Yaakov encounters Esav in a moment of vulnerability. Esav returns home from a ‘day at the races’ exhausted. He begs his brother Yaakov to partake from the red porridge he is in the midst of preparing, as he is famished. Yaakov seeing an propitious opportunity accedes to Esav’s request in a ‘fair’ exchange for Esav’s birthright.

Why does the Torah emphasize the exhaustion that fueled Esav’s hunger? What difference did it make why he was starving, the main issue at hand was the circumstance of his ravenous urge for food that enabled Yaakov to cleverly manipulate the birthright away from Esav?

The Torah carefully avoided using the normative term for hunger — רעב, choosing instead to utilize the word עיף — tired, even though in truth there are many references in Torah employing this noun of עיף to describe someone who is hungry or thirsty.

Rashi enlightens us by interpreting Esav’s exhaustion as, עיף מרציחה  והוא— faint from committing murder. He had just returned from a tough day at the ‘killing fields.'

Rashi quotes a verse in Yirmiyah where this state of feeling faint is used in the context of murders. The prophet bemoans the obstinacy and corrupted ways of the people that have led to the deterioration of society, leaving them exposed to the murderous intentions of their enemies, with the prophet exclaiming נפשי עָיְפָה— my soul has wearied, להרגים — because of the killers. (ירמיה ד לא)

If this be the source for this usage in the context of Esav’s weakened state, it is a imprecise application.

The prophet is wearied from seeing the multiple tragic deaths all around him, whereas in the instance of Esav, he is worn out from the exertion he expended in carrying out the murders!

What parallel is there in the murderer's exhaustion in slaying people and the debilitation of those effected by the loss of the victims of murder?

Even more intriguing is the fact that the Midrash informs us that Esav was engaged in a pentathlon of sin that day having committed a total five different crimes, and according to another source seven, yet he only tired from the killing. 

The great Reb Tzadok HaKohen of Lublin, peels away the the curtain of confusion by revealing to us a profound understanding of what was transpiring here between Yaakov and Esav that has implications to this very day.

There is only one sin in the Torah that when introduced, accents one’s intention — murder.

וכי יזיד — If a man shall act intentionally against his fellow to kill him with guile... (שמות כא יד)

The only way one can be a successful murderer, overcoming the natural and instinctive defenses a victim may offer, is only through a strong determination to succeed. Only with an overriding passion to win was Esav able to become the greatest killer of all time, having thwarted the undefeated world ‘heavyweight’ champion, Nimrod, that very day.

We each possess a passion to succeed, the question is where we direct it. The Evil and Good Inclinations vie for that instinctive drive wired into our souls.

When Yaakov observed the exhausted state of Esav, he noted a clear indication of Esav’s enormous investment of energy, driven by his passionate ambition to dominate and quash the competition. He knew the only way to overcome this drive was by Yaakov investing a greater level of determination in his quest for spiritual greatness.

Yaakov sought to absorb the powerful motivation he observed in Esav, redirecting it towards a purely motivated mission of promoting the will of G-d in overcoming our enemies who deny His existence and purpose.

The same verb of impassioned resolve is used in Yaakov’s preparation of the stew, ויזד יעקב — Yaakov was simmering a stew. (בראשית כה כט)

The use of ויזד was instructive in noting the zeal which Yaakov implemented in preparing the food, as representative of man’s powerful instinct to experience the physical pleasures this world offers.

Yaakov by enticing Esav to zealously partake of the delicacy he was preparing and willing to relinquish — not only for that moment, but for all of time — would affect a symbolic transaction. Yaakov would extract whatever latent positive ambition resided within Esav — Yaakov’s progeny using it to motivate them towards purely motivated spiritual conquest — in exchange for Yaakov’s strong instinctive drive for pleasure, now transferred to Esav.

Esav would now symbolize a strong passion for earthly success, with Yaakov pursuing with even greater fervor, selfless ambition to promote Torah in its purest form, devoid of temporal accomplishment. (צדקת הצדיק אות רנ)

The depiction of Esav’s commitment to overcome his adversaries at whatever cost, evident in his consequential exhausted state, specifically in a challenge in the arena of life and death, was meant to display to us the need to equal that drive in our noble pursuit in fulfilling the will of G-d.

The prophet’s bemoaning his weariness in the face of all the death around him caused by our enemies, wasn’t just a sad reaction to the tragedy of the loss of life. It was his understanding that it was due to the people’s passionless and diminished devotion to G-d and His Torah, that allowed the impassioned hatred of our enemies to reign their terror upon us.

Only when we reclaim our stature as a nation driven to spiritual accomplishment no matter the energy we need to expend, will we merit to overcome the forces of Esav.

It boils down to one question — how truly hungry are we to attain closeness to G-d?

What is our true passion in life?

In the words of Reb Tzadok: על ידי חשק הוא כלי קיבול להשראת השכינה בקרב לבו — Only through craving can we become a vessel for the dwelling of the Divine Presence within our hearts.

It matters not what we achieve. What matters is how badly we want it. How much are we willing to endure to keep on longing for closeness?

Our enemies seek to overpower and destroy us, but we can only bring the ultimate redemption if we display greater determination than them.

At the funeral of the victim of this week’s terror attack in Jerusalem, fifteen-year-old Yeshiva Bochur, Aryeh Schupak Hy’d, his Rebbi retold how Aryeh hadn’t been feeling well the night before and was encouraged by the Mashgiach and his parents to stay home, but he refused and pushed himself to go despite not feeling right. Many spoke of his drive and passion to grow in his learning, remaining at seder even after he fulfilled his quota of learning, staying to the end of seder to review instead.

We have yet to physically quash our enemies. No doubt it is the merit of those whose craving for greater closeness to Hashem that will accrue the merits we need to bring the final redemption.

It is about our passion and yearning even in the face of difficulty that makes us worthy to carry the legacy of Yaakov.

Someone came to Rabbi Elyashiv complaining that throughout his lifetime he had worked hard to elevate himself in avodas Hashem, but with very little to show for all his efforts. He remarked, “I am afraid that all it will say on my tombstone is, ‘Here lies someone who tried’”.

Rabbi Elyashiv responded, “If I were walking in a cemetery and saw a tombstone with such an inscription, I would stop and pray at the grave of the tzaddik.” (Received from a dear friend, source unknown)

May we continue to prove our mettle, by never giving up and keep the fires of our passion burning brightly forever.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן