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by Michael Alterman    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"When Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him off to Paddan Aram to take for himself a wife. . .saying, 'You shall not take a wife from among the daughters of Canaan'. . .then Esau perceived that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Isaac, his father" (Genesis 28:6-8).



How often do significant things happen to us as individuals, or to the Jewish people as a whole, which cause us to wonder, "What does this mean?" or "What lesson can I learn from it and how should I react?" We see and experience new things everyday, and often we do not quite know how to respond. Unfortunately it is not uncommon for us to even derive lessons from these events which are exactly opposite from the truth.

At the end of this week's Torah portion, Esau hears that his brother Jacob has been sent away to find a wife so that he will not have to marry a Canaanite woman. Let us put ourselves into Esau's position. He has just experienced one of the greatest tragedies in history, watching helplessly as the ever-important blessings slipped through his fingers. At the time of the blessings, Esau was already married to two idolatrous Canaanite women, as is mentioned earlier in the portion. Although the Torah writes in no uncertain terms that his parents had disapproved of his marriages from the very beginning, apparently that fact did not make a substantial impression on Esau until now.

Finally in the above verses, upon seeing that Jacob had received his father's blessings and was subsequently sent out of Canaan to find a wife, Esau wakes up to the fact that the Canaanite women are out of bounds. Now that he realizes that his father considers them to be offensive, we would naturally expect to find that if Esau does take any action in response, he would divorce his two Canaanite wives. It is therefore extremely startling when, in the very next verse, the Torah tells us that Esau takes another wife (albeit from a slightly more appropriate source, Yishmael) without divorcing the first two. What was he thinking? His response only compounded the problem; he allowed his desires to control him. As a result, Esau missed the entire point.

However we must not think that only a person as evil and corrupt as Esau is susceptible to making such a mistake. Even "regular" people are very capable of missing the boat and deriving the wrong lessons from events which occur to them. Rabbi Aharon Kahn of Yeshivat Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan (Yeshiva University) tells an astonishing story about a woman whose family had experienced a horrible series of tragedies. Perplexed and confused, she sought the advice of a great rabbi. After listening to her story, the rabbi asked her to describe the contents of her living room. "I have a candelabra which I use to light my Shabbat candles. . .and I have a beautiful Torah scroll which is the heirloom of my family, displayed in the center of a gorgeous cabinet. . .and then of course our television." The rabbi responded to her that the problems she was having stemmed from the tremendous contradiction between the sanctity of the Torah and the impurity of the television. "You won't have any nachas (happiness) until you take care of your problem." The next day, she removed the Torah and put it in her brother's home.

Many of us pray to Hashem that He should show us the way, giving us signs to help us choose properly. We must keep in mind that He will probably not appear to us and explicitly tell us what to do. More likely, Hashem will respond with messages and opportunities, some more clear-cut and direct than others, which are intended to point us in the right direction. We, however, must make the effort to interpret them accurately and to act upon them accordingly.


Michael Alterman, who is a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is studying at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore.

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