It’s Biblical! This week: Esau

It’s Biblical! This week: Esau

Everything you ever wanted to know 
about your favourite Torah characters, 
and the ones you’ve never heard of...

Esau is a difficult Biblical character. He is clearly both an innocent and
a very violent person, hence the saying: “Eisav soneh et Yaacov” – “Esau hated Jacob”.

Well he might. Our ancestor Jacob tricked him twice, once into selling his birthright for a “mess of potage”, and the second time stealing his blessing from his father while he was out hunting.

Esau is the original man of action. He is described as being loved by his father Isaac, because he put game in his mouth.

His encounter with our father Jacob and the lentil stew contains five consecutive verbs – the most in any location in the Bible.

“He ate and drank and got up and left and despised his birthright” (Genesis
25, 34).

Despite his apparent simplicity, Esau is also loving and loyal. He wants his father’s blessing, and his cry when he realises his father had tricked him is terrible.

Our sages suggest this led to Jacob’s later troubles, never seeing his mother again after he left for Laban’s place in Syria.

However, Esau is not to be trusted. His behaviour prior to his reunion is suspect, and the armed men suggest malignancy.

Although he kissed Jacob, the Midrash suggests that he attempted to bite his younger brother, whose neck turned to marble and broke his teeth.

Later understandings in rabbinical texts link Esau (or Edom) with Rome, the type names having a similar lettering in Hebrew.

In addition, we Jews forcibly converted our Edomite cousins, and that could never lead to real trust.

Herod, the Romanising king of Judea, was an Idumean or Edomite, perhaps underlining Esau’s association with Rome.

Zvi Solomons is rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire (JCoB) in Reading,

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