JACOB'S CORPORATE LADDER
A quick study of our nation's past will inevitably reveal a consistent trend of turmoil and persecution. Upon closer examination, however, a distinct pattern presents itself through the confusion.
A quick study of our nation's past will inevitably reveal a consistent trend of turmoil and persecution. Upon closer examination, however, a distinct pattern presents itself through the confusion. The only time periods during which the Jews were able to live peacefully with their neighbors occurred when they, or in some cases their enemies, held a dominant control over the region in which they were living. Never were they able to compromise with their enemies and live alongside them in equality. This pattern continues even today as the various factions in the Middle East vie for control of the area. The Talmud (Tractate Megillah 6a) supports this theory with the following statement: "If someone were to inform you that both [Jerusalem and Rome, the enemy of the Jewish people at the time] are inhabited, do not believe him. Rather, if one is inhabited, the other must lie in ruins."
In this week's Torah portion, we find the beginning of the Jewish people's eternal struggle against their enemies. Jacob and Esau begin to fight each other while still in their mother's womb. The result of this initial conflict was clearly in favor of Jacob. Not only did he emerge as owner of the birthright and his father's blessing, he also managed to raise a large family and amass great wealth. Even Esau himself was amazed at Jacob's worldly success, as he later states, "How were you able to attain all of this?" Let us attempt to discern what it was that allowed Jacob to attain success over Esau, and thus pave the way for our own eventual triumphs over our enemies.
We must first begin by analyzing Esau. In one respect, Esau appears to be an upright, even righteous, individual. This aspect is illustrated by his strict observance of the commandment to honor his father, as well as his intense anguish at the discovery that he had lost his father's blessing. Conversely, the more well-known side of Esau's personality is that of his wickedness, demonstrated by his disregard for the birthright, his desire to kill Jacob, and the statement of our sages that says that on the day of Abraham's death, Esau committed five sins, among them some of the most heinouscrimes known to Mankind. How, then, are we to view Esau's enigmatic disposition?
Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, a great Jewish thinker of this century, explains that the answer lies in Esau's outlook on life. Esau clearly believed in G-d; Esau even believed that he was on the path to attaining a portion in the World to Come. The problem lay in his priorities. Esau wished to realize the full flavor of this world, while making his service of Hashem into a secondary matter, something to do once a day and then forget about. It was for this reason that the verse refers to Esau as a "man of the field" (Genesis 25:27), as his primary focus in life lay in the amenities of society. Conversely, Jacob made spirituality his predominant goal. Thus, the Torah refers to him as a "wholesome man who sat in tents" (ibid.), as a person whose main interest was in his studies and personal growth.
Obviously, Esau was wrong. When one directs the majority of his attention toward the physical world, he will inevitably become so tied to his desires that they will push him off the correct path in life. It is for this reason that Esau, despite his infallible observance of honoring his father, was led into a life of wickedness and sin. On the other side of the spectrum, Jacob, by concentrating mainly on his service of G-d, was granted not only a place in the World to Come, but fulfillment and prosperity in this world as well. When Esau saw this, his only words were, "From where did you merit such abundance? You were only supposed to receive a reward in the World to Come, not in this world too!"
With this concept, one may explain the events towards the end of this week's Torah portion in which Rebbecah sends Jacob in Esau's stead to receive Isaac's blessing. The blessing was primarily a physical blessing, encompassing livelihood and dominance over other nations. Isaac therefore believed that it should rightfully be given to Esau, whom he viewed as the more physical-oriented of the two brothers. However, Rebbecah looked beyond what was evident on the surface. She saw that were Esau given these physical blessings, he would squander the opportunity they presented for him to grow spiritually, and instead lead him further into sin. Only Jacob, whose primary focus lay in the spiritual, could truly benefit from such a blessing.
Incorporating this lesson into our own lives, we must realize that although it is at times necessary to engage in the physical pleasures of society, we must never lose sight of the ultimate goal. The Talmud (Tractate Berachot 35b), states that the earlier generations made their Torah learning their main focus and the pursuit of a livelihood secondary, and thus achieved success in both areas. Our job, then, is to avoid unnecessary distractions in our lives, and instead concentrate on improving our service of Hashem. If we succeed in realizing this objective then we, like Jacob, will merit to be saved from our destructive enemies.
Joshua Gottlieb, who hails from Atlanta, is a senior at the Ner Israel High School in Baltimore.
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