Esau approached his father to receive his special blessing in this week’s parasha Toldot, only to discover his twin brother Yaakov had disguised himself and received it instead. At that moment, the Torah says, Esau let out a great cry.
The Medrash notes the parallel between this verse and the description in Megillat Esther of Mordechai’s reaction upon hearing of Haman’s decree. Jacob caused Esau to let out a single cry, but where was he punished? In the capital city of Shushan. We can ask many questions on this Medrash, but we will address just one. Why was Jacob held accountable specifically for Esau’s anguish?
If Jacob acted wrongly by consenting to his mother’s scheme and disguising as Esau why was he, or more precisely his descendants, punished? Isaac also shuddered upon recognising his mistake and we do not find our Sages criticising Jacob for causing his father this kind of emotional trauma. Why was he held responsible only for Esau’s pain?
The Netziv, Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, says Yaakov and Rivka were justified because the blessings rightfully belonged to Jacob. However, the Netziv says, Jacob experienced a degree of gratification upon seeing his hostile brother’s anguish.
Jacob certainly did not enjoy watching his father shudder, but he did feel a sense of vindication upon seeing Esau cry. For this he was deserving of punishment. Whenever we see anyone in pain, we must always try to maintain a sense of pity.
Sam Taylor is community rabbi at Western Marble Arch Synagogue