The Torah in Parashat Toldot describes Esav as an “ish yodei’a tzayid ish sadeh” – “a man who knew how to hunt, a man of the field” (25:27). Rashi, commenting on the expression “ish sadeh” (“a man of the field”), explains that Esav was an “adam bateil” – somebody who wasted his time hunting animals in the fields. Rather than engage in meaningful and productive activities, he instead wasted his time in the jungle.
In a similar vein, the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 63:10) cites a view explaining this term to mean “hifkir atzmo ke-sadeh” – that Esav made himself “ownerless” like a jungle. As Rav Yechezkel Levenstein explains (Or Yechezkel – Middot), this means that Esav harbored no long-term ambitions, and did not want to assume any sort of responsibility. Like an ownerless piece of land that is neglected and abandoned, Esav essentially abandoned himself, allowing himself to waste his time without trying to guide and direct his life in any sort of meaningful way. He treated his life as though it was “hefker” (“ownerless”), without meaning or value, as something that was not worth his time to care for and use properly.
Rav Levenstein adds that this might mark the point of connection between the Torah’s two descriptions of Esav. As we saw, the Torah says that Esav was a “man of the field” but also “a man who knew how to hunt.” The Midrash, cited in part by Rashi, explains this phrase as a reference to Esav’s penchant for deceit, his “hunting” people through deception. Esav misled people by pretending to be an upstanding, conscientious person, concealing his true character. Rav Levenstein notes that a person who is in the habit of deceiving other people is likely to begin deceiving himself, as well. In Esav’s case, he deluded himself into thinking that he could waste his time, that he did not need to work hard and be productive. Laziness, Rav Levenstein explains, is so often a product of delusion, of self-deception, of the tragically mistaken notion that life is not important and significant enough to demand our hard work and effort to use it properly and meaningfully. People delude themselves into viewing their lives as “hefker” in order to absolve themselves of the need to live disciplined lives of hard work and productivity. And thus Esav’s habitual dishonesty led to “hifkir atzmo ke-sadeh,” to disregarding himself, to his wasting his time on vanity, as he deluded himself into thinking that there was no need to lead a life of meaning and direction.
Yaakov, meanwhile, is described as an “ish tam” (literally, “simple person,” or “innocent person”), which Rashi explains as a reference to scrupulous honesty, the precise opposite of his brother’s penchant for deception. As opposed to Esav, Yaakov did not try to deceive other people into thinking he was anything other than what he really was. And thus he was also a “yosheiv ohalim” (“dweller of tents”), which Rashi explains to mean that he was a diligent, disciplined student, who devoted himself tirelessly to the pursuit of wisdom and knowledge. When we live with honesty, then we are true not only to others, but also to ourselves, and we then recognize the need to exert effort and hard work to maximize our potential and make the very most of all the time we are given during our brief sojourn in this world.