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The Systems of the Jewish Year

A Little Eisavkeit

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, Yaakov and Esav.

The actual struggle between these two brothers became the prototype of the Jewish struggle with myriads of outside forces and enemies that wanted to destroy us.

But, before Yaakov re-met Esav he had an earlier struggle. He struggled the entire night with the “Angel of Esav”. This struggle, I believe, was not a prototype of the Jewish struggle with the outside world but rather a struggle that Yaakov had within himself.

In order for Yaakov to live and to accomplish he needed a little ‘Esavkeit’ in him. Esav represented ambition, aggressiveness, understanding and using the ‘field’. Yaakov was the scholar who ‘sat in the tent’. But Yaakov needed to get out there; he needed to reach out and create a nation; he needed to mold a people that would survive long and arduous challenges and persecutions.

That’s why Yaakov wanted Esav’s birthright; that’s why Yaakov wanted Esav’s blessing and that’s why Yitzchok wanted to bless Esav even before he blessed
Yaakov.

(This interpretation is not mine. It is common in the Zohar, Or HaChaim, Vilna Gaon, the introduction the Shav Shmaitsa and many more).

How much Esavkeit? Where should Yaakov integrate Esav and where should he shun him? This was the struggle Yaakov had with the Angel of Esav; this is the struggle we all face every day.

“And you should love the L-rd your G-d with all your hearts” (from the Shma) “Hearts!’” asks the Talmud, why the plural? How many hearts do we have? The answer, says the Talmud, is that sometimes we are of two hearts – a yetzer tov and a yetzer hara. Something is pulling us and driving us to the unknown. Use the power!  We have to love G-d with both hearts.

My Rebbe, Rav CP Scheinberg, when asked for help in making a major decision, would often ask us if we are driven to one particular side of the equation. ‘If you are driven’, he would say, ‘it may be coming from the yetzer hara, because the yetzer hatov really doesn’t have much drive.’

‘But that’s not bad’ he would continue, ‘just capture the drive and use it for good’. “Who is a strong man?” asks the Mishna, “one who captures their yetzer”.

The struggle of Yaakov with the Angel of Esav should be the struggle of every Jew. As we confront the world with its modernity, financial challenges, ethical challenges, academic challenges and social challenges we have to be careful not to accept Esav with two hands and not to push him away with two hands either.

“Accept with the right and push away with the left”, says the Talmud, to create perfect balance in our lives.

“Which is the straight path for a man to walk? That which is a Tiferet for himself and a Tiferet for others”. (Pirkei Avos)

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