At the beginning of this weeks Parasha we are told that during Rivkas pregnancy, “The children struggled within her”.
Rashi explains exactly what this “struggling” was:
“Our Rabbis explain that the word ‘Vayitrotsetsu’ – ‘Struggling’ actually has the meaning of running, moving quickly; whenever Rivka passed by the doors of Torah (i.e. the schools of Shem and Ever) Yaacov moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth, but whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple, Esav moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth.”
Rashi is using the Midrashic text of Bereishit Rabbah 63, in his efforts to deal with the various problems in the text. However, Kli Yakar when dealing with the word “Struggling” seemingly uses the exact same Midrashic material, yet with a slight addition. This slight addition makes all the difference:
“Whenever Rivka passed by the doors of Torah (i.e. the schools of Shem and Ever) Yaacov moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth – but Esav stopped him from doing so. Whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple, Esav moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth, but Yaakov stopped him from doing so.”
The difference between Rashi and Kli Yakar can be seen in the following statement of Rav Hirsch:
“Different nations need not have different forms of government. Europe contains a number of nations but they are mostly under a form of government, which basically and in principle is the same (this was the case in Rav Hirsch’s time when practically all the countries of Europe had a form of monarchy). However, Rivka was informed that she carried two nations in her womb that would represent two different forms of social government. The one state would build up its greatness on spirit and morals, on the humane in humans; the other would seek its greatness in cunning and strength. Spirit and strength, morality and violence oppose each other, and indeed, from birth onwards they will be in opposition to each other. One form of government will always be more powerful than the other. The scales will constantly sway from one to the other. The whole of (world) history is nothing else than a struggle as to whether spirit or .
The few words added by Kli Yakar to the Midrash as presented in Rashi, make all the difference. Yaakov and Esav were not simply two different people, with differing tastes and objectives; they were two people whose characters diametrically opposed one another. It was not enough for Yaakov to want to run to the Bet Midrash, he had to stop paganism as well. Similarly, it was not enough for Esav to follow pagan ritual; he had to stop the learning of Torah. Here we are talking of two ideologies that cannot exist together. If one is in power, then automatically, the other is subservient. This is an understanding that Rashi himself confirms in the next verse.
We can also see from this understanding, that Yaakov is not simply interested in himself, like his father and his grandfather, his objective is to ensure that the beliefs of the family are spread, and that those opposing such beliefs be defeated.
Malbim in a beautiful comment adds; that just as – to quote Rav Hirsch – “The whole of world history is nothing else than a struggle as to whether spirit or sword has the upper hand”; so too the whole of an individuals life is nothing else than a struggle as to whether spirit or material will have the upper hand.
In essence the story of the two nations of Yaakov and Esav, is in fact a story that every one of us lives every day. We are, as human beings, uniquely made up of soul and body. These are two entities each with an agenda of their own, more often than not; the agenda of the body is diametrically opposed to that of the soul, and visa versa.
Just as we believe that Esav (his ideology) should be subservient to Yaakov, so our bodies should be subservient to our souls. Just as Esav physically preceded Yaakov, so the body precedes the soul. Just as at the start of their relationship Esav had the upper hand over Yaakov, so too, at the start of life, our physical power seems to rule over our spirituality. Just as at the end of days Yaakov will finally rule over Esav, so too our aim is that by the end of our lives our soul will control our bodies, and not visa versa.
This wonderful idea of the Malbim can be continued. If Yaakov is to overcome Esav, this will be a life long struggle, it will involve planning and strategy, it will involve constant awareness of every situation, and a need to foresee how that situation will develop. If we succeed then we become worthy of the name “Yisrael”. As human beings, each and every one of us was born into this reality. Each one of us is on our own personal front line. Our bodies have genuine needs, as do our souls. Our objective is categorically not to destroy “Esav”, it is to control “Esav”. We are commanded to live in this world, to actively involve ourselves in the physical reality of the world, yet our physical behavior, must be under the direction of our souls. To succeed in this mission of life requires constant effort and ongoing strategy. We cannot live “in both worlds” and succeed. If the body is in control then the soul will be subservient, if the soul is in control then the ..
As an appendix to this week’s parasha, I feel that I must comment on the wonderful event that took place in our Midrasha last week. We celebrated the Aliyah of ninety of our alumni over a period of eight years. The event was one of the proudest moments of my long relationship with Midreshet Harova. There can be no greater answer to our enemies than “Aliya le’Eretz Yisrael”. To be playing a part in such a reality is a zechut that I have no words for. I can but honor our students, whom, despite the situation, simply keep coming home, may this phenomenon increase by the year. We look forward to seeing all of our new-Israeli alumni at the upcoming Yom Iyun at the Midrasha the 18th of December.
To our bogrot in Chutz La’aretz, just a reminder regarding the New York Shabbaton on parashat Vayigash (December 14th). The Shabbaton is in Engelwood New Jersey, details can be obtained from Elisha Rothenberg at: email@example.com.
To our prospective students from the Northern Hemisphere, please ensure that your applications reach us by December 1st.