By Elisa Gurevitch, co-director of Chabad at UCLA
This week’s parashah, Toldot, includes the famous story of Rivkah (Rebecca), who, after many years of marriage, was finally blessed with twins, Yaakov (Jacob) and Esav (Esau). Our Sages tell us that, while expecting, Rivkah experienced severe pains: whenever she passed either a synagogue or beit midrash (House of Study) Yaakov would struggle to emerge. By contrast, when passing a place of idol worship, Esav would move violently. Was Esav destined to be evil, doomed to a life of violence and self-gratification? What happened to his free choice?
Indeed, the twins turned out to be far from identical. Yaakov dwelled in the tent of Torah, concerned with spiritual and otherworldly things. Esav, by contrast, was a man of this world, enjoying its physical pleasures, such as hunting. Since Yaakov and Esav seemingly had differing goals and their lives took such disparate trajectories, why did they later become enemies?
Maimonides (Shemonah Perakim, Ch. 6) explains that there are two paths in serving God: serving Him through a natural predisposition to good or by conquering one’s natural inclination towards negativity through discipline and self-restraint. (Transforming one’s nature is a tremendous feat — but one of which Esav was capable. No wonder his disciplined father Isaac loved him and had asked him to go out into the field to prepare delicacies for him!)
Yaakov and Esav represent these two paths. Both brothers wanted to be in control of both a physical and spiritual existence, but on different terms. Yaakov saw spirituality as the most important aspect in his life, focusing on learning Torah and holy pursuits. Esav, on the other hand, preferred to be involved in the mundane, physical world dominated by selfish, hedonistic tendencies.
As Jews, we inherited our father Yaakov’s love of Torah and spirituality. That should be our guiding force in life. However, Torah, goodness and holiness cannot be confined to the times of prayer and study. We also need to be a “yodea tzayid” like Esav — to know how to “go out into the field,” engage with the world, and prepare delicacies for our Father in heaven — by spreading the light and goodness of Torah to every aspect of life. Staying the course while engaging the world requires the solid foundation of Torah, which protects us from negative worldly influences and enables us to succeed in our ultimate life mission of bringing awareness of the Divine reality to the entire world.
So, take a minute and visit www.chabad.edu.study to check out amazing opportunities to solidify your Torah foundation this winter break and beyond!
This article is part of Ha’Am’s Friday Taste of Torah column. Each week, a different UCLA community member will contribute some words of Jewish wisdom in preparation for Shabbat.