|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Zalman Michoel Ben Golda Mirel
-Ariela Golda Bas Amira Tova
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
**Note: This D’var Torah is a re-written, much edited, and expanded version of an old one I wrote a few years ago.
תּוֹלְדוֹת ● Toldos
● What Did Yitzchak See in Eisav? Why Was He Wrong? ●
“A Tale of Trees and Tree-Monsters”
The Torah introduces the twin children of Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu, describing Eisav as a sharp man of the field and Yaakov as an innocent tent dweller.1 As the Torah reveals, Yitzchak and Rivkah had a differing personal “preferences” for which son would ultimately be the “chosen one,” and to put it plainly, Yitzchak favored Eisav while Rivkah favored Yaakov.2
At the end of the day, if not apparent from the narrative of this Sidrah, the rest of the Torah and history itself attest to the reality of Yaakov’s “chosen-ness.” Ironically, from the younger Yaakov emerges G-d’s “firstborn” nation. As it would turn out, Rivkah’s foresight and manipulation win out.
What Did Yitzchak See in Eisav?
According to tradition, Yaakov was righteous and Eisav was wicked, so, in hindsight, it’s no wonder why Yaakov would become “the one.” The question, though, that bothers many is: What was it that Rivkah saw which Yitzchak apparently did not? How much more did Rivkah know than Yitzchak did that Divine Providence would ultimately carry out her counsel and not his? Did Yitzchak not know what was so obvious to Rivkah that Yaakov was of a higher spiritual caliber than Eisav?
It is difficult to say that Yitzchak was entirely oblivious to Eisav’s character. Perhaps Rivkah did, in fact, catch something that Yitzchak did not. But that Yitzchak could be completely fooled by Eisav’s façade and entirely miss the overall picture of Eisav is astonishing. Why Rivkah would prefer Yaakov seems obvious. The question that really begs itself is: What did Yitzchak see in Eisav?
Knowing the Trap of the Man of the Field
From the dimension of Aggadah, the Vilna Gaon (Gaon R’ Eliyahu Kramer of Vilna) expounds on the Torah’s description of Eisav and develops a unique insight into his character.3 The clause, “…Vayehi Eisav Ish Yodei’a Tzayid Ish Sadeh…”1 plainly reads, “…and it was that Eisav was a man who knows trapping [hunting]—a man of the field…” However, the Vilna Gaon suggests the following additional read into the verse, “…and it was that Eisav was a man who knows the trapping of the man of the field…”
Now, what does this reading mean? The Vilna Gaon suggests that in our verse is an allusion to a creature which supposedly existed in the ancient times of Chazal, known as the “Adnei HaSadeh,” literally, “masters of the field”4, 5
This creature, as understood by the sages and commentators, is a ferocious, field-dwelling beast which actually resembles a human, but has an umbilical cord in its stomach attaching it to the earth from which it derives all of its life and sustenance. Supposedly, anything that entered this beast’s radius would be torn to bits. The only way to hunt down this creature was to sever its cord—its life source—but considering the danger of getting too close, it wasn’t a simple task. Hunters of the age would attempt to shoot arrows at its cord to slay the beast from a distance.
The Vilna Gaon explains that Eisav, however, an expert hunter, was the only man who had the knowledge and finesse to trap the beast alive. He could do it because he was “a man who knows the trapping of the ‘man of the field.’”
Now, as undeniably fascinating as this rendition of our Pasuk is, the simple question is what the point of such an insight might be. Whether it is meant to be understood literally or homiletically, it is certainly an intriguing reading of tje Pasuk. Any reading incorporates a tree-monster would be, but what does it do for us? What light does it shed on Eisav and how does the fact that Eisav was a skilled “Ish Sadeh-trapper” affect our moral, spiritual growth?
Roots in the Trees of Eden
One more Aggadic point worth considering for this journey can be found in the writings of R’ Gedalia Schorr.6
In contrasting Yaakov and Eisav, R’ Gedalia Schorr suggests that Yaakov actually represented Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden before sinning through the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Accordingly, he explains that Yaakov’s mission was to cling to the Eitz HaChaim, the Tree of Life, a symbol of Torah and truth, and represented by Yaakov’s taking shelter in the “tents” of Torah study.
Astonishingly enough, R’ Gedalia Schorr explains that Eisav’s job was actually to serve Hashem through the Eitz HaDa’as Tov VaRa. In the position of Adam post-sin, Eisav’s mission was to go out into the world, or the “field,” representing the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and thereby be “Mitakein,” or redeem the sin of Adam HaRishon.
How exactly can Eisav “repair” the damage of Adam’s sin? R’ Gedalia Schorr explains that unlike the sheltered world of the Eitz HaChaim which contains only truth, the world at large is a Tree of Knowledge which contains a mixture of both good and evil, both truth and false. And Eisav’s daunting task was to get out there and extract the “good” and the “truth” from that mixture, and thereby serve G-d through his engagement in the world. This task would require knowing the tricks of the trade, the finesse of the field. Eisav would have to be cunning and know how to detect and counter the tricks of the Evil Inclination that exist in world filled with good and evil.
Eisav’s Redeeming Quality
Now, as for why Yitzchak favored Eisav, perhaps it is easy to view Yitzchak and Rivkah’s respective preferences from a matter of misunderstanding, that perhaps Yitzchak was actually fooled, to some degree, by Eisav’s façade. However, with the combined teachings of the Vilna Gaon and R’ Gedalia Schorr, we can better understand where Yitzchak might have been coming from (and, maybe, as well where he might have gone wrong).
Coming back to the Vilna Gaon, apparently, Eisav was so skilled at his trade of hunting that he could capture the Ish Sadeh, or the Adnei HaSadeh, alive. What relevance does this point have?
There may be multiple meanings to this insight. For example, one might suggest that the Adnei HaSadeh symbolically encapsulates Eisav’s materialistic worldview. While every mortal being is somewhat bound by the limits of the physical world, man can have spiritual aspirations. Man can transcend the terrestrial realms. However, Eisav, like the Adnei HaSadeh, had attached himself—by a cord—to this world, so much so that nothing else mattered other than what was immediately in front of him (right now) in plain sight, within his radius. He was dependent on the material world to the extent that anything that severs his connection to this world—any moral or spiritual self-sacrifice that interferes with his physical enjoyment and immediate sustenance simply cuts him off. He can’t bear it. He is stuck to this world.
However, another possible meaning behind Eisav’s connection to the Adnei HaSadeh may actually have to do with the potential redeeming quality in Eisav as pointed out by R’ Gedalia Schorr. As was mentioned, the skill Eisav had was that he, unlike anyone else, knew, not merely how to conquer the monster, but how to tame the beast alive. If the Adnei HaSadeh represents a firm connection to the material world, perhaps a manifestation of the Evil Inclination, Eisav’s unique skill may have been his ability to engage in the world without getting spiritually mauled to death by it. Eisav had the potential to succeed where others couldn’t. Eisav did not have to shy away from the physical world and sever his connection to it.
The average hunter can’t get too close. His only chance of survival is by killing the beast off from a distance. In the same way, most normal people can only spiritually survive is by seeking shelter and completely shutting away the material world. But Eisav had a skill that allowed him to engage in the world. He was unlike the monk who seeks only spirituality and feels that he has to be cloistered away in his monastery. Sometimes, even the well-intending Eved Hashem may feel the need to hide from society and never leave the Beis Midrash in fear of getting too close to the beast.
In this vein, perhaps, Yaakov innocently and wholesomely remained in the tents of study. And you know what? For Yaakov and similar personalities, some degree of distance from the world is okay, and in fact necessary. According to R’ Gedalia Schorr, that was Yaakov’s job, to cling to the Tree of Life. If one is aware of his own limits, understands the strength the “beast of the field,” and has a choice in the matter, he would be smart to back away. But Eisav had some incredible street smarts and skills that allowed him to enter any field of his choice. He had the intellectual tools to be involved in the world and even maintain his spiritual posture. He could not only survive, but thrive in a world mixed falsehood, governed by the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.
This unique quality of Eisav, which some might say was the basis for Yitzchak’s decision, may be the intended symbolism of Eisav’s dominance over the Adnei HaSadeh and his service of Hashem through the Eitz HaDa’as Tov VaRa. Yitzchak realized the reality of life in this world is exactly that: the reality of life in this world. In other words, ever since man ate from the Tree of Knowledge, the world as we know it is largely unavoidable. For most people, the life of shelter and incubation can only last so long. Eisav was more equipped for that world. Yaakov was not.
Where Did Yitzchak Go Wrong? – What Eisav Lacked
Whether or not Yitzchak was aware of the degree of Eisav’s apparent wickedness is not entirely known. Certainly, he knew enough to be displeased by the wives of Eisav’s choosing.7 The question is where Yitzchak had gone wrong?
Whatever it was, the potential Yitzchak saw in Eisav may have been enough to convince him of Eisav’s worth. However, it was not enough for Rivkah. It could be that while Yitzchak appraised Eisav based on his great potential, he may have overlooked the more telling quality of a person’s character, the will and effort factor.
While Eisav had the ability do what others could not—to reach levels that others could not, by serving G-d in the physical world, in his life, he has no Ratzon for anything higher than this world. And therefore, he did not exercise nearly the amount of effort that would allow him to transcend. Despite knowing the tricks of the material world, Eisav allowed the beast of the field to hurt his spirit and convince him to give in. This reality is evident in Eisav’s words to Yaakov as Eisav revokes and sells Yaakov his holy birthright for some pottage, “…Hineih Anochi Holeich Lamus V’Lamah Zeh Li Bechorah?”-“…Behold I am destined [lit., going] to die, and [therefore] of what [worth] is this to me—the birthright?”8 In other words, Eisav threw in the towel and backed out of the all struggles towards spiritual growth. He gave up.
Rivkah had grown up in the house of her father Besueil and her brother Lavan who were wicked and sly idolaters—she was in “the world,” yet she knew what it meant to put forth the effort to maintain her spiritual quality and righteousness. She subsequently recognized well that Eisav just wasn’t delivering. Eisav could not be the one.
Yaakov’s New Challenge – Clothes from Eden
Knowing that Eisav could not be the one, Rivkah realized that the only hope would be for the innocent Yaakov to eventually jump into the deep end and learn to swim, and hopefully be granted G-d’s Providence. Yaakov apparently had the Ratzon to serve Hashem. He only lacked the skills. So, what does Rivkah do? She literally dresses Yaakov in Eisav’s garb9, which now has more than one meaning.
Fascinatingly enough, the Midrash tells us that Eisav won his garments from King Nimrod who got them from Adam HaRishon.10 This might also explain why when Yaakov comes in to Yitzchak wearing these garments, Yitzchak smells the fragrance of Gan Eden.11 These would have been the garments which Hashem dressed Adam in immediately after expelling him from Gan Eden, after Adam sinned through the Tree of Knowledge! Whether to be taken literally or not, these teachings suggest that Yaakov would have to “wear these garments,” learn the craft of Eisav and assume the mission of Eisav in the world of good and evil, truth and falsehood!
And indeed, after Yaakov goes through with Rivkah’s scheme to gain the blessings from Yitzchak, Yaakov would proceed to toil, claw, and work himself in the physical world while struggling and fighting to maintain his spiritual life. He could do it though, because, despite his limitations—despite not being as naturally equipped as his brother Eisav, he still had the passion, will and devotion to Hashem. He would put in the effort and therefore gain Hashem’s assistance, assuring his success and dominance over the beast of field.
May we all be Zocheh to not only attain the skills necessary to serve Hashem, both in the spiritual tents and the fields of the world, but to instill in ourselves the devotion to Hashem that enables us to deliver our greatest efforts and merit Hashem’s aid as well, and He should subsequently bless us with success in our toil in the form of the arrival of the Geulah with the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos and Chodesh Kisleiv!
– Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Bereishis 25:27
- Ibid. 25:28
- This teaching can be found in HaMa’or HaGadol (on Bereishis 25:27), a collection of unwritten teachings in the name of the Vilna Gaon.
- See Kilayim 8:5 with Ra”Sh’s commentary to Yerushalmi, Kilayim 8:4, which follows/interprets the position of R’ Meir B’ Rebbi Klonimus.
- The Adnei HaSadeh is otherwise identified as:
– The “Yado’a,” related to the ancient sorcery known as Yid’oni [See Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvos, Lo Sa’aseih #8 and Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah #514]
– The “Avnei HaSadeh,”-“Stones of the field,” based on Iyov 5:23 [R’ Ovadiah M’Bartenura]
– The “B’nei HaSadeh”-“Sons of the field” [Rabbeinu Bachya]
- This teaching can be found in Or Gedaliyahu (on Bereishis 25:27)
- Bereishis 26:35
- Ibid. 25:32
- Ibid. 27:15
- Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer 24
- Rashi to Bereishis 27:27 citing Bereishis Rabbah 65:22; See also Zohar to Bereishis 27:27