With Whom Do You Associate?

Kislev 16 5780 וַיִּשְׁלַח, ט”ז כסלו תש”פ

In Parashat Vayishlach, we read about the encounter between Jacob and Esau when Jacob is finally returning home. I hold a very different view about Esau than most of our sages and even our prophets who have given him such a terrible reputation… “Yes, I have loved Jacob, and Esau I have hated” Malachi 1:3. Even Obadiah (1:1-21), the only gentile prophet in the Tanakh speaks negatively about Edom. We need to be fair with Esau. It is true that the Edomites became the archenemy of Israel, but it didn’t begin that way.  

To give us some background, read Bereshit (Gen. 27:35ff) where Isaac acknowledged to his son Esau that Jacob had indeed stolen the blessing of the firstborn (behor). Esau complained to him that Jacob not only stole his birthright, he also usurped his blessing. Esau begged Isaac for another blessing for him. Isaac answered that he had already made Jacob master over Esau, given his descendants to be Jacob’s servants as well as wealth (grain and wine). What else could he do for him? Isaac finally blessed Esau with wealth as well but he at some time in the future would indeed serve his brother Jacob. Do you think that Esau had good reason to be upset with Jacob? Gen. 27:41-43 continues with Esau hating his brother and deciding to kill him as soon as his father died. When Rivkah learns this, she warns Jacob to escape and seek refuge with her brother, Lavan where he would find a wife. She didn’t want him to marry a Canaanite. 

At the thought of this upcoming encounter with Esau, Jacob was still afraid that his brother was going to kill him. Do you think that Jacob had any reason to be afraid of his brother? Our sages regard Esau as being completely evil, but the Torah doesn’t tell us that. He was a human being who naturally reacted to the treatment he had received. His parents had both promoted the theft of Esau’s birthright. Whether or not he truly cared about the birthright was not the point; it belonged to him. In reaction, Esau took a wife first from among the Canaanite women and later one from the Ishmaelim, both of whom were a great disappointment to his parents, to say the least. The problem didn’t begin with Esau but with his descendants who learned the evil ways of the Canaanites. Over time, they would come to hate Jacob and his descendants and become the enemy of Israel. When you read their names, you can see that they are the worst of the worst, among whom is Amalek.

Who are your friends, your associates?  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, with whom we do business because of their influence. Little by little our defences are broken down and slowly we accept the immoral as moral. We lie to ourselves thinking, “what’s wrong if everyone is doing it?” That is what is happening in the world today and our young people are being affected. We need to take a spiritual bath and sweat out the evil in our midst. Esau associated himself with the wrong people and it affected the generations to come.  What happened to him?  He simply had the wrong mate and his children came under the wrong influence. Our young people today complain to me that they can’t find a mate with good morals. They are being bombarded with liberal nonsense and are learning pure trash from teachers, government and the media. Slowly they are coming to accept lies as truth. 

One of the problems with Esau was that he never had “the call” to continue the lineage of his father Isaac; Jacob had it! He never abandoned it. Esau was happy to remain as he was.  We can’t blame him for that. Even though he had threatened to kill Jacob at the moment, a lot of time had passed, his anger had cooled and now he hugged and kissed his twin brother. Our sages say that this was a hypocritical kiss but if that were the case, Esau would have killed him on the spot. On the contrary, Esau had moved away from Israel to the land of Seir – Edom. He left the land which had been given to his brother Jacob even though it was rightfully his as the firstborn. Later he and Jacob would go together to bury their father. Although Jacob had “the calling”, there was a lot that he would need to go through. He had to acknowledge that he had done wrong and to be strengthened for the path ahead. He needed to prepare for the worst and ask help from the Creator because he could not survive on his own. He didn’t just sit back and allow Esau to destroy him.  He prepared himself for the worst and hoped for the best. 

Why is Israel so hated by the world? Like Jacob, Israel (as he was renamed) represents “the calling of the Creator”. His descendants were to bring light to all the nations which we do even if we fail from time to time.  We realize that we will not be able to change the evil in this world on our own. It is pervasive. As Jacob cried out for help, we too cry out for the help of the Creator. Esau was blinded because he hung out with the wrong crowd which corrupted his descendants. Today, we are experiencing their virus of hatred toward Israel, causing us to cry out for the Messianic Age. Injustice only can prevail when men close their eyes to the truth. My father taught me from an early age what we read in Deut.16:20 “Justice, justice we must pursue.צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף” Thankfully, there is still a small minority, a remnant who, like Jacob acknowledge that we are “katonti קָטֹנְתִּי”- the least among men and that we need to rely upon the One who is over all His creation. Let us not follow the fads of the day but follow the values and principles handed down to us by the Creator.