Roy Neuberger - Dec. 01, 2017

There is a long and rather surprising end to this week’s Torah Portion, beginning with the words, “these are the offspring of Esau ….” (Genesis 36:9) I counted thirty-four verses, listing name after name of the descendants of possibly the most evil person in history! Why does the Torah want us to know the descendants of Esau?

“The [Torah’s] purpose … is to [say that] any [nation] that intermarried with Edom (Esau), or that produced a king for [Edom] or [that entered into] any similar [alliance with Edom] will be counted [as part of Edom] … for they are all destined for destruction when Edom [finally] falls. 

“Also [we are meant] to take this as a sign that the Future Redemption will last for a great length of time. The proof is that Hashem counted the kings of Edom … [and] in a similar manner, [after the Redemption], Jewish [kings] will reign for as many [years] as [the Edomite rulers] will have reigned….” (Ohr Hachaim)

Now we begin to understand, but there is much more. 

Rashi singles out one name in this list. This comment is short even for Rashi, but his words reverberate through the millennia. “Aluf Magdiel; hi Roma … the chief of Magdiel; this is Rome.” (Genesis 36:43) (This descendant of Esau is the progenitor of the Roman Civilization, meaning all of Western Culture.) With these two words, Rashi shines a blazing light on the entire future of the Western World, until this very day! “Of all the names …[Magdiel] is the most descriptive…. Unlike the others, its last two letters are one of G-d’s names.” (Pirkei DeR’ Eliezer 38)

Hold on! I thought there are only two nations whose name contains the letters of G-d’s Name: “Yisroel” and “Yishmoel!” How did “Magdiel” get on this list? 

“Hashem created seventy [nations], yet He did not put His Name into any of them except Yisroel. Now … Hashem has equated the name of Yishmoel with that of Yisroel [with the statement] ‘Oy, mi yichye mi’sumo kail … Who will survive in [Yishmoel’s] days!’”(Numbers 24:23, quoted in Pirkei DeR’ Eliezer 30, as cited in Redemption Unfolding) 

How did Yishmoel receive his name? The Torah tells us that an angel said to Hagar, “You will conceive and give birth to a son; you shall call his name Yishmoel.” (Genesis 16:11) 

And how did Magdiel receive his name? Rashi says “these … names of the chiefs of Esau …. were called by the names of their countries…” (Genesis 36:40). Although the Name of Hashem is found in Magdiel’s name, his name reflects his region; he was apparently, not actually named by Hashem. 

Now, having seen how the Name of Hashem came to be associated with the names of Yishmoel and Magdiel, let us examine what happened with the ancestor of Israel, our Father Jacob. 

In this week’s Torah Portion, Esau’s angel says to Yaakov, “No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Yisroel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:29)  The name “Yisroel” was not given originally, but only after a supreme test. Thus, there is a huge difference between the way Jacob received the name “Yisroel” and the way Yishmoel and Magdiel received their names! Jacob earned the Name of Hashem after defeating the Satan! He vanquished all the forces which were desperately trying to destroy his service to the Master of the Universe! Only after this stupendous victory did he receive the name “Yisroel!”

And Jacob’s descendants continue to emulate their father! Please read the following amazing letter from the Chazon Ish zt”l to a young Torah scholar: “Strengthen yourself, my dear one, strengthen yourself, and envelope yourself with the fortitude to engross yourself in Torah, for it is for that purpose you were created. With just a little more [effort], you will be able to come to grips with your yetzer hara (evil inclination). Then his defeat will be total and he will no longer bother you. Just overcome him today, and he will be your faithful servant for all time!” (In Their Shadow, by Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz zt”l)

In contrast to our Father Jacob, Yishmoel and Magdiel earned nothing! They were given the opportunity to represent Hashem in this world and they disdained it! “Rabbi Yochanan said … Hashem brought [the Torah] to every nation … and they did not accept it, until He came to the Jews and they accepted it!” (Tractate Avoda Zara 2b)

When someone receives such a gift without meriting it, this engenders enormous chutzpa! He feels that there is divine sanction for whatever he does; he thinks he is carrying out Hashem’s will and no one can stop him. Yishmoel and Esau and their descendants have acted throughout history with terrible arrogance, as if they were divinely sanctioned to carry out their cruel lifestyle and their hatred toward the Children of Israel. Our Father Jacob, on the other hand, merited to receive Hashem’s name by elevating himself! 

For this reason, the culture of Jacob is fundamentally different from the cultures of Yishmoel and Esau. Magdiel’s name includes the root “gadol,” which indicates that he believes himself to be great. Yismoel is also known for his arrogance. Yisroel, on the other hand, humbles himself before G-d. 

In humility, the Children of Israel march steadily toward our goal. “We toil and they toil. We toil and receive reward; they toil and do not receive reward. We run and they run. We run to the life of the World to Come, while they run to the well of destruction!” (Hadran) 

After he defeated the angel, “the sun rose for [Jacob].” Our Rabbis tell us the sun is red in the morning “because it is passing through the rose arbor of the Garden of Eden!” (Tractate Bava Basra 84a) So may it soon rise for us to reveal the Final Redemption, the Rebuilt Temple and the arrival of Moshiach ben Dovid! 


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