As anti-Semitism heats up throughout the world, it is vital to focus on its origins, which are right here, in our Parsha. “The children agitated within her, and … Hashem said …‘Two nations are in your womb, two regimes from your insides shall be separated. The might shall pass from one regime to the other and the elder shall serve the younger.’”
Who is the younger? Yaakov [Jacob], who came out second.
The archetypal war in history is our war with Esav [Yaakov’s twin brother], as signified by the fact that Yaakov’s epic battle is with the angel of Esav (see Genesis 32:25ff). According to the eminent historian, Rabbi Berel Wein, we have suffered more over the span of history from Esav (the father of the Western-European nations) than from Yishmoel (the father of the Moslem nations). This terrible conflict foreshadows the entire Exile through which we have been travelling for the past two thousand years, which continues until this very day!
It is vital to understand that the battle begins in the womb of our Mother Rivka; from this we understand that the conflict is not only external, but internal as well.
Our antagonist is a man who cries out, “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff!” (Genesis 25:30) Esav goes “acharei levav’chem v’acharei eineichem,” after his heart and eyes, “after which you stray.” (Numbers 15:39) Yaakov, in contrast, observes and contemplates the tzitzis, which represent the 613 mitzvos which form the life of the Jew, in order that he may “remember all the commandments of G-d and perform them.”
There is a universe of difference between these two men.
The conflict between our performance of mitzvos and our desire for material things is at the core of our existence and is mirrored by the conflict between Yaakov and Esav. The extraordinary agitation felt by our Mother Rivka is a premonition of the future of her children. The outer struggle mirrors the inner struggle, and if anyone doubts that this is a life-and-death battle, let him remember the events of the Holocaust and the countless tragedies which preceded it.
We cannot run away from this struggle. We can try to pretend that it does not exist, but that attempt will not succeed, because “all the nations … encircle me, they also surround me,” (Psalm 118) and they will not desist, because of their primordial antagonism to the children of Israel. This struggle will last all through our current Exile, “until the break of dawn,” when the light of Moshiach will enter the world.
Esav lives with his hands, but Yaakov lives with his voice, the voice which speaks words of Torah. (Genesis 27:22) The angel of Esav cannot prevail against us as long as we are speaking words of Torah, and so it is that Torah is our only means of survival. We will prevail in the end, but our shield must be “magen Avraham,” the shield which protected our Father Abraham, who discovered Hashem and His Torah.
“Then saviors will ascend Mount Tzion to judge the mountain of Esav’s mountain and the kingdom will be Hashem’s.” (Ovadiah 1:21)
May we see it soon in our days!
Har Seir, the Mountain of Esav (on the right),
looking eastward from across the Dead Sea