“But the children clashed inside her.” Is it not unusual for twins to fight? Are not twins usually as alike as two pins? Yet in the case of Esau and Jacob, from before birth, during birth – when Jacob emerged grasping his brother’s heel – right through to when Jacob departs from his parents’ house for Padan Aram, there appears to be nothing but friction and rivalry between these two twins. Their characters are very different. The parents don’t help either. “Isaac enjoyed eating Esau’s game and favoured him, but Rebecca favoured Jacob.” The conflict between the children is reflected in the different preferences of the parents, and why does Isaac, the man who, in his youth at least, used to go out into the fields to meditate, let his belly decide which of his children he will love more.
None of this bodes well for the future of the Jewish people. Things, however, are not quite so simple. It could be, as Rashi* says, that Esau knew how to entrap Isaac with his mouth. He might have had a hairy body, but he had a smooth tongue. Also, Rebecca had a good reason for favouring Jacob. She had been told by God that the older would serve the younger. Jacob is the one destined to take forward the Covenant. And yet again, Esau is not all bad, not all hunter and motor mouth. He clearly loves his father and goes out to hunt so that he can serve him a delicious meal. He leaves his best clothes at home, according to Rabbi Shimon*, in order to don them when he returns so as to honour his father. What is more, the words that Esau utters on discovering that his blessing has been stolen by Jacob cannot but arouse our compassion: “Is there only one blessing that you have, my father? Father! Bless me too!”
Jacob, the trickster, leaves home at the beginning of Va-yetzei. He clearly has a lot to learn. And learn he does. He has a dream of angels going up and down a ladder which reaches from Earth to heaven. This is a journey Jacob will now make repeatedly, each time learning something more. He will ascend in spirit and take each new insight back to the reality of his life. He will need to, because he is about to arrive at his uncle’s, another trickster, but one who learns no moral wisdom, who ascends nowhere and who has no redeeming features.
Va-yeitzei is a sedra so full of seminal events, including the birth of all but one of the future tribes of Israel, and so rich in meaning, I could spend a lifetime thinking and discussing it, but, for now, I must confine myself to introducing our leader for this Saturday. Harvey Kurzfield will tell us more and guide us through the service. Come at 10.30 to hear him and to share in our communal prayers, songs and conversation.
* See Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sachs: ‘Covenant and Conversation’ 30 Nov 2016