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Isaac perceived Esau's wildness as an indication of his potential to do great things.

A Walk on the Wild Side

A Walk on the Wild Side

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A Walk on the Wild Side
Isaac perceived Esau's wildness as an indication of his potential to do great things.

The Torah states that Rebecca loved Jacob, and Isaac loved Esau because "'tzayid' was in his mouth" (see Gen. 25:28). One translation of"tzayid" is hunted meat and is obviously a reference to the main difference between Esau and Jacob. Esau was a "man of the fields", a hunter, whereas Jacob was a "man of the tents", who studied Torah. The Torah does not paint a positive picture of Esau, so how could Isaac have been so easily fooled when granting the blessing of the firstborn?

The love of Rebecca for Jacob was without any conditions….

While Rashi cites the Midrash inferring that Isaac was being misled, the later commentaries do not accept that so easily. The Alshich says that the term "meat in his mouth" refers to a love that was conditional - based on something physical, while the love of Rebecca for Jacob was without any conditions. Of course, the Alshich writes, Isaac had this unconditional love for Jacob too, since he understood his true essence. That the Torah specifies Isaac's love of Esau with "meat in his mouth" hints to us that Isaac knew Esau's true essence also.

The Mei Hashiloach approaches the problem on a different level. He writes that Isaac really did love Esau more, as the verse infers, for the reason that Isaac saw more potential in Esau. Specifically, Isaac perceived Esau's wildness as an indication of his potential to do great things. The Mei Hashiloach writes that some people take risks in life and others play it safe. Those that take chances may fail but, when they do succeed, they accomplish much more that those who are cautious. This was the basis of Isaac's love for Esau over Jacob. Kabbala explains how Isaac would say that Esau had the potential to bring the redemption faster than Jacob. But in the end, Isaac realized he was mistaken.

Even though Esau was filled with faults, I did not stop truly loving him as a father must….

The Divrei Meir says that, in fact, Isaac was smarter than everyone, and the blessings as delivered were all part of his plan. The Talmud says that in the Future, Isaac will say to G‑d, "half on You and half on me", telling us that Isaac will defend the Jewish people before G‑d. Isaac loved Esau - even with all of his failings - in order that he should be able to claim "even though Esau was filled with faults, I did not stop truly loving him as a father must. But you Almighty are not limited like flesh and blood. Your love is unlimited! How much more so must You love the Jewish people, who are your firstborn, even though they have sinned grievously."

This is the meaning of the phrase, "tzayid in his mouth". "Tzayid" can also be translated as "sustenance". Isaac loved Esau so there would be sustenance, or a compelling argument in his mouth, to argue for the sake of Jewish people on our Day of Judgment. May we all take the commandment of loving our fellow Jew by judging one another favorably, and may G‑d always judge us positively, too.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul


Copyright 2003 by KabbalaOnline.org, a project of Ascent of Safed (//ascentofsafed.com). All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, unless with permission, in writing, from Kabbala Online.

Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter is a co-founder, executive director and featured teacher of Ascent-of-Safed.
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