Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Esav the Deceiver, pt i

Summary: I try to address why Yitzchak and Rivkah's displeasure over his choice in wives doesn't prove that Yitzchak was in the know.

Post: From a comment by E-man on a previous parshablog post::
I simply do not understand the idea that Esau hid his wickedness from Yitzchak. The pasuk tells us that the women he married were a source of torment to both Yitzchak and Rivka and this was before Yitzchak wanted to give him the blessing. Breishis 26:35. 

How is it justified to say Esau was tricking Yitzchak. The Torah explicitly tells us that Yitzchak knew he did inappropriate things, but still wanted to give him the blessing.
This, I should probably note, is one place in which Chazal and DH scholars are in agreement. The DH scholars point to the pasuk preceding Yaakov taking the blessing:

לד  וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו, בֶּן-אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה, וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה אֶת-יְהוּדִית, בַּת-בְּאֵרִי הַחִתִּי--וְאֶת-בָּשְׂמַת, בַּת-אֵילֹן הַחִתִּי.34 And when Esau was forty years old, he took to wife Judith the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath the daughter of Elon the Hittite.
לה  וַתִּהְיֶיןָ, מֹרַת רוּחַ, לְיִצְחָק, וּלְרִבְקָה.  {ס}35 And they were a bitterness of spirit unto Isaac and to Rebekah. {S}

and then point to Rivkah's words to her husband giving a reason for Yaakov to go to Charan:

מו  וַתֹּאמֶר רִבְקָה, אֶל-יִצְחָק, קַצְתִּי בְחַיַּי, מִפְּנֵי בְּנוֹת חֵת; אִם-לֹקֵחַ יַעֲקֹב אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת-חֵת כָּאֵלֶּה, מִבְּנוֹת הָאָרֶץ--לָמָּה לִּי, חַיִּים.46 And Rebekah said to Isaac: 'I am weary of my life because of the daughters of Heth. If Jacob take a wife of the daughters of Heth, such as these, of the daughters of the land, what good shall my life do me?'

which is followed in the next pesukim with Yitzchak's command to Yaakov:

א  וַיִּקְרָא יִצְחָק אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתוֹ; וַיְצַוֵּהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן.1 And Isaac called Jacob, and blessed him, and charged him, and said unto him: 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan.
ב  קוּם לֵךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם, בֵּיתָה בְתוּאֵל אֲבִי אִמֶּךָ; וְקַח-לְךָ מִשָּׁם אִשָּׁה, מִבְּנוֹת לָבָן אֲחִי אִמֶּךָ.2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel thy mother's father; and take thee a wife from thence of the daughters of Laban thy mother's brother.
ג  וְאֵל שַׁדַּי יְבָרֵךְ אֹתְךָ, וְיַפְרְךָ וְיַרְבֶּךָ; וְהָיִיתָ, לִקְהַל עַמִּים.3 And God Almighty bless thee, and make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, that thou mayest be a congregation of peoples;
ד  וְיִתֶּן-לְךָ אֶת-בִּרְכַּת אַבְרָהָם, לְךָ וּלְזַרְעֲךָ אִתָּךְ--לְרִשְׁתְּךָ אֶת-אֶרֶץ מְגֻרֶיךָ, אֲשֶׁר-נָתַן אֱלֹהִים לְאַבְרָהָם.4 and give thee the blessing of Abraham, to thee, and to thy seed with thee; that thou mayest inherit the land of thy sojournings, which God gave unto Abraham.'
ה  וַיִּשְׁלַח יִצְחָק אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, וַיֵּלֶךְ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם--אֶל-לָבָן בֶּן-בְּתוּאֵל, הָאֲרַמִּי, אֲחִי רִבְקָה, אֵם יַעֲקֹב וְעֵשָׂו.5 And Isaac sent away Jacob; and he went to Paddan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, Jacob's and Esau's mother.
ו  וַיַּרְא עֵשָׂו, כִּי-בֵרַךְ יִצְחָק אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, וְשִׁלַּח אֹתוֹ פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם, לָקַחַת-לוֹ מִשָּׁם אִשָּׁה:  בְּבָרְכוֹ אֹתוֹ--וַיְצַו עָלָיו לֵאמֹר, לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה מִבְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן.6 Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him away to Paddan-aram, to take him a wife from thence; and that as he blessed him he gave him a charge, saying: 'Thou shalt not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan';
ז  וַיִּשְׁמַע יַעֲקֹב, אֶל-אָבִיו וְאֶל-אִמּוֹ; וַיֵּלֶךְ, פַּדֶּנָה אֲרָם.7 and that Jacob hearkened to his father and his mother, and was gone to Paddan-aram;
ח  וַיַּרְא עֵשָׂו, כִּי רָעוֹת בְּנוֹת כְּנָעַן, בְּעֵינֵי, יִצְחָק אָבִיו.8 and Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father;
ט  וַיֵּלֶךְ עֵשָׂו, אֶל-יִשְׁמָעֵאל; וַיִּקַּח אֶת-מָחֲלַת בַּת-יִשְׁמָעֵאל בֶּן-אַבְרָהָם אֲחוֹת נְבָיוֹת, עַל-נָשָׁיו--לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה.  {ס}9 so Esau went unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives that he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham's son, the sister of Nebaioth, to be his wife. {S}

and they place all these into one strand, and one reason for Yaakov going to Charan. They consider the taking of Esav's blessing and fleeing the murderous Esav to be a second, parallel reason, from a different strand. And so they would say that you cannot ask from one strand upon the other.

Meanwhile, we would regard the text as a whole, and so take Rivkah's speech to Yitzchak, while based in true motivations, to contain more than a bit of dishonesty, as she does not tell him of Esav's intent. So maybe we should also consider this bitterness of spirit to represent a realization by Yitzchak that Esav is not such a good fellow? Maybe, but this does not seem to be the position of Chazal. Is there any way to account for this?

One thing we can suggest is that marrying a local, non-Haranite girl does not necessarily represent evil intent. Consider Avraham's exchange with his servant:

ז  יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, אֲשֶׁר לְקָחַנִי מִבֵּית אָבִי וּמֵאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתִּי, וַאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר-לִי וַאֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע-לִי לֵאמֹר, לְזַרְעֲךָ אֶתֵּן אֶת-הָאָרֶץ הַזֹּאת--הוּא, יִשְׁלַח מַלְאָכוֹ לְפָנֶיךָ, וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה לִבְנִי, מִשָּׁם.7 The LORD, the God of heaven, who took me from my father's house, and from the land of my nativity, and who spoke unto me, and who swore unto me, saying: Unto thy seed will I give this land; He will send His angel before thee, and thou shalt take a wife for my son from thence.
ח  וְאִם-לֹא תֹאבֶה הָאִשָּׁה, לָלֶכֶת אַחֲרֶיךָ--וְנִקִּיתָ, מִשְּׁבֻעָתִי זֹאת; רַק אֶת-בְּנִי, לֹא תָשֵׁב שָׁמָּה.8 And if the woman be not willing to follow thee, then thou shalt be clear from this my oath; only thou shalt not bring my son back thither.'

which might be interpreted as a conditional cancelling of the oath from above that:

ג  וְאַשְׁבִּיעֲךָ--בַּיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם, וֵאלֹהֵי הָאָרֶץ:  אֲשֶׁר לֹא-תִקַּח אִשָּׁה, לִבְנִי, מִבְּנוֹת הַכְּנַעֲנִי, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי יוֹשֵׁב בְּקִרְבּוֹ.3 And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell.

If so, even Avraham was willing, in certain circumstances, to have his son Yitzchak marry a Canaanite woman. This obviously wasn't the preference, but it does not mean that it was an absolutely evil thing to do. Further, who did Yehuda marry, on a peshat level? Was she not a daughter of the Canaanites? And there are conflicting opinions in midrashim whether the shevatim in general married Canaanite girls or whether they married their twins.

It was either the fact that he married them, or perhaps the actions of these women brought into the family, which was a source of bitterness of spirit. But consider what Chazal say about Shlomo Hamelech. The pasuk in I Melachim 11 states:

ג  וַיְהִי-לוֹ נָשִׁים, שָׂרוֹת שְׁבַע מֵאוֹת, וּפִלַגְשִׁים, שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת; וַיַּטּוּ נָשָׁיו, אֶת-לִבּוֹ.3 And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart.
ד  וַיְהִי, לְעֵת זִקְנַת שְׁלֹמֹה, נָשָׁיו הִטּוּ אֶת-לְבָבוֹ, אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים; וְלֹא-הָיָה לְבָבוֹ שָׁלֵם עִם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהָיו, כִּלְבַב דָּוִיד אָבִיו.4 For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not whole with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.

and Chazal say that this does not mean that he himself sinned, but that his wives sinned in idolatry, but it was reckoned to him. Be that as it may, the actions of his wives need not mean that Yitzchak was therefore aware that Esav himself was a bad guy.

Indeed, the pesukim, cited above, reveal that when Esav saw that this was his parent's preference, he followed in likewise manner and took a daughter of Yishmael, thus marrying into family. It certainly seems that prior to this, his parent's displeasure was not manifest, such that it was not clearly expressed that this was wrong conduct.

I would add that according to Midrash Tanchuma, it might well be that Yitzchak was not upset about the Chittite women. Rather, their actions caused the Shechina to depart, and that was what pained Yitzchak:

ותכהין עיניו מה כתיב למעלה? 
ותהיין מרת רוח ליצחק, ואח"כ ותכהין עיניו, מפני הכעס שהיה מכעיסו, לפי שהשכינה הייתה שרויה בביתו של יצחק, עמד עשו ונטל מבנות כנען והיו נשיו מעשנות ומקטרות לעבודה זרה שלהם, ונסתלקה הימנו שכינה מיצחק, והיה רואה יצחק ומיצר. 
אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא: הריני מכהה את עיניו, שלא יראה ויוסיף צער, לפיכך ותכהין עיניו. 

וא"כ למה לא כהו עיני רבקה?
אמר רבי אבוה: 
משל למה הדבר דומה? למי שהיה טעון כלי עצים וכלי חרס, הקיש כלי עצים לכלי עצים לא נשבר, הקיש כלי עצים לכלי חרס נשבר כלי חרס.
אף רבקה, לפי שהקישה לה נשי עשו שנבראו מן העצם כמותה לא הזיקוה, אבל יצחק שהיה מן העפר הזיקוהו, שנאמר: וייצר ה' אלוהים את האדם עפר (בראשית ב), הזקין מהרה וכהו עיניו. 

Furthermore, it even seems that this Shechina departing meant lack of clarity for Yitzchak, though Rivkah (according to the midrash) retained her prophetic level and clarity. So, rather than this being a reason for Yitzchak to know the level of Esav, it would be a reason for him not knowing.

That might address the question from above. Yet we still don't see what Chazal saw. Why should they label Esav a deceiver. To cite one relevant pasuk and Rashi:

28. And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.כח. וַיֶּאֱהַב יִצְחָק אֶת עֵשָׂו כִּי צַיִד בְּפִיו וְרִבְקָה אֹהֶבֶת אֶת יַעֲקֹב:
in his mouth: As the Targum renders: into Isaac’s mouth. The Midrashic interpretation is: with Esau’s mouth, for he would entrap him and deceive him with his words. — [From Tanchuma, Toledoth 8]בפיו: כתרגומו בפיו של יצחק. ומדרשו בפיו של עשו שהיה צד אותו ומרמהו בדבריו:

The post is long enough as it stands, though. Bli neder, I have plans to explore this idea in a later post.


Hillel said...

R' Waxman,

2 points:
1) When you talk about whether or not Yitzchak was "in the know" - in the know about what? (Not in the know about Eisav being a murderer/rapist/pagan - there's nothing in the text indicating any of these things to be the case. It's not a surprise Yitzchak didn't know about the medrashim about Eisav, surely?)

2) I'm not sure there are two strands here, it seems to me there are three. In addition to the two you mentioned, we should remember that for the avot, having one wife and sticking by her is a pretty big deal. This is a supreme act of chesed in a world where a barren woman was, to put it mildly, not generally looked well upon. Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, etc. - all barren, all are still embraced by their husbands. (Avraham takes a concubine only after Sarah demands it, and Yaakov takes Leah by an act of fraud.)

Saying Eisav took 2 wives simultaneously and this embittered the spirits of Yitzchak and Rivkah would seem to have more to do with the number rather than the heritage. The Torah also mentions nothing about them in a positive light (in terms of their acts or even their appearance) further indicating righteousness was not a consideration for Eisav.

In that light, Rivkah seems to be saying in 27:46 that she hates the local women because they are like the wives of Eisav (i.e., lacking in kindness and grace) - thus the focus on "b'not Chei ka-eleh" - presumably a reference to Eisav's wives.

Just a thought.

Anonymous said...

It says that 'Isaac loveD Esau' and 'Rebecca loveS Jacob'.

joshwaxman said...

in terms of (1), yes and no. from the perspective of the midrashim, yes. from a peshat level, that he was not a person of good caliber. that, i'll have to expand upon in the second planned post. midrash takes shades of grey and makes it into black and white.

but why shouldn't Yitzchak know these midrashim? didn't he learn in the yeshiva of Shem and Ever?



joshwaxman said...

Ibn Ezra has an important piece, that there is no such thing as the present-tense verb in Biblical Hebrew. Instead, there is a neutral-tense verb which is simply grabbed from the noun. (Ani Shomeir = I am a watchman / I am watching.) This neutral-tense verb assumes its tense on the basis of context, and so would also become the 'perfect'.

related to this, see Ibn Ezra on Amos 7:14, where he takes the neutral-tense verbs and declares them to be past-tense verbs.

kol tuv,

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Josh. That's interesting (but unfortunately i cannot read the link as my knowledge of hebrew is not on that level yet).
Still, there must be some significance - or the text would have simply used the same tense twice.

joshwaxman said...

Well, I have an explanation on the basis of peshat. that is, the function of the vav hachibbur (in וְרִבְקָה) is "while". Usually, the past tense is designated by the vav hahippuch of the imperfect form -- that va- of וַיֶּאֱהַב. To provide contrast as opposed to continuance, the second clause was introduced by ve-, in וְרִבְקָה. Once we have a clause introduced by ve-, there is no longer this vav hahippuch way of designating the past tense, and so another mechanism was sought, and arrived at.

kol tuv,

Hillel said...

R' Waxman,
Agree that Eisav was lacking in chesed, as the verse indicates in various places (e.g., sale of bechora), and makes clear here. The verse here also makes clear that Yitzchack was well aware of this. On a p'shat level, I don't see any basis for thinking Eisav 'fooled' Yaakov in any way. When Yitzchak chose to give Eisav a b'racha, he knew exactly what he was doing - and, considering the character of Yaakov, the b'racha given makes perfect sense. Indded, there's no reason to believe Rivkah would have intervened absent instructions for God!


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