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Esau’s Autobiography

Esau’s Autobiography

A cautionary tale of violence and villainy

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Hi, my name is Esav. (Some English speakers pronounce it Esau, mangling it to rhyme with “seesaw,” but I prefer my proper Hebrew name, ending with a “v.”) You may have heard some things about me, but you’re probably missing most of the details. I want to present my story, my life, the way I see it, and I hope you can use it to learn a lesson or two as well.

My Birth

My career as a troublemaker started when I was but a mere fetus in my mother’s womb. Legend has it that my mother had a difficult pregnancy,1 and that it was me who was to blame.

This won’t make sense to most of you, but I’ll try describe it anyway.

You know that crazy adrenaline rush you have every time you see something that really excites you? Well, I had this thing about idolatry. Every time my mother would walk past a statue or a house of worship, my heart would beat like crazy, and I would literally kick to get out of her stomach. My twin brother, Yaakov (or Jacob, as I sometimes see it spelled), his thing was Torah study, and he’d get pretty aggressive about that as well.2

We spent a lot of time in religious debate inside there. He thought Saturday should be the day of rest, and I thought it should be Sunday;3 he thought the world to come was where it was at, and I thought it was this world.4 With all the kicking going on, I can almost forgive my mother for wondering why she was so desparate for kids in the first place.5

Mum was pretty distraught about all of this, so she sought the advice of her mentor, Shem.6 He delivered the good news: There’s not one child inside your belly, but two.7 And they’re both going to be great. And rich.8 And world superpowers.9 Oh, and if you think this kicking is bad, the two of them are going to be fighting forever.

Very comforting news.

We had gotten used to fighting already, and the day that we were born was no exception. Jacob was adamant that he deserved to come out first, something to do with him being the first to be conceived.10 I threatened to kill our mother if he would not let me out, and he finally acquiesced.11 It wasn’t without a struggle, though, and he ended up grabbing onto my heel on my way out.12 Dad found that amusing, I guess, and so he named him Yaakov, “heel.”13

I was an unusual baby. I was born fully developed, with a full head of hair,14 a full set of teeth, and even some facial hair!15 My skin was a strange tinge of red—something that got my father really concerned. He wouldn’t even have me circumcised, because he was scared I was unhealthy.16 Just in case anyone might forget how odd of a newborn I was, they decided to call me Esav, “the developed one.”17 Talk about parental sensitivity.

Growing Up

I was a good kid growing up, and I pretty much stayed out of trouble. Come my 13th birthday, however, I got fed up with the whole religion thing and decided to drop it all.18 Hunting became my primary pastime, and I became known as the most ruthless and cunning guy out there.19

The Torah describes me as being “a man who understood hunting,”20 but let me tell you, it wasn’t just animals that I knew how to trap; I had my father pretty baited as well.21 I put on this whole religious facade for him, and, surprisingly enough he bought it—hook, line and sinker. I used to ask him all of these ridiculous legal questions regarding the intricacies of the laws of tithing, and he took me for some Torah scholar.22 Funnily enough, I got him to like me that way, and he even preferred me over my more placid twin, Jacob.23

Birthright Sale

Everyone knows that Esav sold his birthright to his twin, Jacob. Well, here’s the story with all the details.

I’m assuming you’ve all heard of Nimrod. He was a big hotshot back then, and pretty much ruled over most of modern civilization.24 He had this little hunting trick he liked to use: Any animal that came within his sight was drawn towards him and would fall dead at his feet.25 Naturally, the fools in those days thought he had G‑dlike powers, and so treated him as some sort of deity.

What they didn’t know was that these were not G‑dlike powers at all; they were the powers of a special cloak that he had. He had somehow gotten his hands on the clothing G‑d made for Adam and Eve, which had this miraculous effect on animals.26 I knew his secret, and I made it my business to get that cloak, no matter what.

I’ll spare you all the gory details, but suffice it to say that by the end of that day Nimrod’s heart was no longer beating.27 And I had his cloak.28 Double victory.

Exhausted from the day’s activities,29 I returned home to find my dear brother Jacob cooking lunch. It was some crimson-looking concoction that I didn’t recognize,30 but at that point it didn’t matter much. I could’ve downed anything.

Jacob looked a little downcast, and when I pressed him, he informed me of the sad news: Grandpa Abraham had just passed.31 He was busy cooking lentils for our father, who was mourning. Apparently, lentils are the appropriate food for mourners: their shape represents the circle of life, and they are closed on all sides, just like a mourner, who cannot talk in such a state of despair.32

As upsetting as the news was, I could not get my mind off my rumbling stomach, and so I asked Jacob to hand over the food. Thinking he was all smart, he decided to cut me a deal: If I’d sell him my rights as the firstborn, I could have the lentils.

Well, that was a no-brainer. What good was the birthright to me anyway?33 I wasn’t going to ever serve in the Temple, unless you believe in resurrection, which I most definitely did not.34 As for the potential double inheritance, I was a high-risk insuree at that point: hunting is not exactly a safe profession,35 and besides, I had a high price on my head after that day’s antics.36 A steaming bowl of lentil soup seemed like the better side of the deal.

Life lesson:When you spend that much on a meal, make sure to do it right. I sat back, opened my mouth, and had Jacob pour the entire pot down my throat.37 A birthright well spent!

Life Goes On

That was a defining day in my life. I finally decided to do away with any trace of my upbringing,38 and I firmly denied any belief in G‑d.39 Just to prove my rebellion, I became pretty active in the idol-worshipping community, and I personally founded many of the temples and shrines you see in archeological digs and museums today. I was seen as such a leader in this new world of mine that my portrait was put up in all the bathhouses and brothels around the country.40 I definitely wasn’t going to become this big of a celebrity studying Torah.

Although I had grown up, my cunning personality had not changed. In my typical self-righteous nature, I decided to wait until I was 40 to get married.41 Dad didn’t marry until he was 40, so it seemed like a pretty saintly thing to do. Small difference: Dad had been celibate until then, while I had found plenty of ways outside of marriage to fulfill my desires—rape and adultery among them.42

Mum and Dad weren’t too fond of my wives.43 I don’t really blame them; my wives were pretty heavy idolaters back then, which got on my parents’ nerves.44 More than that, the incense they offered filled the house with smoke, which ultimately caused Dad to go blind.45

Jacob Steals the Blessings

For all those who say that my hatred for Jacob is unfounded, you should make sure to read this:

Dad was getting older; he had just turned 123, and he was worried that his time was coming.46 Despite my rebellious and sinful life, I was still his favorite, and he decided to give me his blessings before he passed on. His instructions were simple: Go to the field, hunt some game and cook me a meal. He also mentioned that I should make sure not to steal, but I have been known to have selective hearing.47

Dad had made it clear that I was to hunt using my sword and bow,48 so I didn’t take my cloak with me this time.49 I used to store it in my parents’ home, so it would be handy whenever I would serve my father.50 Besides, I didn’t exactly trust my wives with my possessions, especially something of that value.51

Well, that ended up being quite a mistake. Later I found out that Jacob had worn my cloak and had fooled my father into thinking he was me.52

I wasn’t used to hunting without my cloak, and things didn’t go as smoothly as they usually did. Strange things kept happening: I would catch a deer and tie it to a tree, but as soon as I turned my back on it, the deer had disappeared. 53 It was almost as if the Satan was out to get me!

I finally had the food prepared and brought it home to Dad. I walked into his office, all excited, and announced my arrival.54 Dad suddenly tensed up, and after a short while I saw his face come to a slow, painful recognition: “It was Jacob after all,” he murmured. “He stole your blessings.”

It didn’t take long for me to figure out what had happened. Outrage, as a description for my feelings at that moment, would have been a shocking understatement. I was outright furious. “That’s the second time he’s tricked me,” I tried explaining to my father. “First he steals my birthright, and now he steals my blessings.”55

Bad idea. I wasn’t supposed to let that slip. The cat’s out of the bag now, and Dad knows that Jacob had legal rights as the firstborn and was actually deserving of the blessings. I noticed him ease up a little after that revelation.56

After much coercion from me, Dad managed to find some blessings for me as well. His words were bittersweet: he warned me that Jacob would be in control, but that in his moment of weakness I would be given an opportunity to overcome him.57 Not much of a consolation, if you’re asking me, and it fueled my resentment for Jacob.58

It didn’t take long to make up my mind: Jacob had to go.59 Dad deserved to die as well, I decided, as he was an accessory to the crime. I wouldn’t be able to bring myself to kill my own father, so I planned on bringing Uncle Yishmael into the picture. I’d take care of Jacob, he’d take care of Dad, and together we’d split the assets. Or at least that’s what I’d tell Yishmael. My plan was to then eliminate Yishmael as well, so I could become the sole heir to the dynasty.60

Things didn’t go quite as planned. Jacob managed to slip away somehow—again, apparently, with my mother’s assistance. I tried chasing after him, but he seemed to have G‑d on his side. He was splitting rivers and pulling all sorts of tricks,61 so I eventually gave up the chase. His time will come, I comforted myself. His time will come.

The Final Meeting

Much time had passed, and I almost forgot about Jacob. You can imagine my surprise when messengers arrive at my door bringing regards from my long-lost brother.62 It seems that Jacob had spent years at our cousin Lavan’s place, and had done pretty well for himself.63 He was looking to broker a peace deal, but I would hear none of it. His time had come.

I came out all guns blazing, with 400 of my supporters following close behind.64 As we approached, we saw what looked like his camp on the horizon, and herds of animals spread over a distance that seemed to span miles and miles.65 Every herd had a shepherd tending it, each delivering the same message: “This is a gift from your brother, Jacob.” I must admit—it was quite an impressive sight.

The great moment had arrived.

I see a man approaching in the distance, and I know he must be Jacob. He’s being followed by what looks like a mini-tribe—a bunch of grown women and a lot of children.66 My heart is racing like never before. The time for retribution is finally here.

Strangely enough, I find myself suddenly overcome with emotion. Old memories start surfacing in my mind, and all kinds of unwanted thoughts encompass me. I mean, we are brothers, right? We grew up together. Remember all those good times we had?67

Focus. Remain focused. This is your time.

He’s here, prostrating himself by my feet.68 It’s time to move in for the kill.

The next thing I know, I’ve got my arms wrapped around my brother in what appears to be a hug. My head is resting on his neck, and tears are pouring down my face.69 Big bad Esav has let his emotions get the better of him. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for this missed opportunity.

I didn’t see much of Jacob after that incident. He refused to travel with me because his children couldn’t keep up, so we each went on our own way.70 Perhaps we’ll meet again sometime; perhaps we won’t.

My Passing

There are two things that made my death so tragic:

a. It was a relative of mine that was ultimately responsible; and

b. I ended up being buried on the same day as my twin brother.

I had gotten word that Jacob had passed, and that his coffin was being brought to Hebron to be buried with our parents and grandparents. There was no way that I was going to let that happen. He had buried his wife Leah there already, so the remaining spot was for me.

When I arrived in Hebron, I found a huge crowd gathered, with all the top brass of the time present. All the kings and princes of Canaan had hung their crowns on Jacob’s coffin as a sign of respect, and the rumor was going around that the big crown in the middle belonged to the viceroy of Egypt, who just so happened to be my nephew Joseph.

To make a long story short, I came and ruined the party. I began protesting against the burial, and a large commotion ensued. They claimed that I had sold my portion in Hebron to Jacob together with my birthright, and they sent my nephew Naphtali down to Egypt to retrieve the sale documents.

Let me introduce you to a very dear great-nephew of mine, Chushim. He was the son of Dan, and to put it frankly, he was as deaf as a doorknob. Seeing that I was delaying the burial, and not being aware of the debate taking place, he decided to take matters into his own hands and get the show on the road.

I think it was a sword that he used to sever my head. Either way, as I was left decapitated, my head rolled into the gravesite and rested by the feet of my father.71 It looks like it was destined that I should be buried there in the end.72

Life Lessons

There are some important lessons that everyone can learn from my life story:

Never talk negatively about another person.

G‑d didn’t tell my father how rotten I was. Instead, He made him blind, so that Jacob would receive the blessings. G‑d didn’t have a bad word to say even about me.73

Utilize your potential.

If you were born a little wild, use it for good. G‑d gives each one of us strengths and weaknesses; it is up to us how we use them. I was born with energy that Jacob didn’t have, and if I would have chosen to use that for good purposes, I could have achieved amazing things.74

Choose your friends wisely.

Hang out with the right people. Friends take a person to places they would never go themselves. So spend time with people who will lift you up, and not with those who will drag you down.

Footnotes
2.
Bereishit Rabbah 63:6.
3.
Midrash Lekach Tov, Genesis 25:22.
4.
Genesis Rabbah ibid.
5.
Ibid.
6.
25:22. See Targum Yonatan ben Uziel and Targum Yerushalmi, cited by Rashi.
7.
25:23.
8.
Talmud, Avodah Zarah 11a.
9.
Ibid. 2b, cited by Rashi.
10.
Bereishit Rabbah 63:8.
11.
Midrash HaGadol 25:22.
12.
25:26.
13.
Jerusalem Talmud, Berachot 1:6, cited by Rashi.
14.
25:25.
15.
Targum Yonatan ben Uziel 25:25.
16.
Daat Zekeinim.
17.
Rashi 25:25.
18.
Bereishit Rabbah 63:10.
19.
Ibid. 63:15.
20.
25:27.
21.
Rashi ibid.
22.
Tanchuma, Toldot 8; Bereishit Rabbah 63:10.
23.
25:28; Tanchuma ibid.
24.
See Midrash HaGadol, Genesis 11:24, at length.
25.
Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer 24.
26.
Bereishit Rabbah 65:12; Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer ibid. The commentary Matnot Kehunah on Bereishit Rabbah states that the cloak had pictures of animals embroidered onto it, which naturally attracted animals towards it.
27.
Talmud, Bava Batra 16b.
28.
Bereishit Rabbah ibid.
29.
25:29. See Talmud ibid., that he committed 5 aveirot on that day, including murder and rape.
31.
Talmud ibid.; Tanchuma Yashan, Toldot 3.
32.
Talmud, ibid.
33.
25:32.
34.
Talmud, ibid.
35.
Ibn Ezra 25:32.
36.
Bereishit Rabbah 63:18.
37.
Bereishit Rabbah 63:13.
38.
Bereishit Rabbah 63:20.
39.
Talmud, ibid.
40.
Midrash Shocher Tov, Psalms 14.
41.
26:34.
42.
Bereishit Rabbah 65:1.
43.
26:35.
44.
Tanchuma, Toldot 8.
45.
Tanchuma ibid.; Pesikta Rabbati 12.
46.
27:2; Genesis Rabbah 65:12.
47.
Bereishit Rabbah 65:13.
48.
27:3.
49.
Commentary of Maharzu to Bereishit Rabbah 65:12.
50.
Bereishit Rabbah ibid.
51.
Ibid.
52.
27:15.
53.
Tanchuma, Toldot 11.
54.
27:31.
55.
27:35.
56.
Tanchuma, Toldot 23.
57.
27:40.
58.
27:41.
59.
Ibid.
60.
Midrash Shochar Tov, Psalms 14.
61.
Aggadat Bereishit 45.
62.
32:5.
63.
32:6.
64.
33:1.
65.
32:17. See Rashi there, that Jacob deliberately had the herds of animals spread apart, so that they would appear to be more than they were.
66.
33:2.
67.
View of R. Shimon ben Elazar in Bereishit Rabbah 78:12. See there the opinion of R. Yannai, who understands that Esav attempted to bite Jacob rather than kiss him, and miraculously Jacob’s neck turned to marble. Jacob then cried for his brother, whereas Esav cried for his teeth.
68.
33:3.
69.
33:4.
70.
33:13.
71.
Targum Yonatan ben Uziel, Genesis 50:13. See Talmud, Sotah 13a, which implies that his head fell at the feet of Jacob, not Isaac.
72.
Talmud, Sotah 13a.
73.
Likkutei Sichot, vol. 15, p. 215.
74.
Likkutei Sichot, vol. 20, p. 114.
Shaul Wolf was born and raised in Melbourne, Australia. He studied in Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon in Los Angeles and received his rabbinical ordination from the Central Chabad Yeshivah in Brooklyn, N.Y. He currently lives in Brooklyn where he studies and responds to questions for Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org.
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Anonymous NYC November 28, 2016

Oh, The Flavors of Esav and Jacob! Every time I read about these two brothers, I end up trying to figure out what their mother was thinking and feeling and how she kept from running to her boys, throwing her arms around them both and loving them to pieces! She had the best of both ends of the spectrum. One hunter, outdoorsy, good writer(obviously)one of the boys type and the other a more homebody, artistic, creative momma's boy type. Why do parents play their children against each other? I see a lot of that. There something so lovable about each of these boys. Is it just me? I clearly see Esav's good and his not so good and the same for Jacob. I adore them both and sure, I wish both had made different choices along the way- but, hey! That's life. They didn't kill each other, thank G-d. And look at that soft heart of Esav - I could always see that in there! So what if he needed some gifts to soften him up. Whaaaat? Just me again? Okay, so sue me. I love both of these spirited boys and I love them equally. Period. Reply

Fro November 28, 2016

Oh my word...what an article..I read with a mixed reaction of awe, shuddering, amazement, and laughter. I can't help but burst out laughing at different points that describe Esav internal responses..😃..all in all the lesson sinks deep in me. Thank you. Reply

M. Diane Flushing May 30, 2016

So well-written Your writing style and 'voice' is great. Thank you. Reply

Michael London December 10, 2015

Esau Wonderful I can't wait to label another person as esau because I don't like their personality then steal from them/decieve them, mitzvah gadolah. Reply

Anonymous Fulton November 14, 2015

Can you elaborate on footnote 3 about "Sunday". The best I know is that Christians once observed Saturday but there was a somewhat gradual movement after Constantine that Christians should not be idle one day of the week (Saturday) and should worship in part of Sunday and continue working for the rest of that day. (In my past, Jewish businesses were always open on Saturday but were closed on Sunday because of a city ordinance) I am aware that Romans are believed to be Edomites. I have more to say but I interpret it to be speculation, Reply

Anonymous mesa, AZ November 14, 2015

Esav Biography Great teaching! Although I feel I have failed G-d, myself,and others in following through these beautiful teachings, it has made me realized the wrongs done in the past as well as recently. G-ds promises are not to be taken foolishly, they are there to come and stay, because His words are true and fulfilling. I will keep mending my ways for the glory of His precious Name. How awesome is our G-d! B"H Reply

Ruth Coconut Creek, FL November 14, 2015

Beautiful...Life lessons brought me to tears.
Ruth Reply

Anonymous November 11, 2015

Wow!nice,thank you for sharing this story. Reply

Anonymous connecticut November 11, 2015

As a Torah novice, I found this essay extremely helpful in understanding and remembering who is Esau. Thank you and well done!! Reply

mike georgia November 11, 2015

thanks nice. very interesting and helpful. Reply

Nochum Greenwald Montreal November 10, 2015

Beautifully written!
Thank you Rabbi Shaul.
Thanks for writing all the sources, and life's lessons.
Really enjoyed. Keep them coming. Reply

Anonymous New York November 9, 2015

A couple of things that weren't mentioned, Esav bit/'kissed" Yaakov in their encounter. Also, I'm not sure but I believe king David was also red haired like Esav, however he used his potential for good and to serve G-D. Also, didn't Isaac know that Yaakov was better then Esav spiritually and that's why he wanted to give the blessing to Esav (Esav needed it more, in other words). Lastly, didn't Esav marry one of Ishmael's daughter. Reply

Anonymous nyc November 9, 2015

This is great, I just love it, however Esav does know a little bit too much here! Reply

Anonymous New York November 9, 2015

Esau's Bio Rabbi, you blew me away this well rounded detailed oriented portrait of Esav written in first person. Reply