Shaya Cohen -



Creative Conundrums

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Why is Esau Described?

Now the first came forth red, all over like a hairy garment; and they named him Esau. Afterward his brother came forth with his hand holding on to Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob. (Gen. 25:25-6)

Why is Esau described? Is it because he (and others) define who Esau is by his appearance?

Is Jacob, by way of contrast, not described, because he is defined not by his appearance, but instead by his choices? Esau is described how he looks. But Jacob is described by what he does.

If so, does that help show why Jacob becomes the model for the Jewish people?

What Disqualified Esau?

The archer, Ishmael, was likened to a wild donkey, while the great hunter in the forest, Esau, was described as having “game in his mouth,” evoking the image of a cat with a bird in its teeth.  Is Esau disqualified because he is described, like Ishmael, as being more like an animal?

Or is it more about his perspective? When Esau says, “I am on the road to death, of what use to me is the birthright?” isn’t the text showing us that Esau was much more interested in the here-and-now? After all, wasn’t Esau willing to sell his long term birthright for the short term stew?

Yaakov plans for the future – always deferring the “now” in return for the greater reward down the road. Esau, by contrast, uses the word zeh – a word meaning “this” – doesn’t Esau deal with what is in front of him at any given time?

Does that mean that Esau truly met the aspirations of 21st century millennials? Esau lived in the moment?

Are these the decisions and characteristics that meant that Esau and his descendants could not be included among the Jewish people?

Was Esau the Classic victim?

Is it also possible that Esau was disqualified because, in the moment of realization, he chooses to see himself as a helpless victim?

And [Esau] said: ‘… he hath supplanted me these two times: he took away my birthright [bechor]; and, behold, now he hath taken away my blessing.’

What is a birthright, a bechor? Might it symbolically imply a desire to connect with G-d? After all, isn’t the first time bechor is found in the Torah with Abel?

And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings [from the bechor] of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering (Gen. 4:4)

We know Esau did not crave a relationship with G-d. But he did seem to crave a relationship with his father – at least up until Esau loses the blessing. But at that moment, doesn’t Esau withdraw more into himself? From that point on, doesn’t Esau only react instead of initiating?

Does Esau becomes a victim in his own mind, to avoid responsibility for his own actions, and conceding to the circumstances in which he finds himself?

Is Esau further ejected from the Jewish People because instead of taking responsibility and trying to change himself, he chooses to wallow in his circumstances and blame others?


[When] Esav was forty years old, he took to wife Yehudit daughter of B’eri the Hittite and Ba’semat daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a bitterness of spirit to Yitzhak and Rivka.

What does marah, bitterness, mean in this context? Does it refer to the fear of a loss of a relationship?

Might it connect to other times the word is found – such as with the suspected wife, the sotah, or with the waters at Marah, bitterness? Does bitterness refer to the uncertainty that can undermine a marriage or relationship between a person and G-d? Is the word defined in this, its first usage?

Jacob and Angels?

We know that Jacob had special relationships with angels – relationships not found with anyone else in the Torah. He dreams of angels, he retasks angels (with sheep, and using as messengers), he talks with angels, he blesses his grandchildren with an angel… Jacob certainly seems to have a special connection to angels. Why?

Might it be connected to what he does by doing as his mother commanded? Isn’t an angel characterized by doing what they are commanded to do? Is that part of it?

When Yaakov goes to his father, covered in goatskins, Yitzchak observes (Gen: 27:27), “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed.” The Hebrew word for “smell” (reiach) is very similar to the word for spirit (ruach). A blessed field is one full of plants and animals, a field which is equally full of angels (since every blade of grass has its own angel). Did Yitzchak detect in his son the presence of angelic spirit?

Could it be more than just following instructions? After all, if an angel is the life force within non-human living things, then does Jacob literally take the place of an angel by wearing the sheep skin over himself? Does Jacob connect with angels for the rest of his life because he impersonated one?

If this is right, does it also explain why Jacob was later able to “reprogram” the sheep and goats that he bred for spots and speckles? Because he had, for a brief time, acted as the angelic spirit inside sheep?

Does Jacob Refuse to Listen to His Mother?

After the episode with the blessings, Rivkah tells Jacob to leave.

So now, my son, listen to my voice: arise and flee to Lavan my brother in Harran, and stay with him for some days, until your brother’s fury has turned away,until his anger turns away from you and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and have you taken from there— for should I be bereaved of you both in a single day?

But Jacob does not seem to listen to her?!

Instead, Rivka talks to Isaac:

So Rivka said to Yitzhak: I loathe my life because of those Hittite women; if Yaakov should take a wife from the Hittite women—like these, from the women of the land, why should I have life?

And then Isaac tells Jacob to go – and Jacob goes.

Doesn’t Jacob wait until he is told to leave by both parents before he does something?

Why did he not do that when Rivkah told him to steal the blessing? What changed?

This parsha question sheet takes the approach of reading the Chumash very closely. It is assumed that every letter and word has meaning, and all questions can be answered (at least every one we have come up so far!) So you’ll find the questions offered every week are deeply textual, seeking relevance to our lives today from the foundational document for Judaism and indeed all of Western Civilization.

This sheet is distributed with the general approval of Rabbi Rose.

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