Yogi Berra, the legendary baseball star of the 50’s and 60’s was famous for his uncanny ability to say things as they almost are. One of his more famous malapropisms was “It aint over till its over”.
Sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. There are children who seem to be born to their fate from the moment they are born or even before. Kids who are born into hostility, pain, poverty and abuse are one group. The other are kids who are born with it all: near-perfect parents, amazing genes, and educational opportunities that other people can only dream of. Of course there are exceptions on both ends, but then again, there is a reason that you would call them “exceptions”.
Was Eisov doomed from day one? His appearance was the key to understanding his nature. He was flaming with aggressive energy, passionate, addicted to adrenalin high from minute number one. Could anyone real think that he was born to the ivory tower? His nature asserted itself even before his birth. For him, pagan temples were like a magnet even in-utero. Maharal explains that the from that time, the drive was irresistible, to him as loving learning was to Yaakov. The challenge was there from the beginning. Challenge and failure, are, however not synonyms. The person he could have become in the face of challenge was far greater than the one he could have been if left unchallenged. This arguably is why Yitzchak was so drawn to him. Yitzchak knew his son’s internal struggles with his own nature. He also knew that victory was possible, and if his higher side would prevail, he would be a spiritual force to contend with.
Dovid was Eisov’s doppelganger in many ways. He resembled him physically, and more importantly, he faced identical challenges within himself. The critical difference is that Dovid succeeded in finding a place for his personality. They both were “soldiers” never able or willing to stop fighting and conquering. Dovid was a soldier in Hashem’s army. He was willing to be whatever the situation demanded on Hashem’s terms, and to do whatever Hashem wanted of him. The crown was, so to speak, always on Hashem’s Head. For Eisov everything was different, he fought the good fight, but the goal was always to put the crown of glory on his own head. When they are described both are labeled “red”. Dovid has an additional description. The text tells us that he had “beautiful eyes”. He saw the world with the vision of the Torah scholars of his time, who are called (in Shir HaShirim) our eyes. They see the world through the prism of Hashem’s will. Eventually Dovid himself became the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme forum of scholars. The Talmud tells us about his day; “The kings of the east and west get up mid-morning. Dovid was up at dawn, and spent his days examining the halachic implications of matters that involve areas of life that others would find vulgar at worst and uncivilized at best.
Who you end up being at the end of the game isn’t determined by what cards you were dealt. It depends on what you do with them, and who you decide to serve.
The culture clash between the two sets of values can’t be resolved. Rome is the cultural heart of everything that Eisov stood for. It is the font of the Western world’s culture. If you still remember the history you learned in High School, you will recall that it really was a history of wars and conquests. Even eras that were entitled “The Age of Exploration”, could have been titled, “The Age of Exploitation”. If you were to take bloodshed out of European history (and American history for that matter) you’d miss out on knights and their shining armor, cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers and more….
If you studied Jewish history, you would find yourself reading about prophets and struggles for identity, Temples and scholars. Persecution and survival, Hope and the search for meaning. The heroes are different heroes, and even the villains are different kinds of villains. King David was an exception to the rule. He was a warrior; but there is a great deal of difference between his inner motivations and those of Richard the Lion Hearted. If Dovid had somehow missed the boat, and fallen into the trap of love of victory, he could/would have been another Eisov. David’s Tefillin open your heart to seeing Hashem and His world through his eyes.
My soul thirsts for you……in a desolate and weary land.
Eisov also had the ability to find words that reveal his true nature. The Torah tells us that he hunted (with) his mouth. He knew the way to Yitzchak’s heart was asking questions that would leave the impression that he too longs to serve Hashem. “How do you tithe salt?” he knew that you only have to tithe things that grow. One way to understand this is that he wanted to gain Yitzchak’s approval so that he would stay his heir, and inherit Yitzchak’s fortune. Rav Yerucham Levovitz looks at this. He says that Eisov himself didn’t really grasp what a ridiculous question he was asking. To him, all mitzvos were rituals that didn’t really have to be investigated, you do them, but you don’t have to think about them too deeply. Having a superficial attitude to mitzvos, while at the same time having an anything-but passive attitude towards whatever gives him pleasure or status (remember, “pour some lentils into my mouth" How uncouth!) is what Eisov was all about.
By this time, you may be wondering why I am telling you all of this. The reason is that you have choices to make. One is that you don’t want to be Eisov even though you live in an Eisovic (what a word!) era. Superficiality and pretentions are in, as is conquest (in the work place, in the unending race for Who Is More Important when it comes to gender identity (I can wear tefillin too!!), and most tragically of all in family and community life.
Most of the time I choose to be Yaakov. I can’t say that Eisov never raises his (red) head.
What comforts me is that today is a new day, and as Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over till its over” and after all didn’t, he make the Yankees proud?