(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(written by his grandson HaRav Yaakov Sasson Shlit”a)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
The Unimaginable Wickedness of Eisav and How Yaakov Avinu Outwitted Him and Rightfully Acquired the Birthright and Received the Berachot from Yitzchak Avinu
It states in the Parashah, “…when Eisav came home exhausted from the field” (Bereishit 25:29). The Talmud (Bava Batra 16b) states: Rebbi Yochanan said, that wicked man transgressed five sins on that day, he had intercourse with an engaged maiden, he murdered someone, he denied Hashem, denied the belief of the resurrection of the death and he disregarded the birthright.”
How did our chacham deduce that he murdered someone on that day? It states here “exhausted” and it sates in Yirmiyahu (4:31) “Woe is me, now, for my soul has been ‘exhausted’ by the killers”. From here we learn that Eisav murdered someone. How do know that he denied Hashem? It sates here “What good is ‘this’ birthright to me?” (Bereishit 25:32) and it sates elsewhere “‘This’ is my G-d and I will glorify Him” (Shemot 15:2).
Our chachamim continue that on that day he went off the derech and therefore five years were deducted from Avraham Avinu’s life, as it states “This, then, is the account of Abraham’s years. ‘He lived’ a total of 175 years” (Bereishit 25:7). Why does the passuk say ‘He lived’? Really Avraham should have lived to 180 but his life was cut short so that he wouldn’t witness his grandson Eisav going off the derech and cause him anguish. Therefore 5 years were deducted from his life.
It transpired that on that day Avraham Avinu had passed away and Yitzchak Avinu was in a state of mourning for his father. He didn’t eat a meal from the food in his home because others are required to prepare for him the “seudat havra’ah” (lit. the recovery meal, the meal following the burial). Therefore Yaakov Avinu, who was ordinarily studying Torah and not accustomed to cook, stood and cooked the meal for Yitzchak. What did he prepare for him? “Lentil stew” (Bereishit 25:34), which is a common food prepared for mourners. It provides comfort because lentils are spherical and indicative that “the world spins around”, implying that everyone will eventually die [i.e. death will reach them too]. Therefore one shouldn’t be overly distressed about a person’s death, for eventually every person will die [anyway]. This is the reason that mourners eat lentils [see Bava Batra 16b, they also eat eggs, see there further].
The wicked Eisav arrived from the field and was famished. He desired the food which Yaakov had cooked and saw that it was tasty. He said, “Give me a swallow of the red stuff!” (Bereishit 25:30). Yaakov said to him, “First sell me your birthright”. Eisav said, “Here I’m about to die! What good is a birthright to me?” “…and sold his birthright to Yaakov”. Even after he had eaten, drunk and fully satisfied himself, Eisav didn’t regret having sold the birthright, as it states, “He thus rejected the birthright” (ibid.).
From what he said “Here I’m about to die! What good is a birthright to me?” our chachamim explained that he denied the resurrection of the dead, for he said “Here I’m about to die!” and he didn’t consider that even if he dies he will still eventually be resurrected, so it isn’t worth losing the birthright. All these things, these five sins that he transgressed on that day, aren’t written categorically in the Torah, with the exception that he rejected the birthright, but all the rest are simply alluded to and so the chachamim deduced using the [midrashic] tools of exposition that they have.
It once happened with a king who was a philosemite and was very close to one of the chachmei Yisrael. He was literally the king’s beloved. The king had the work called “Ein Yaakov” which has all the aggadot (midrashim) that are found in the Talmud and it had been translated for the king. One day, the chacham came to the king and he saw the king studying “Ein Yaakov” and smiling to himself. The king said to the chacham, see your chachamim, the Jews, when they hate someone they even denigrate him after his death! I have seen in your book that Eisav transgressed 5 serious things on that day, one of them was that he murdered someone! Where is all this written? It isn’t written! Rather your chachamim expounded the verses such, but the things aren’t explicit. Your chachamim hate him! Therefore they “fabricated a case” that he murdered!
The rav heard, smiled and responded to the king, “My lord, I will reply to you given the chance.”
The king continued to speak with his beloved Jew until afternoon. The king ordered his servants to bring him lunch and for the chacham that they bring him fruit, for the Jew wouldn’t eat the king’s food [for it wasn’t kosher]. The servants hurried and prepared the meal before the king. Before the king sat down to eat, he got up to wash his hands, he removed his signet ring from his finger and placed it by the sink and washed his hands. After, he sat down to eat forgetting his ring by the sink.
The chacham saw that the king hadn’t realised this, he took the ring and placed it in his pocket. When the king finished eating he asked the waiter to clear the table. Then the Secretary of State entered so that the king would seal some royal documents. The king went to remove his signet ring to seal the documents, but there was no ring! He began to look for the ring and also the rav made out like he was looking for the ring too, they searched and searched but to no avail! The king shouted, “Bring this dog of a waiter who brought the food!” The king said to him, “Return the ring immediately!” The waiter apologised, “My lord the king, I haven’t seen the ring at all!” But the king didn’t believe him. He ordered two officers and they beat the waiter, whilst he was crying out “I didn’t do anything!”
At that moment the chacham was sat at the side and smiled. The king turned to him, “Why are you smiling?” The chacham said to him, “My lord the king, is this how you judge righteously? Maybe I stole the ring, why do you accuse the waiter?” The king replied, “What a stupid question you ask. I should suspect you of stealing the ring. These wicked ones are thieves, for sure the waiter took it, for only me, you and he were here!” The chacham said, “My lord, release him!” The king ordered the officers, “Leave him! Go you dog, go home!”
The chacham put his hand in his pocket and produced the ring! The king was astonished and asked “What is this?” The chacham said to him, “I told you, you should have at least asked me if I took the ring, how could you have immediately judged the waiter.” The king replied, “I hanged the misdemeanour on the cursed one, therefore I am not guilty for having suspected him!”
Now the king responded to him, “My lord the king please remember what you asked earlier, where is it written that he murdered? You yourself hanged the misdemeanour on the cursed one, so did our chachamim, they hanged the misdemeanour on the cursed one, and I will tell you the reality of what happened as our chachamim received it through tradition and write it in the Midrash:
In those days, Eisav went to hunt, as it states “…for he hunted” (Bereishit 25:28). Whilst going in the forest he met the wicked Nimrod who was also a great hunter. Nimrod said to him “How dare you come on my patch?” Eisav replied “Is this owned by you?” They began to argue until they agreed to a duel. They will meet on such a day at such a time, one opposite the other, and the one who kills his fellow will merit the whole forest!
Eisav came to Yaakov and told him what had happened, that he is going to engage in a duel with Nimrod. Yaakov said to him “You should know that when Nimrod arrives he will be wearing Adam’s leather clothes and when he wears these clothes no one can harm him! So listen to me, before the duel ask him to remove his leather clothes and place them on the rock. Only then will you be willing to engage with him!” Eisav asked Yaakov “How do you know this?” Yaakov replied “I know this from tradition.” Eisav said “If you have a tradition that’s fine! I believe you!” He stood before Nimrod and said to him “Nimrod Nimrod! Is this true strength that you come in these clothes? If you are truly mighty place them on the rock and then we will fight equally!” Nimrod listened, he removed his garment and placed it on the rock. Immediately Eisav grabbed the garment for himself, he smote Nimrod and killed him. This was the person who Eisav killed on that day. He was so accustomed to killing.
The king heard the chacham’s words and said to him, “You are correct!” We must know everything that our chachamim wrote, they are true and their words are true and we must not budge one iota. We see that our chachamim hanged all these misdemeanours on Eisav the wicked one. His end bears witness to his beginning. For Yaakov didn’t take anything tangible from Eisav, only berachot. And what did Eisav do? “The days of mourning for my father will be here soon. I will then be able to kill my brother Yaakov” (Bereishit 27:41). In his eyes, murder was matter of fact! One who transgresses a sin and repeats it becomes like it is permitted to him! [see Yoma 86b].
When he came before his father Yitzchak, and his father said to him “Your brother came with deceit” (Bereishit 27:35), Yaakov came and took the berachot. Eisav said to him, “He went behind my back ‘this’ twice” (Bereishit 27:36), he told his father Yitzchak Avinu how Yaakov had purchased from him the birthright. When Yitzchak heard this he responded, if so, that he [actually] acquired the birthright, “This berachah will remain his!” (Bereishit 27:33) If so, he deserves the berachot!
Our chachamim said that night was Pesach, Seder night. Therefore Yaakov took two kid goats. One for the Hagigah sacrifice and the second for the Pesach sacrifice. He brought his father wine so that he would be able to fulfil the mitzvah of the 4 cups, because our forefathers kept all the Torah [and mitzvot] even before the Torah was given. However old people don’t eat quickly, but slowly. All that time Yaakov felt like he was sat on burning coals. He was concerned the whole time that perhaps Eisav will enter. His father ate slowly and he saw Eisav approaching, he hurried and fled from Yitzchak’s room. Since he left in a rush he left behind the utensils, the pots and plates, all left in his father’s room. When Eisav entered and learnt what Yaakov had done he said “He went behind my back ‘this’ twice” (Bereishit 27:36), “this” referring to the pot, that very pot that Yaakov had cooked for his father was the same pot that Yaakov cooked the stew for Eisav. His father heard and said, if so, that you sold him the birthright for lentil stew “This berachah will remain his!” (Bereishit 27:33).
And so all of Yitzchak’s blessing for Yaakov Avinu were fulfilled “May Hashem grant you the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, much grain and wine” (Bereishit 27:28). We hope that with Hashem’s help that these berachot materialise, with the coming of Mashiach Tzidkeinu, speedily in our days. Amen.