SALT - Monday, 11 Kislev 5780 - December 9, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
            The opening verse of Parashat Vayishlach tells us that as Yaakov made his way back to Canaan, he sent a message of reconciliation to his brother, Eisav, “to the land of Se’ir, the field of Edom.”  And later in the parasha (36:8), the Torah tells us, “Eisav settled in the mountains of Se’ir; Eisav is Edom.”  The nation Eisav founded was called “Edom,” and the he established this nation in the region of Se’ir.
            Rav Moshe Leib Shachor, in his Avnei Shoham, notes the significance of the fact that Eisav’s nation is forever known by, and associated with, these two names – “Edom” and “Se’ir.”  The Torah tells us earlier (25:30) that Eisav became known as “Edom” – a term related to the word “adom” (“red”) – because of his sale of the birthright to Yaakov in exchange for lentil stew, to which he referred as “ha-adom ha-adom ha-zeh” (“this red stuff”).  And the name “Se’ir,” Rav Shachor writes, likely alludes to Yaakov’s receiving the blessing that was intended for Eisav, which he accomplished by disguising as Eisav, wearing goatskins on his arm so they would feel “se’irot” (“hairy” – 27:23), like Eisav’s arms.  Rav Shachor thus suggests that Eisav specifically named his kingdom “Edom” and his territory “Se’ir” as an eternal reminder of his grievance against his brother.  These names signify Eisav’s everlasting resentment for Yaakov’s seizing his birthright and his blessing.
            If so, then the names “Edom” and “Se’ir” perhaps give us further insight into Eisav’s nature and character, and the contrast between him and Yaakov.  Eisav allowed his legitimate grievances to define him, to become part of his identity.  He specifically made a point of carrying his proverbial baggage with him throughout his life, and even ensuring that his progeny for all eternity would be defined as the nation that resents the descendants of Yaakov.  Rather than leave the resentment and grievance – valid as it was – behind in the past, and focus on the present and future, Eisav made it his priority to keep alive the memory of Yaakov’s seizing the birthright and blessing, and to continue stoking his feelings of hatred and animosity.
            As we read in this parasha (32:28), Yaakov was given the name “Yisrael” – the name by which his descendants are forever known – which signifies his triumph over adversity.  As the angel told Yaakov, “…ki sarita im elohim ve-im anashim va-tukhal” – he struggled against hostile enemies, and prevailed.  The name by which our nation is forever known commemorates not our grievances, but rather our successful struggle to overcome them and move on.  We are defined by our steadfast determination to succeed in our lofty mission despite the obstacles that stand in our way – not by our anger and anguish over having to confront these obstacles.  The Midrash, cited by Rashi (32:22), comments that as Yaakov made his frantic preparations for his feared meeting with Eisav, he was “sharui be-ka’as” – overcome by anger that he needed to do all this.  He was legitimately aggrieved by the situation, by Eisav coming to avenge something that happened decades earlier.  But Yaakov never defined himself by this grievance.  Eisav’s hostility was for him a difficult, frustrating challenge to overcome, but not his identity.
            This difference between Yaakov and Eisav teaches that we must not allow our grievances – valid as they may be – to define us.  Anger and resentment hinder us from achieving.  They keep us tethered to the past, preventing us from creating the future that we want for ourselves.  Rather than allow our grievances to consume and take over our lives, we need to focus on the process of “sarita…va-tukhal,” moving beyond our struggles so we can live the fulfilling, meaningful lives that we want to live.