In this week’s parashah, Va’yetze (Genesis/Bereshit28:10-32:3), the saga of Jacob continues. After fleeing from the anger of his brother, Esau, he finally arrives in the land of Haran, from where his ancestors came, and find Rebecca, his bride. Later on we also read that Esau marries from the daughters of Canaan and the daughters of Ishmael, his father Isaac’s “half brother.”
The primary narrative in the parashah focuses on Jacob, as he is the patriarch from whom our people take it’s name (once it is changed to Israel). The ancient rabbis demonize Esau for the most part, equating his name with the oppressive Roman empire. But in the Torah there is none of this demonization.
If we view all the characters in the Torah as representing a part of each of us, much as one might analyze a dream, we can see Esau as that within us which we feel the need to demonize, criticize and ostracize. Only by viewing this piece of us with equanimity and compassion can we walk on the path of oneness.
And so, through the original midrash that follows, I have tried to recover Esau as a patriarch and as part of myself, along with his brother and the other patriarchs and matriarchs of the Jewish people.
This is a weekly Torah commentary (d’var torah) by Rabbi Steven P. Nathan. Ordained from the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Steven is also a practioner and teacher of mindfulness meditation having studied with Sylvia Boorstein and Rabbis Sheila Peltz Weinberg and Jeffrey Roth at Elat Chayyim, the Jewish Spiritual Retreat Center. He is also a storyteller and graduate of the Institute for Contemporary Midrash, where he studied midrashic storytelling with master storyteller Peninnah Schram. He currently serves as the campus rabbi at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA.