In part one we looked at the biblical origin of Greece, its philosophy and its similarities and differences with the Judaic worldview. Greece is even by secular reckoning the foundation of much of western culture. In terms of Politics, Philosophy, Architecture, Art, Music and is probably most credited for the idea of democracy.
Greece itself did not last forever as an empire, but its philosophy and way of life did. Its successor Rome which was a much greater empire in terms of its power, spread Greek ideas.
To understand the biblical origins of Rome we must first go back to the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Ramban in his commentary on Genesis informs us of an important principle in Torah that, “The deeds of the patriarchs are a sign for their descendants.”1 Each of the patriarchs represents a different aspect of the Jewish people. Abraham is the archetypal convert to Judaism, Isaac is the Jew in his proper ideal state. Jacob represents the prototype of the existential Jew in exile.2 It is through the life of Jacob and the pattern of his life that will resemble the Jewish experience throughout most of their history, particularly during the Roman exile, which has still not ended.
Abraham, represents the character trait of chessed/lovingkindness. This was his natural inclination, to give to others. This is also the same trait that God created the world with. God did not have to create anything, His act of creation was out of Love, so that He could bestow His good unto others.3
Abraham was naturally inclined to chessed/lovingkindness, and so we see that he was tested by din/justice and he succeeded. Isaac, the second of the patriarchs natural inclination was towards din/justice, so he was tested with chessed/lovingkindness and he too succeeded. Jacob’s character trait is emet/truth, as long as one pursues the path of truth, they will find the correct balance between justice and mercy. This is why Jacob is considered to be the greatest of the patriarchs. He is the balance between the two. It is after Jacob that the Jewish people descend. Jacob also had no offspring that were cut off. All twelve sons merited to inherit the covenant passed down from Abraham and became the tribes of Israel.
The Jewish people are referred to as the Children of Israel. Jacobs name was changed to Israel, this is where it comes from. The Jews are not named the Children of Abraham or the Children of Isaac.4 This is because not all the descendants of the other two patriarchs are Jews. There are others who descend from them, but it is only the Jewish line of descent through Jacob who inherited the covenant.
Abraham had two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, the covenant was passed on through Isaac and he had two sons, Jacob and Esav. Our subject concerns Esav. Esav inherited the character trait of din/justice from his father Isaac. As we said above, that the patriarchs were tested on their ability to work on what did not come naturally to them. Esav did not succeed in achieving this like the other three did.
Esav’s descendants became the kingdom of Edom.
The Malbim comments on the first verse of the prophecy of the prophet Ovadia concerning Esav that:
“The descendants of Esav integrated into the nations of early Europe. Germany, for example, was once called the Holy Roman Empire. All those nations that eventually accepted the Christian religion are understood as being a part of Edom.”5
Just as Yafet develops into Greece, Esav develops into Rome.6 But there is much more to this, where we have to go back to Esav and his parting point with Jacob, in order to understand Esav and his character and how this will manifest itself throughout history, particularly during the Roman exile.
Esav and Jacob
Jacob and Esav were twins. Esav was the elder. Whilst they were still in Rebecca’s womb, the Torah says:
“The children agitated within her, and she said, “If so why am I thus?” And she went to inquire of Hashem. And Hashem said to her: “Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated; the might shall pass from one regime to the other, and the elder shall serve the younger” When her term to bear grew full, then behold! there were twins in her womb. The first one emerged red, entirely like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esav. After that his brother emerged with his hand grasping on to the heel of Esav; so he called his name Jacob; Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. The lads grew up and Esav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Jacob was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. Isaac loved Esav for game was in his mouth; but Rebecca loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:22-29)
Esavs hatred of Jacob did not begin from their birth, but earlier in the womb. Rashi relates: “When their mother passed before the school of Torah conducted by Shem and Ever, Jacob ran and struggled to come out; when she passed in front of gates of idolatry, Esav struggled to come out… Another explanation: They struggled against one another and quarrelled over the inheritance of the two worlds.”7
Esav and Idolatry
Rebecca inquired of Shem and Ever at Mount Moriah about her violent pains inside her. “Two nations are in your womb. Shem, the son of Noah, replied to her, “I shall entrust you with a secret which you must keep to yourself. Two future peoples are forming in your womb. But how will it contain them when the whole world will not be large enough for them to live together in peace? These two peoples are destined to form two independent nations, which will be distinct, if not opposite, in their characters, ideals, and objectives. The two children are the symbol of the eternal conflict between Divine law and brute force. The struggle recommences in each generation and it determines the course of history. Its result remains uncertain for centuries and centuries, but it will turn out that one day the stronger will pay tribute to the weaker. They will never be equal in greatness. When one rises, the other will fall. From one will come Solomon who will build the Temple; from the other, a Vespasian who will destroy it. From Jacob will come prophets; from Esav lords.”8
According to the Sforno, Two nations are in your womb means, “The cause of the struggling within you is because they are destined to be two nations with opposing ideas of religion.” And two peoples “They will also be two peoples who have opposing ideas of nationalism.”9
Similarly the Malbim comments on this same verse:
“The difference between a ‘people’ and a ‘nation’ has always been clear to me: ‘People’ is indicative of population and masses, while ‘nation’ indicates a unique culture and religion. Besides the immenseness of their populations, they will not be able to unite because of religious and cultural differences which will cause them to segregate – one to the Lord, and the other to Azazel. This divergence already began from the inward parts, denoting a region more internal than the womb. The infant first begins to attain form in the inward parts of his mother, an internal section of the womb where the ovum begins to develop. Therefore, as the prophet has written about our people, from the beginning of their formation they were already adapted for totally different religions – and there is no greater animosity than that caused by different religious attitudes. The verse thus reveals that immediately after their birth they will develop into two immense peoples, and afterwards, with the passage of time, they will become two distinct nations; Jacobs offspring, recipients of the true religion, and the offspring of Esav, recipients of a religion of idol worship.
Afterwards, one nation will grow mighty at the expense of the other; meaning: the strength of each depends on the weakness of the other. As it is written, Zur did not develop except through the ruin of Jerusalem. This makes conflict between them inevitable, for one cannot rise except through the downfall of the other. This era actually began after each inherited his respective land. At first, Edom was subjected beneath the hand of Israel, but then Edom overcame Israel – and this pattern will continue until the time of the redemption. The the greater shall serve the younger – and the saviours shall go up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esav. And this in itself is a cause for the greater to serve the younger. The aforementioned [final condition] will, therefore, not come about without a great deal of strife.” 10
Rabbi Elie Munk in his commentary The Call of the Torah cites the following:
“Two regimes from your insides shall be separated.” One going toward his wickedness, the other towards his integrity (Rashi). But, asks Maharal, are we not taught that the evil inclination begins to exert its influence on the soul only from birth (Sanhedrin 91a)? Yet here we see Esav trying to “run to the gates of idolatry” while still an embryo in his mother’s womb! Here, for Esav, it is not a question of the effect of his evil inclination. Rather, Esav was under the influence of the law of nature involving quasi-magnetic attraction of similar elements. Idolatry “polarised” and attracted the kindred soul of Esav.
Whatever the case, the Torah is anxious to make us see that the relentless hostility separating Jacob and Esav for as long as they live does not stem from jealousy or from political or economic rivalry, but that it goes back to congenital differences in character which manifested themselves even while the brothers were still in the womb. The fierce hatred between them thus appears to be a basic condition, an a priori fact, a providential factor of history which escapes the control of the will. Hence we can understand Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s categorical statement: “It is an axiom that Esav hates Jacob” (Rashi to Genesis 33:4).”11
The Character Traits of Jacob and Esav
When Esav was born he is described as ruddy, Rashi explains this to mean: “That is a sign that he will be a person who sheds blood” (Gen. Rabbah 63:8). and they named him Esav: “They all called him this because he was complete [Esav comes from the of the word ‘to do’, Esav – done, as in completed] and fully developed with hair, like one many years old.
Jacob or in Hebrew Yaakov comes from the root of the word the end, i.e., he will remain at the end. Sforno explains “This was indicated by the fact that his hand held on to his brothers heel. Our Sages tell us that God gave him his name (Jacob) to show that he will survive after the destruction of all the nations, as it is written, “For I will make a full end of all the nations… but I will not make a full end of you (Jeremiah 46:28).”12
A question often asked is why Jacob inherited the birthright from Isaac with Rebeccas assistance when it appears that it should have gone to Esav as the firstborn. There is some insight into the background of this which Rashi brings us from the Midrash:
“I heard a Midrash Aggadah that interprets it (the verse) according to its simple meaning: He (Jacob) held onto him lawfully, to restrain him. Jacob was formed from the first drop and Esav from the second. Go forth and learn from a tube that has a narrow opening. Insert two stones into it, one after the other. The one that entered first will emerge last, and the one that entered last will emerge first. The result is that Esav, who was formed last, emerged first, and Jacob, who was formed first emerged last, and Jacob came to restrain him so that he (Jacob) should be the first to be born as he was the first to be formed, and he would open her womb and take the birthright by law. — [From Gen. Rabbah 63:8]”13
Another Midrash on this point says: “Why did Esav emerge first? So that he and his stench should emerge with him.”14
The Malbim elaborates on why Esav was born Reddish. “Since Jacob had to emerge pure, totally refined of all grossness, holy to his God, Esav first absorbed all the dross. The turbidity and grossness of the fertilised ovum was drained away and it provided Esav with nourishment. He emerged first, since the external shell comes always prior to the internal fruit. Purity and clarity remained for Jacob. The Midrash accordingly declares: Esav absorbed the menstrual blood of his mother and cleansed her womb of its various impurities.”15
Jacob and Esav were almost opposites. Esav was a man of the field whereas Jacob dwelled in tents studying, Rashi tells us:
“And the youths grew up, and Esav was: As long as they were small, they were not recognisable through their deeds, and no one scrutinised them to determine their characters. As soon as they became thirteen years old, this one parted to the houses of study, and that one parted to idol worship. — [From Gen. Rabbah 63:10; Tanchuma, Ki Theze 4]”16
Esav sells his Birthright to Jacob
Rebecca believed that Jacob was the rightful inheritor of the birthright from Isaac. Isaac loved Esav, but Esav was able to fool Isaac into thinking that he was a man who was working on perfecting his character. Rashi adds:
“[He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth and ask him,“Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought that he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments (Tanchuma, Toldot 8).”17
He did not care about serving God. Jacob then asks Esav to sell him his birthright, for he did not deserve it:
“Esav replied, “Behold, I am going to die”: (The birthright is something unstable, for the [sacrificial] service will not always be the function of the firstborn, for the tribe of Levi will take it. Furthermore,) said Esav [to Jacob], “What is the nature of this service?” He replied, “There are many prohibitions and punishments and death penalties involved with it, as we learned (Sanh. 83a): ‘These are the ones who are liable to death: Those [performing the Temple service] who have imbibed wine and those who have not cut their hair.’” He (Esav) said,“Behold, I am going to die because of it (i.e., the birthright); if so, why should I want it?””18
Esav sells Jacob his birthright. And when Isaac was old he called in Esav and told him to go hunting for game and delicacies and when he returns he will give him his blessing before he dies. Rebecca heard this conversation and tells Jacob that she will prepare delicacies for him and to go in Esav’s place to be blessed instead. She clothed Jacob in goat skins on his arms so that Isaac would not figure out that it is not Esav who was hairy. Isaac was blind by this age. He blesses Jacob believing he is Esav. After he leaves, Esav returns and he discovers that Jacob came and the blessing had already been given to him. He cries out to Isaac:
“”Bless me too, Father!” But he said, “Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing.” He said, “Is it because his name was called Jacob that he outwitted me these two times? – He took away my birthright and see, now he took away my blessing!” Then he said, “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” Isaac answered, and said to Esav, “Behold, a lord have I made him over you, and all his kin have I given him as servants; with grain and wine have I supported him, and for you, where – what can I do, my son?” And Esav said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, Father? Bless me too, Father!” And Esav raised his voice and wept. So Isaac his father answered, and said to him: “Behold, of the fatness of the earth shall be your dwelling and of the dew of the heavens from above. By your sword you shall live, but your brother you shall serve; yet it shall be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.” Now Esav harboured hatred toward Jacob because of the blessing which his father had blessed him; and Esav thought “May the days of mourning for my father draw near, then I will kill my brother Jacob.”” 19
The Midrashim tell us that he would not murder him openly as the court of Shem and Ever would have sentenced him with capital punishment for murder. He therefore schemed to assassinate Jacob through a third party. This is the reason that he married Ishmael’s daughter. He wished to provoke Ishmael by reminding him of how Isaac usurped his place and now so too Jacob was doing the same to him. He reasoned “I will kindle Ishmael’s anger against Jacob, until Ishmael eventually will murder him. Subsequently, I will be entitled to kill Ishmael as the avenger of my brothers blood. Thus I will become the heir of both families!” 20
Esav’s anger for Jacob intensifies
It was because of this that Rebecca told Jacob to leave, believing that his anger would subside in time, but it didn’t. Jacob agreed to leave only with Isaacs consent. Rebecca said to Isaac “I am disgusted at the daughters of the Canaanites. If Jacob should marry a Canaanite girl, of what good is life to me?” Isaac agreed. He called Jacob and instructed him, “Do not marry one of the Canaanite daughters of Aner, Eshkol, or Mamrai.” 21
The second blessing here that Isaac agreed to shows that Isaac truly intended for the original blessing to be for Jacob even though at the time he believed he was blessing Esav. This blessing he was fully aware of his actions. One can not say that Jacob only received the blessing deceptively without Isaacs consent. 22
Even though Jacob had fled, Esav’s hatred not only increased but he instilled this hatred into his son Elifaz who passed it on as a family tradition to his descendants throughout the generations. Esav’s descendants include Amalek, Agag and Haman. 23
We can now see an additional contributing factor to the hatred that Esav has for Jacob. He is bitter and angry over the birthright and the blessing. Not that he truly deserved it. We see from the commentaries that he is a man of the field, engaged in material activities, with little interest in study and genuinely serving God as taught by Isaac and Abraham. Jacob is the more fitting son to inherit the covenant. In spite of the fact that he will not take this seriously, he still desires to have the blessing but not willing to take on the responsibility. We see this manifests itself between Judaism and Christianity in its approach towards keeping the commandments. Where Judaism will insist that service of God is according to what He says in the Torah (keeping the commandments), whereas Christianity says no, the real way to serve God is not through the commandments but through having faith.
Knowing that Esav was angry and intent on murdering Jacob, Rebecca tells him to flee to her brother Lavan. Before going to Lavan’s house, Jacob first goes to learn Torah with Shem and Ever. Rashi tells us:
“…after he had received the blessings, he hid in the house of Eber for fourteen years. [From Meg. 17:1] (However, he was not punished [for these fourteen years] because of the merit [of having studied] Torah… ” 24
Why did Jacob need to stop to study Torah for fourteen years before going to stay at Lavan’s house? Lavan was known for his dishonesty and deceitful acts. He went there in order to learn how to not fall prey to his schemes and attempts to corrupt him. Being that the life of Jacob foretells of the Jewish peoples history in exile. Their exile under Edom/Rome would not be entirely characterised by attempts to destroy them through persecution. The struggle between Jacob and Esav represents a conflict between the sword and Gods word. Jacob would now struggle with Lavan. What is this struggle symbolic of? Rabbi Uziel Milevsky in his commentary on the Torah Ner Uziel answers:
“Although it is true that the sword is antithetical to the word of God, it is not the only antithesis to the divine will. There is a second, subtler force which opposes the word of God – the “word of evil,” what we commonly refer to as magic…
“Bilam and Lavan were two of the greatest practitioners of the dark science of “magic.” In fact, the commentators explain that these two personalities were essentially one and the same – Lavan was reincarnated in Bilam. Both men excelled in wielding the power of the evil word. For this reason God appeared to Lavan and warned him: “Be very careful not to say anything – good or bad – to Jacob (Genesis 31:24). The ability to make use of “the word” was Lavan’s strongest weapon.
Throughout history the Jewish people have been forced to contend with two types of enemies: those who attempt to destroy us with the sword, and those who afflict us with their sweet words. Esav represents the first and Lavan, the second. Esav-type enemies may strike more fear in the hearts of the Jews, but more Jews have fallen prey to the smooth tongue of history’s Lavan’s, committing spiritual suicide in the form of assimilation.
Jacob faced the prototypes of these two forms of enemies – first Lavan and then Esav. Before we merit to return to Eretz Yisroel and repossess it, finally we will have to experience both types of exile – cultural and spiritual assimilation, as well as physical exile characterised by military aggression.” 25
In both cases of Lavan and Bilam, they utilise seduction as a means of trying to lure the Jewish people away from God. Lavan exploited Jacobs desire to marry Rachel in order to deceive him. We see too that Balak the Moabite King had hired Bilam to curse the Jewish people. After he had failed to do so, they sought to seduce the Jews through sexual immorality into embracing idolatry. The Gemara in Sanhedrin gives a detailed account of their plans:
“He [Balaam] said thus to him [Balak]. ‘The God of these hates lewdness, and they are very partial to linen. Come, and I will advise thee. Erect for them tents enclosed by hangings, in which place harlots, old women without, young women within, to sell them linen garments.’ So he erected curtained tents from the snowy mountain [Hermon] as far as Beth ha-Yeshimoth [i.e., right from north to south], and placed harlots in them — old women without, young women within. And when an Israelite ate, drank, and was merry, and issued forth for a stroll in the market place, the old woman would say to him, ‘Dost thou not desire linen garments?’ The old woman offered it at its current value, but the young one for less. This happened two or three times. After that she would say to him, ‘Thou art now like one of the family; sit down and choose for thyself.’ Gourds of Ammonite wine lay near her, and at that time Ammonite and heathen wine had not yet been forbidden. Said she to him, ‘Wouldst thou like to drink a glass of wine?’ Having drunk, [his passion] was inflamed, and he exclaimed to her, ‘Yield to me!’ Thereupon she brought forth an idol from her bosom and said to him, ‘Worship this’! ‘But I am a Jew’, he protested. ‘What does that concern thee?’ she rejoined, ‘nothing is required but that thou should uncover thyself’ — whilst he did not know that such was its worship. ‘Nay’, [said she,] ‘I will not leave thee ere thou hast denied the Torah of Moses thy teacher,’ as it is written, They went into Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame, and their abominations were according as they loved.” 26
The Moabites seducing the Israelites into idolatry, lead to Pinchas’s zealous response of murdering Zimri and the Midianite princess whilst he was having relations with her. God rewards Pinchas by granting him the priesthood. We see this pattern repeat itself later with the Greeks, the people were seduced by their culture, by their desire for physical pleasures into eventually bringing statues of Greek gods into the Temple. This lead to the Maccabee revolt that Jews celebrate on Chanukah. The revolt began when the old High Priest Mattityahu grabbed the sword of a Hellenist Jew who was going to offer a sacrifice to the Greek gods on an alter.
The Jews faced such deceptive tactics to lure them away from God and the Torah in various manifestations both religious and secular. The Catholic Church primarily employed the hateful tactics of Esav. The Protestant Church decided to adopt the tactics of Lavan. Martin Luther believed that the Jews would of course reject Jesus given how the Catholics had treated them. He believed that the best tactic was to love them and embrace them. But when this failed he too revealed his true colours and preached violence against the Jews.
Modern ideologies too seduce the Jews to abandon the Torah and God. Jews are perhaps most tempted by Liberalism, Socialism and Progressive ideas that speak in the name of human rights, equality, democracy and freedom. The Enlightenment and particularly Communism seduced Jews into believing that their salvation lay with their secular international cause. Others put their faith in the liberal democracies of Western Europe. Neither of these turned out to be friendly to the Jews. The Soviet Union turned anti-Semitic and Nazi Germany emerged in Europe to shatter the Jews dream that they would be permanently safe even in the democratic world.
Today Evangelical Christians use this tactic of Lavan, by posing as Israel’s best friends and allies; they fight anti-Semitism; anti-Zionism, raise millions of dollars in support for Israel and comprise the largest force within the pro-Israel Lobby in the United States. At the same time these same groups provide millions of dollars in financial aid for missions to proselytise Jews and bring them to the cross through the Messianic movement and others.
The secret to Jewish survival in exile
Jacob works for his uncle and marries two of his daughters, Rachel and Leah. After many years where Jacob had married, now with a family and having acquired some wealth. He returns to the Land of Israel and sends messengers to Esav in Seir, the fields of Edom. His descendants would be known by this name. Saying: “Thus shall you say, ‘To my lord, to Esav, so said your servant Jacob: I have sojourned with Laban and have lingered until now. I have acquired oxen and donkeys, flocks, servants, and maidservants and I am sending to tell my lord to find favour in your eyes.” 27
The commentary on the Torah Me’Am Loez (The Torah Anthology) written by Rabbi Yaakov Culi says:
“When Jacob tithed his flocks he sent the tithe to Esav. God said to him [Jacob] “What you did was not right. Tithing is holy but you are using it for a secular purpose.” “But it is necessary.” Replied Jacob, “I must flatter him or he will kill me.” God said “Not only did you send him the tithe but you also violated my word, the greater one will be a servant of the younger one. Instead of behaving as Esav’s master, you addressed him as saying “your servant Jacob.’ By your life you will be under his power in this world.” 28
Rashi explains to find favour in your eyes to mean: “That I am at peace with you and seek your love.”
Jacob attempts to make amends with Esav, but the messengers return to inform him that Esav is on his way towards him with four hundred men. Rashi adds to this “Concerning whom you said,“He is my brother,” but he still behaves toward you like the wicked Esav. He still has hatred (Genesis Rabbah 75:7).” 29
Jacob fearful of attack divides up his family and his cattle into two. He said “If Esav comes to one camp and strikes it down, then the remaining camp shall survive.”30
He then prays to God: “Rescue me, please, from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esav, for I fear him lest he come and strike me down, mother and children. And You had said, ‘I will surely do good with you and I will make your offspring like the sand of the sea which is too numerous to count.'”
Jacob in his encounter with Esav employed three measures, gifts, prayer and preparation for combat. The Ramban tells us that that R’ Yanai would study these chapters carefully to learn from Jacobs example in how he should approach the Roman authorities when acting on behalf of the Jews in his time. 31
The Sages also took note of Jacobs strategy to divide into camps as a means of survival when being oppressed during the Roman exile. The Gemara in Pesachim says: “Indeed throughout history the Jewish people have always split up into several camps, following Jacobs example, and have attributed their secret to this dispersion.” 32
The Midrash tells of another story based on Jacobs measures of dealing with Esav:
“From Jacob we learn to be well prepared for the questions which gentiles might pose. R. Yehuda Hanassi and R. Yosse bar R. Yehuda were walking together. They saw a gentile ruler coming towards them and said, “He will certainly demand to know the following from us: 1. Who we are. 2. What our profession is. 3. Where we are going. Let us prepare our answers in advance. We will say: 1. “We are Jews. 2. We are merchants. 3. We are going to purchase wheat in Yavne.” (They decided to answer the first question truthfully, since they did not want to deny their Jewish identity despite the danger involved. They felt compelled to respond falsely to the other two questions for reasons of safety, but they minimised the lies as much as possible. They described their occupation with Torah-study as the practice of commerce, for Torah study really is the best possible merchandise. They said their intentions were to purchase wheat since the Torah is likened to bread). R. Yosse asked R. Yehuda Hanassi, “How did you know that you should prepare your answers in advance?” “I learned it from Jacob who instructed his servants precisely on how to speak to Esav.” 33
In Jacobs prayer to God he says “I have been diminished by all the kindnesses” Rashi explains “My merit has decreased because of the mercies and faithfulness that You have shown me. And I fear that since the time You made promises to me, I have been so diminished by sin as to be unworthy of deliverance from the hands of Esav.” 34
The Midrash adds that “He was fearful because Esav could claim the merit of having dwelt in the Holy Land for the twenty years during which Jacob had been absent; and he was distressed because Esav had the merit of accruing from honouring his parents whereas Jacob himself had been deprived of doing so all the time he was away.” 35
The Eternal Covenant
Jacob feared that his protection from Esav by God was conditional upon his merit and moral conduct. This we also see in the Jewish Christian discourse. The Christian claim is that the Jews are chosen dependent on their merit, i.e. their keeping the Torah. They argue that because the people abandoned the Torah during the first Temple period that is why the Temple was destroyed. They still were not living accordingly during the second Temple period. According to widespread Christian belief, the Torah could not be kept and therefore God sent His son as a saviour to “fulfil the Law” to act as a sacrifice for their sins, and then the Jews rejected and killed their ‘saviour.’ Not getting into the specifics, but we see in this an argument that their covenant is conditional upon their behaviour. Since they were not behaving and doing their part, and the Christians assume that they are in fact doing a better job, that they now merit not only more protection from God but that the covenant now be passed onto them.
Throughout the Torah, however, we learn that the covenant is not conditional on the merit of the Jews in each generation, the covenant is eternal. When the Jews were redeemed from slavery in Egypt it was not because they deserved to be redeemed. They practiced idolatry, the Midrash says they abandoned circumcision. It was at this point that they became enslaved.36 They were redeemed when they were because they reached the forty ninth level of impurity and could not stay there for one more moment, otherwise they would have been irredeemable.
Some calculations say they were taken out of Egypt earlier than planned because of this. They were not redeemed of their own merit, but on the merit of the patriarchs and the promises that God made to Abraham. There is a Midrash that talks about when the Egyptians were drowning in the sea and God saved the Jews. The angels complained to God saying that the Jews were no different to the Egyptians, both worshipped idols, so why was He saving one people and punishing the other. One explanation is that the merit of their being saved was not theirs, but through the merit of their forefathers who God made a promise to.
Throughout most of history, Jews as a collective body have not kept the Torah to the best of their ability. The Shemoneh Esreh/Amida (standing) prayer which is recited silently in each of the three daily prayer services begins with:
“Blessed are you, Hashem,our God and the God of our forefathers, God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob; the great, mighty, and awesome God, the supreme God, Who bestows beneficial kindnesses and creates everything, Who recalls the kindnesses of the Patriarchs and brings a Redeemer to their children, for His Name’s sake, with love.”
The merit of the Jewish people lies in the fact that an eternal covenant was made between God and the patriarchs and with with the entire nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The other factor as we see in the first paragraph of the Amida is that God protects and safeguards the Jewish people for His Name’s sake.
This we see an illustration of this in Exodus after the incident of the Golden Calf. God was angry at them and said to Moses:
“I have seen this people, and behold! it is a stiff-necked people. And know, desist from me. Let my anger flare up against them and I shall annihilate them; and I shall make you a great nation.” Moses pleaded before Hashem his God, and said, “Why, Hashem, should your anger flare up against Your people, whom You have taken out of the land of Egypt, with great power and a strong hand? Why should Egypt say the following: ‘With evil intent did He take them out to kill them in the mountains and to annihilate them from the face of the earth’? Relent from Your flaring anger and reconsider regarding the evil against Your people. Remember for the sake of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Yourself, and You told them,’I shall increase Your offspring like the stars of heaven, and this entire land of which I spoke, I shall give to your offspring and it shall be their heritage forever.'” 37
We might ask, then why did God choose Abraham? Based on a simple reading of the text, the Torah doesn’t say. This should be quite bothersome particularly to the Christian world. When the Torah introduces Noah for example, it explains who he was and is clear why God chose him to build the Ark. It prefaces the story with “Noah was a righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noah walked with God.” 38 The exception to this rule is Abraham. The Ramban asks where is the preamble when the Torah introduces Abraham? The text is silent. 39 It just says “God said to Abram, ‘Go for yourself from your fathers house to the land that I will show you…'”40
The Sfas Emes answers this question that God wasn’t just speaking specifically to Abraham, He was speaking to everyone. Abraham was the only one who listened and heeded Him. The Torah is simply identifying that he was the only person to hear the challenge and uproot himself from his home.
But if one rejects the divine origin of the Oral Torah then one can only come to the conclusion that God just chose Abraham for who he was, not for anything he did. This subject is beyond the scope of our topic but the important point of note is that the redemption of the Jewish people is not dependent on their deeds. They will be redeemed one way or another and God will keep the promise that he made to the patriarchs regardless of their descendants actions.
An Inevitable irreconcilable conflict
As the Malbim said earlier that when Jacob is up Esav is down. We therefore see that Esav or Edom has a vested interest one way or another in constantly attempting to weaken the Jews, their unity and loyalty to the Torah and God. The Jewish people themselves fight this battle internally as well. Between the Greeks and the Romans they both succeeded in eventually breaking the Jewish people, causing internal divisions, leading them astray and to adopt the ways of Esav and the nations, and ultimately to the destruction of the Temple and the Roman exile. Rav Dessler explains:
“When arrogance spread through Klal Yisrael, to the point that their ‘measure had been filled,’ the Beis HaMikdash [Temple] was destroyed and handed over to the kingdom of Edom, also known as Rome, the offspring of Amalek, whose main character traits are arrogance and heresy.
“The Romans came with brute force. They didn’t present any spiritual ideal – not even an impure one – against the spirit of holiness of the Torah. That is because they did not have any original culture of their own; they simply presented the option of physical pleasure as opposed to spirituality. They glorified the victory of physical over spiritual as if it were in their power to harness the whole world for their own desires and goals, for the benefit of the masses of their constituency. Their arrogance grew commensurate with their successes, resulting in ever-increasing heresy and audacity towards Hashem [God].
“This is what our Sages have instructed us about the end of the golus [exile]: ‘In the footsteps of the Messianic Age, audacity will increase.’ (Sota 49b) One who knows the truth, but because of his arrogance is not willing to bend to it, acts audaciously, rebelliously, and brazenly against the truth in order to overcome his pangs of conscience. In order to withstand the tests of this midda [trait] of arrogance and audacity, Klal Yisrael was sent into this golus [exile], which continues from the destruction of the Temple until this very day.” 41
Christianity and Edom
We discussed earlier that the natural character trait of Esav is din/justice as he inherited from his father Isaac. So too Ishmael inherited the trait of chessed/lovingkindness from his father Abraham. The patriarchs successfully managed to regulate their natural quality with the correct dose of its opposite. In the case of Ishmael and Esav they did not succeed in this. Esav should have been working on his trait of rachamim/mercy. The world cannot function with strict justice alone, God runs the world with both justice and mercy.
What is interesting is that the emphasised message of Christianity is mercy and forgiveness. No matter what one does, as long as they have faith in Jesus their sins will be forgiven. What we see here is that Christianity is used as an attempt to restrain justice with mercy. But instead it tips the scale to the opposite extreme. Unlimited forgiveness permits anarchy, allows people to get away with anything. There is no justice or morality. People have no accountability for their actions, because they will always be forgiven.
Christianity and Greece
If Edom represents justice and Christianity is its attempt to infuse it with mercy. Another aspect of western civilisation is the contribution of Greece. We discussed in part one how the Greeks were rationalists, they did not accept the idea of existence beyond the physical, material world. Christianity is also an attempt to bridge the gap between the rational and the irrational, the physical and the spiritual. But we see too, here that it fails to find this correct balance. Instead it promotes blind faith, an unquestioning approach to religion. The focus is on the next world, the spiritual world and less on our time in this world.
Rabbi Uziel Milevsky in the Ner Uziel says:
“Christianity is founded on the belief that heaven and earth are separate and distinct entities completely foreign to one another – “and never the twain shall meet.” Judaism, on the other hand, professes that heaven and earth are merely two extremes of a single continuum. A Jew grasps a cup of wine, the symbol of materialism, and elevates it to the spiritual dimension by reciting Kiddush. The point of union between heaven and earth is represented by the Beis HaMikdash, where corporeal animals were placed on God’s alter and were transformed into pure spiritual energy.” 42
The Jewish peoples struggle through the Roman/Edomite exile will continue until the Messianic era. But the Roman exile has overlapped with a final exile. The Ishmaelite exile, this is characterised by violence. Todays period of the Roman exile is faced for the most part more by spiritual threats rather than physical threats. The threat of Ishmael threatens the Jewish body whilst Esav seeks the destruction of the Jewish soul. Esav is in many ways much more dangerous, for many are unaware that there is a threat at all coming from Edom. Many Jews believe that the Western world is behind them and accepts them as Jews, or worse they have almost completely internalised the worldview of Esav, some have even internalised it and confused themselves into thinking that it represents authentic Torah values or reconcilable with them at least. Others have simply succumbed to Esav and his evil ways and turned their back on the Torah, this is the last strain in the process of assimilation and can lead to self hatred. Such individuals often are very instrumental in soliciting a Edom to switch its friendly face towards the Jews and reveal its true hostile colours. At least when it comes to Ishmael in our current situation it is more obvious that there are those out there among them who seek to cause us (physical) harm.
1) Ramban Commentary to Bereishis 12:6.
2) Rabbi Uziel Milevsky (2002) Ner Uziel, Bereishis Shemot 1 Perspectives on the Parshah, Targum/Feldheim: New York pp.166
3) Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, Daat Tevunot – The Knowing Heart
4) Rav Eliyahu Dessler, (1999) Strive For Truth, Part Five, Patriarchs of a Nation, Rended into English by Aryeh Carmell, Feldheim Publishers: Jerusalem
5) Malbim, Ovadia 1:1
6) Rashi, Numbers 24:19
7) Rashi, Genesis 25:2
8) Midrash on Psalms 9:5
9) Sforno, Genesis 25:23
10) Malbim, Genesis 25:23
11) Rabbi Elie Munk (1994) The Call of the Torah – Bereshit, Artscroll Mesorah Series: New York, pp. 336-337
12) Sforno, Genesis, 25:26
13) Rashi, Genesis 25:26
14) Midrash Beresheit Rabbah 6:1
15) Malbim, Genesis, 25:25
16) Rashi, Genesis 25:27
17) Rashi, Genesis 25:27
18) Rashi, Genesis 25:32
19) Genesis, 27:34-42
20) Bereishit Rabbah 67:8
21) Bereishit Rabbah 67:10
22) Midrash HaGadol 25:1
23) Midrash Lekach Tov
24) Rashi, Genesis 28:9
25) Rabbi Uziel Milevsky (2002) Ner Uziel, Bereishis Shemot 1 Perspectives on the Parshah, Targum/Feldheim: New York pp.191
26) Sanhedrin 106a
27) Genesis 32:5-7
28) Me’Am Loez, Genesis 3a, on Genesis 33:4 pp.147.
29) Rashi, Genesis, 32:8
30) Genesis 32:9
31) Ramban, Genesis 33:15
32) Pesachim 87b
33) Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 76:7
34) Rashi, Genesis 32:11
35) Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 76:2
36) Midrash Shemot Rabbah 8
37) Exodus 32:9-13
38) Genesis 6:9
39) Ramban Beresheit 12:3
40) Genesis 12:1
41) Rav Dessler, Michtav Me’Eliyahu, Part 3, page 216
42) Rabbi Uziel Milevsky (2002) Ner Uziel, Bereishis Shemot 1 Perspectives on the Parshah, Targum/Feldheim: New York pp.166