Parshat Toldot: Approaches to Evil

5 11 2010

Based on a shiur on Chassidut by Rabbi Hershel Reichman

Approaches to Evil

The intriguing story of the blessings of Yitzchak plays a paramount role in this parsha. As the Torah writes, Yitzchak wanted to give the brachot to his firstborn Esav, but Rivka intervened and Yaakov received them instead. At the time, a firstborn was meant to carry on the leadership of the family. Avraham passed the bechora on to Yitzchak and Yitzchak planned to do the same for Esav.  Firstborn status meant not only financial responsibility but setting the tone and direction of the spiritual development of the family. In this case, the bechor would also define the path upon which the eventual Jewish nation would embark.


We know from the detailed description of our Sages, that Esav was a very wicked person. This was obvious to Rivka. Why did Yitzchak not know his own son?   How could he entertain the thought that Esav would build the holy nation of Israel?


The Shem MiShmuel explains that Yitzchak had deeper considerations. He knew that Yaakov was more spiritually developed, but he could not battle evil because he had never come in contact with it. Esav, on the other hand, was a fighter and a hunter, he would know how to overcome evil, and would be able to develop the Jewish nation and conquer the land of Israel.


There are two ways of battling the evil inclination. Chassidut teaches that all evil energies can be turned around for the good.  There’s a potential within evil for elevation. However, there is a constant battle between good and bad to find the point of rectification and then to channel it positively. A second path is to completely subordinate the evil, so that it becomes one’s servant, to the point that one does not need to struggle with it anymore.


This was the difference between Esav and Yaakov. When Esav came to his father, he presented himself as a talmid chacham. Therefore, Yitzchak thought Esav was one who fought evil constantly and was able to conquer it and get rid of it. This would make him a natural leader as he would be familiar with the passions and temptations of the common masses. On the other hand, Yaakov had already converted his evil side to goodness. He would not be able to relate to the daily struggles of the Jewish nation.


During the six days of the week there is a constant spiritual battle between our good and evil temptations.  On Shabbat, according to the Zohar, the yetzer hara turns sweet and is converted to good. There is no evil inclination on this day. The Torah says, “Vayivarech Elokim et yom hashivi. Hashem blessed the seventh day.” Chassidut teaches that Shabbat itself, which is completely good, is the source of blessing for the week. A blessing is applicable when there is a possibility for evil.  The bracha affirms that evil will not have power and will be defeated.


Yitzchak thought that Esav needed the brachot so that his good side could vanquish his evil side. On the other hand, Yaakov was like Shabbat, he had no evil side, and therefore the brachot were unnecessary for him. Esav was being defeated by evil, it was conquering him. He showed Yitzchak a facade and his father did not know he was being deceived.  Rivka symbolically put Esav’s clothing on Yaakov so that the ideal part of Esav, the one conquering evil, should become Yaakov. In turn, Yaakov acquired a new personality. He had to leave the ivory tower of Torah to confront evil head on.


The Torah says that when Yaakov came to Yitzchak, “Vayarach et reach b’gadav. And he smelled the scent of his garments.” Chazal teach us that “b’gadav” can be read as “bogdov,” meaning traitors. Some of Yaakov’s descendants would be apostates and rebellious blasphemers. Yaakov was not really perfect and needed the blessings to overcome evil. Indeed after he received them, his life took on the life Yitzchak thought Esav would live, struggling with evil, vanquishing it, and elevating it for the good.




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