It's such a hard temptation to resist. It's that defiant, stick-out-your-tongue gesture that we seem to derive a brief moment of pleasure from. Esau certainly seems to be the kind who might do such a thing. Having been denied the birthright and first blessing his brother stole from him, and probably upset with his father for unwittingly (or perhaps wittingly?) falling for the deception, Esau is a likely candidate to stick his tongue out at his father in a defiant gesture. Yet he resists.
The rabbis like to paint Esau as quite the negative. An earthy man, not smart like his brother. And yes, Esau does indeed threaten to kill his brother. One can hardly blame him. Yet Esau does not kill his brother Yaakov. And when Yaakov is advised to stealthily slip away lest Esau catch him and kill him, Esau does not pursue.
So there we have something to admire about Esau. He didn't pursue his brother to revenge himself. He didn't give in to the temptation.
And yet another--he resists the opportunity to thumb his nose at his father Yitzchak. He knew he had already displeased both his parents by marrying Judith and Beeri, both Hittite women. The text tells us that these marriages were a source of morat ruach, bitterness to Yitzchak and Rivka. And now Esau sees his parents sending away his brother to kinsfolk with the clear intention of assuring he marries within the tribe.
And instead of that defiant gesture, what does Esau do? The last few verses of our parasha tell us. (Bereshit 28:6-9.) Esau realizes now how his marrying the Hittite women displeased his parents, and so he took a wife from within the tribe--sort of. He marries Ishmael's daughter Nevayot. Now, one might argue that, in so doing, Esau was still sort of sticking it to his parents, but that would be imposing our modern viewpoint on the realities of Esau's time. Ishmael and his line were part of the clan. At the end of Chaye Sarah we read of Ishmael's line, and how they dwelled alongside their kinsmen. No, Esav honored his parents wishes. Showed his parents the respect they deserved from him. And he did this even at a time when he could easily feel wronged by his parents. A powerful lesson indeed.
So Esau resisted the temptation. Perhaps he was learning. After all, we discover next week that Esav prospers, and, despite Yaakov worst fears, revenge is not on Esau's mind.
And so, too, can we learn. I know I've done it. Found a way to appear nice yet "stick it" to someone with a clever twist of words or a sharp-tongued phrase. I'm not proud of it. And I pray for the strength and wisdom to learn, as Esau did, to control that urge.
May you, too, be able to resist that urge, and follow Esau's example.
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some Previous Musings on the same parasha
5762-Winners and Losers
Toledot 5761-Is This All There Is?
Toledot 5758-Like Father, Like Son
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