodesh?  Shouldn’t Yaakov have fled immediately?  Why did Rivka decide to have Yaakov escape from home only after learning of Esav’s plans through prophecy?

            Possibly, the Midrash’s comment is meant to impress upon us not to rashly reach drastic conclusions about other people’s evil characters.  We may presume that Rivka and Yaakov felt concerned immediately upon seeing Esav’s furious reaction to losing the blessing.  Nevertheless, Rivka decided to carefully but patiently monitor the situation before taking the drastic action of sending Yaakov away.  It was only once it became clear that Esav planned to take Yaakov’s life that she urged Yaakov to flee.  Chazal here teach us not to rush to think the worst of others.  Even Esav was not presumed to be planning a murder until this was determined through ru’ach ha-kodesh.  Not every “Esav” necessarily poses a direct threat that requires drastic action.  Rather than rushing to shun people for every negative quality, remark or action, we should instead try to judge people favorably and patiently allow them an opportunity to prove themselves worthy of respect.