THE PERSONALITY OF ESAV
Rabbi Yisroel Chait
Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife who was barren. G-d listened to
Isaac's prayer and Rebecca became pregnant. Rebecca noticed that her pregnancy
was unusual. She was pregnant with twins and there seemed to be an internal
struggle within her. When she passed the Beth Midrash Jacob sought to get
out. Upon passing a place of idol worship Esau wanted to go forth. G-d
thereby informed Rebecca that the children she was carrying would be the
forebearers of two great nations. These two children were going to be two
great warriors. One child would devote his energies to the conquest of
the external world. The second child would concentrate his abilities to
the conquest of the internal world. The two children were not ordinary people
but possessed excessive energies and abundant talent and the ability to
mold the external world.
Isaac admired Esau's abundant energies. He respected his abilities as
a conqueror. He was an individual whose countenance demanded respect.
However Isaac made one miscalculation. He thought that Esau would exploit
his abilities as a conqueror and assist Jacob in spreading the teachings
of the Torah. The Torah likewise in its description of Esau recognizes
and respects Esau's unique abilities. The Torah appreciates the greatness
embodied in the personality of the conqueror.
There is a Midrash that compares the personalities of the Grand Rabbi
Judah the Prince and the wicked Antiochos. They both reflect man's ability
of conquest. One excelled in the world of the ideational and one in the
world of the physical.
We must appreciate the personality of the conqueror as one who perfects
himself in physical conquest and is deserving of admiration. The Torah
recognizes and pays tribute to the unique qualities of such an individual.
Most people possess dependent personalities. They are incapable of progress
and lack the ability of stepping forward and mastering the universe. Man
unconsciously desires to perpetuate the state of infancy which is essentially
a protected state of dependency. An individual who conquers the physical
world and is successful in his exploits has shattered this infantile state
of dependency. Only such an individual is capable of accomplishment.
Courage is the ability of a person to use his inner strength and to step
out into reality. This courage is manifested in an individuals mastery
of either the intellectual world or in the sphere of the physical. Most
people are content in following societal patterns and live a dependent life
and thus are not truly successful in their endeavors. They are in trepidation
of facing reality which demands that a person leave the protective life
of his early development. A conqueror is an individual who possesses the
courage to leave the security that society offers and face the challenges
of the external world. A person can utilize his courage and step out and
make progress in two worlds; the world of the intellectual or the world
of the physical. Rebecca's two sons represented two courageous individuals
who had the courage to face the external world and the internal world.
The Rabbis respected this personality as evidenced in halacha. An ashir
muflag, an extremely rich person can be called up to the Torah before a
Kohane. Such an individual has utilized his intellect and has displayed
the courage to go out into the world and conquer it.
It is important to draw a distinction to the hero. A hero possesses
false courage. He simply seeks to go against the norms of society in order
to achieve hero status. The hero's drive is not based upon the quest of
reality. The hero does not utilize his intellect as a demonstration of
An understanding of the personality of Esau can also help us appreciate
the incident concerning the sale of his birthright. In the book of Genesis
beginning at Chapter 25, verse 29 and though the remainder of the chapter,
recites the circumstances of the sale. Esau returned from hunting in the
field and was hungry and exhausted. He thereby asks Jacob for some of his
red pottage of lentils. Jacob in turn purchases Esau's birthright for the
pottage. Esau comments that behold I am going to die and thus I have no
need for the birthright. The Torah thereby concluded Chapter 25 with Verse
34, "And Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat
and drink, and rose up, and went his way, so Esau despoiled his birthright."
The Torah says that the day of the sale was the day Abraham died. Esau
had displayed a strong affection and respect for Abraham. During Abraham's
life Esau did not stray onto the path of the wicked. Abraham was a super-ego
figure, a true TZADDIK. Esau had strong instinctual proclivities but he
saw Abraham as an image of immortality because Abraham was righteous. This
image of Abraham prevented him from sinning. Esau projected upon Abraham,
because he was a truly righteous individual, the image of immortality.
Esau was an instinctual being and during Abraham's life he did not succumb
to the life of the instinctual. Esau viewed Abraham as being immortal.
This fantasy of immortality prevented Esau from living the life of a wicked
person. Upon Abraham's death his fantasy of immortality was shattered.
Esau wrongfully concluded that there was no concept of reward, since he
only viewed reward in terms of the physical. However a chacham appreciates
the true reward.
The Midrash says concerning Abraham's death, "al tivku l'mase",
do not cry for his death. Abraham had achieved true immortality. The ideational
part of man which is not subject to the constraints of the physical lives
on. However, Esau, the instinctual being could not appreciate true eternity.
Thus the Midrash says one should cry for Esau. The death of a wicked person,
one whose existence was solely in the realm of the physical, truly marks
Esau upon selling his birthright to Jacob commented that the birthright
had no value for him because he was going to die. The death of Abraham
made him acutely cognizant of his own mortality. He thereby rejected any
concept of reward and punishment. Thus after the sale, the Torah made a
point of reciting that, Esau did eat, drink, rose up, went his way and despoiled
his birthright. This critical juncture represented the commencement of
Esau's submission to his instinctual needs and the dedication of his life
to the physical. This is attested to because it states that when Esau came
from the field be was tired. The Rabbis tell us that Esau had already killed
someone this day and had raped an engaged girl. The attraction of the physical
is the fantasy. When one commits a sin it is because he is usually overwhelmed
by the allurement of the fantasy. However, after one commits the sin he
realizes that the satisfaction is fleeting. The energies which were propelled
by the fantasy are diminished. The reality rarely conforms to the anticipation
of the fantasy. Thus Esau was tired because his energies were not fully
satisfied. The commission of the sins did not satiate his physical energies.
Normally a wicked person after committing a sin does not feel tired because
he channels the energies to the ego. The conquerors sense of accomplishment
removes the frustration which otherwise would result when the power of the
fantasy is dissipated. However Esau felt tired, he was "ayef".
After Abraham's death, he committed the sins because he was overwhelmed
by the physical desires. Abraham's death had removed all impediments from
sinning. However, he was not satisfied after the performance of the chate,
sin. His ego-ideal was still Abraham. He had not yet attached his ego
to accomplishment in the realm of physical conquests. Thus, he was exhausted
after the sin because all he had was the frustrated energy of the maaseh
avera.. Later on in life, as Esau became the man of physical conquests,
he did not feel exhaustion. The frustrated energy was satisfied by the
ego ideal of the physical man. He was successful in transferring the physical
man the conqueror, as his ego-ideal in Abraham's stead.
The Torah gives us the insight and opportunity to appreciate the personality
of Esau and analyze the events in his life as he developed into the persona
of a rasha. Therefore the Torah is unique in recognizing, that although
the lifestyle of a rasha is not a value which we aspire to, the personality
of the rasha must be analyzed and recognized as a creature of the Bore Olam,