With Whom Do You Associate?

In Parashat Vayishlach, we read about the encounter between Jacob and Esau when Jacob is finally returning home.  Our sages vary in their opinions about Esau’s character and even our prophets have given him a terrible reputation such as Malachi 1:3: “Yes, I have loved Jacob, and Esau I have hated,” and Obadiah (1:1-21), the only gentile prophet in the Tanakh speaks negatively about Edom, but I think that we need to be a little fairer with Esau. The Edomites indeed became the archenemy of Israel, but it didn’t begin that way.

To give us some background, in Bereshit 27:35 Isaac did acknowledge to his son Esau that Jacob had stolen the blessing due to the firstborn (the bechor). Esau complained to him that Jacob not only stole his birthright but also his blessing. He begged Isaac for a blessing too, but Isaac answered that he had already made Jacob master over Esau; his descendants would be Jacob’s servants and he blessed him with wealth. Jacob asked what else he could do for Esau who responded, “Can you bless me too?” Isaac did finally bless Esau with wealth, but at some time in the future, he would indeed serve his brother Jacob.

Don’t you think that Esau had good reason to get upset with Jacob? Our sages speak about Jacob’s purity, but we need to see the other side. The idea of “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, justice, justice you must pursue”, is engrained within the character of our people.  We learned in Bereshit 27:41- 43 that Esau hated his brother Jacob and said that he planned to kill him as soon as his father Isaac died but we know from this parashah that Isaac lived until 180. It was his mother Rivkah who died before Jacob could return home.

Next, in chapter 28, we see how Esau decides to marry a woman from the Canaanites – the worst of the worst. After both his parents had allowed the theft of his birthright, the first thing he did was to take revenge on them by choosing a wife from the women in the area where they lived. Would their children learn good principles from their father Jacob and grandfather Isaac? No! These women would influence their children with all the evil that they had learned from the Canaanite culture and thus their descendants, the Edomites would learn to hate Jacob and his descendants. Later we see how they became the archenemy of Israel. The problems we see in the Middle East today, stem from this.

What can we learn from this? My father used to tell me to choose my friends wisely. In Spanish, we say “Dime con quién andas y te diré quién eres” – “Tell me with whom you walk, and I will tell you who you are.” We need to be careful with whom we associate, and with whom we do business because their influence can lead to evil…that is what happened to Esau. Our sages want to paint Esau as being completely evil, but the Torah doesn’t tell us that. He was a normal human being who reacted with anger to the treatment he had received. What’s wrong with that? The problem was not Esau; it lay with his descendants. This is important… look at with whom you associate, and I will tell you how you will end up. If you associate with thieves, even if you aren’t involved with what they do, you are guilty because of association. Esau associated himself with the wrong people and it affected his future generations.

Jacob also had to deal with his relationship with his father-in-law Lavan; although his name means white, he was the opposite. We need to be very careful with whom we associate, with whom we walk and with whom we do business. Little by little our defenses can be broken down and we slowly begin to accept their immoral behavior as our morality is being destroyed. We can lie to ourselves thinking, “What’s wrong if everyone is doing it?” Look at how our young people are being affected by today’s immorality. They can no longer differentiate between true love and love as the world sees it.  They say, “Well if they love each other what’s wrong with it?” or “What’s wrong with stealing if everyone is stealing?” I recently heard a radio personality say about a politician who was being accused of corruption, “Have you ever heard of a politician who doesn’t do anything wrong? What’s wrong if they help themselves to a little – everyone does it?”

We need to constantly be on our guard and take a spiritual bath to sweat out the evil in our midst. We don’t realize the subtlety of their teachings and may not see it until it is too late. That’s what happened to Esau. He simply came under the wrong influences. The Torah doesn’t say that he meant to do evil. In the end, both Jacob and Esau come together to bury their father Isaac, but then this parashah ends with the names of all Esau’s descendants. They were bad people, like the mafia.

I love speaking to young people who are honest with me. One of the things they shared with me was how difficult it is now to find the right mate.  In my day, most boys and girls were good, innocent kids whereas today any child of eleven knows more than the adults. Their parents are afraid to speak about these things and the worst part is that they are being bombarded by their schools with liberal, progressive ideas. Their teachers are teaching them pure trash and sadly they are accepting this trash as truth.  Our guidance as parents is being dismissed by our kids who tell us – “But that’s not what my teachers say”, or “The government or the media says that”. This is a big problem.

I was accused by one young man of being a chauvinist because I said that I believe that men and women have different roles. I asked him if he ever saw a man giving birth; is that possible? He responded before he walked out, “You just don’t understand, we have already overcome that problem.”  My personal opinion about women is that they are the last and best of God’s creation. As a man, I need to acknowledge that. I accept God’s order and I am not jealous. In Judaism in the Siddur, we read a prayer when we men wake up before we start our day. “Thank you LORD that you made me a Jew and not a Gentile and thank you LORD that you made me a man and not a woman.”  It may sound arrogant, but it is quite the opposite. Men are saying that we are grateful that we have been given the Ten Commandments and the teachings of the Torah to guide us and that we don’t have to experience what women go through, every month or when they give birth. If men had to experience birth pains, mankind would be one generation away from extinction. You women are the greatest thing that God created, and I have the greatest respect for you but that doesn’t mean you can be a man. When you try to be a man, you are degrading yourselves.

Now we come to chapter 32 where we have the encounter between Jacob and Esau. Do you think that Jacob had any reason to be afraid of his brother? After being apart for so many years, he prepared himself for battle but he expected to be murdered.


We see that Jacob cried out to the Creator who gave him the strength and courage to face Esau. Jacob had to acknowledge what he had done wrong and to be strengthened for the path ahead. He needed to prepare for the worst and then ask for help from the Creator because he could not survive on his own, but he didn’t just cross his arms and allow Esau to destroy him.  He prepared himself for the worst and hoped for the best.

Esau never had “the calling” to continue the lineage of his father Isaac. The one who had a strong calling was Jacob and he never abandoned it. You can’t blame Esau for not understanding or liking what Jacob was doing. If Esau had opposed or even tried to destroy Jacob, that would be different. Many of our sages say that Esau was coming to kill Jacob, but on his way, God intervened and changed his heart. Can you give Esau a bit of credit?  Time had passed and his anger was subdued. Rivkah and Isaac had told Jacob to flee to Lavan until Esau’s anger had cooled down. What we see is that Esau hugged and kissed his twin brother. Our sages say that this was a hypocritical kiss, but how can we judge that?  If that were the case, Esau would have killed him on the spot. On the contrary, Esau had moved away from Israel to the southeast, the other side of the Jordan, to the land of Seir-Edom. He left the Promised Land given to his brother Jacob even though it would have been rightfully his as the firstborn.

The evil came much later.  Have you ever asked yourself why Israel is so hated by the world? In the distant past, Christianity has done many evil things against the Jews. Today there are Christians who distance themselves from that part of their Catholic history but let’s ask the Jews in Spain, England and Europe who needed to pay them just to stay alive. Islam is the same. Why is this small minority so hated? Because they represent “the calling of the Creator” and even though our light is sometimes a little darker than it should be, we are still bringing light to the world that is brighter than all the other nations, yet we are still being accused of every evil thing that exists. The United Nations believes that the only evil country in the world is little Israel. They constantly accuse Israel of atrocities while the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah are considered to be saints, kind and loving people. They speak from both sides of their mouth; one side saying, if only they would allow us to live in peace, we wouldn’t touch them… and on the other, they say one Jew is too many.

This is where the background of Esau comes into play…through his descendants, the Edomites and the Amalekites. The jealousy and evil thoughts against Israel have been passed down through the generations. That is the reason that the Messianic Age is so preponderant in our midst. We have realized that we as human beings will not be able to change the evil in this world on our own. It is pervasive as we see in the Western nations, the US, Canada and the European countries.  We have eyes to see and ears to hear, but we have been blinded.  Esau was blinded because he associated with the wrong crowd and his descendants were corrupted. This is what happened with the major religions like Christianity and Islam. They already have the virus of hate against Israel, and it hasn’t been cured.  Some, however, are coming out and repenting for what they did but there are only a minority.

This parashah teaches us that injustice can only prevail when men close their eyes to the truth or are blinded or twisted.  I love the name of this community, She’ar Yashuv, the Remnant Shall Return, in Yiddish, the Shmattes, the remnants. Yes, we are small, as Jacob himself acknowledged, but the One who is over us is Everything. Don’t ever be afraid of others; stand up for who you are. Don’t follow the latest fads, the in-crowd. Follow your good values and principles. I say to the girls – learn to value yourself; self-respect begins at home. If you don’t respect yourself, no one will. You are not a commodity. You don’t need to be accepted by others; you have already been accepted. Boys – stand up, be righteous and honest and respect the girls. Girls think today that they are like men because they can do whatever they want. This only makes the boys happy because they don’t have to commit to anyone. Boys, be a man, don’t take advantage of the girls. Our role is to be supportive, protective and their covering; stand up for what is right. Esau started right. He loved and forgave his brother and they both buried their father together. The problem lay with their descendants.

Tell me with whom you are associated, and I will tell you who you are.

Rewritten from Ranebi’s message on December 14, 2019,  Kislev 16, 5780