The Haftarah of VaYishlach tells us about G-d’s anger at Edom, the descendants of Esav. It ends with this famous verse:
וְעָלוּ מוֹשִׁעִים בְּהַר צִיּוֹן לִשְׁפֹּט אֶת הַר עֵשָׂו וְהָיְתָה לַה’ הַמְּלוּכָה:
The saviors of Mount Tzion will go up, to judge Mount Esav. And then the kingdom will be Hashem’s! (Ovadiah 1:21)
According to the Haftarah, kingdom will belong to G-d only after Esav is vanquished. What is it about Esav that stands in the way of G-d’s dominion over the world?
At the end of Parshat VaYishlach, the Torah lists the chieftains and the kings that were the descendants of Esav:
וְאֵלֶּה הַמְּלָכִים אֲשֶׁר מָלְכוּ בְּאֶרֶץ אֱדוֹם לִפְנֵי מְלָךְ מֶלֶךְ לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל:
These are the kings that ruled in the land of Edom before there was ever a king of B’nei Yisrael. (Breishit 36:31)
It is interesting that the Torah finds it necessary to point out to us that Edom had kings long before Israel did. The Torah ends without there being a king in Israel, and even the commandment to appoint a king is phrased with a degree of ambivalence. Yet this verse makes it sound as though Edom is ahead of us in this, that they were established, organized, with a strong central government and a stable dynasty, while the Jewish People are to this day unsure whether a monarchy is a commandment or a concession. The Torah tells us: Israel will have kings, with greater or lesser success, but Esav is all about kingdom. Esav defines himself by his power and influence, and the wider it spreads, the better.
In order to appreciate some of the complexity of how the Torah views kingdom, we need to go back to the first person it describes as a king, Nimrod.
הוּא הָיָה גִבֹּר צַיִד לִפְנֵי ה’ עַל כֵּן יֵאָמַר כְּנִמְרֹד גִּבּוֹר צַיִד לִפְנֵי ה’: וַתְּהִי רֵאשִׁית מַמְלַכְתּוֹ בָּבֶל וְאֶרֶךְ וְאַכַּד וְכַלְנֵה בְּאֶרֶץ שִׁנְעָר:
He was a great hunter before Hashem; thus it would be said, “Like Nimrod, a great hunter before Hashem. The beginning of his kingdom was Bavel, Erech, Akkad and Kalna, in the land of Shin’ar. (Bereishit 10:9-10)
Rashi quotes Chazal’s opinion of “hunting”:
גבור ציד – צד דעתן של בריות בפיו ומטען למרוד במקום:
“Great hunter”: he would capture the opinions of people with his speech, and entice them to rebel against G-d. (Rashi, Bereishit 10:9)
Hunting animals would not be worth mentioning in the Torah. It has no interest in Nimrod’s trophy room. It must be that it was not only animals that Nimrod hunted, but also people. He found ways to trap their minds and thoughts and make them do his bidding. Until then, the only ruler in the world was the Creator. When Nimrod became “a great hunter before Hashem,” he introduced the concept of an earthly power that replaces G-d in the eyes of mankind.
Ramban presents the history of the origins of Nimrod’s empire, as the origins of the idea of kingdom in general:
והנכון בעיני, כי הוא החל להיות מושל בגבורתו על האנשים, והוא המולך תחלה, כי עד ימיו לא היו מלחמות ולא מלך מלך, וגבר תחלה על אנשי בבל עד שמלך עליהם, ואחר כן יצא אל אשור ועשה כרצונו והגדיל, ובנה שם ערים בצורות בתקפו ובגבורתו, וזהו שאמר ותהי ראשית ממלכתו בבל וארך ואכד וכלנה:
As I see it, [Nimrod] began to rule with his might over the people, and he was the first king, for until his era there were neither wars nor kings. First, he took over the people of Bavel until he became their king, then he went out towards Ashur and did as he wished there and expanded [his rule]; he built fortified cities in his power and might. This is what it means by “The beginning of his empire was Bavel and Erech and Akkad and Kalna”. (Ramban, Bereishit 10:9)
Nimrod was the first to force people to do his will; the first to fight a war of conquest, the first to conquer more territory than he could use, the first king and emperor.
Like Nimrod, Esav is introduced as a hunter. On that verse, Rashi interprets the term “hunting” the same way as he did for Nimrod:
יודע ציד – לצוד ולרמות את אביו בפיו
“Knows hunting”: to trap and trick his father with his speech (Rashi, Bereishit 25:27)
In Rashi’s eyes, manipulating people into doing what you want is a skill akin to hunting. There is a ruler and a subject, a hunter and its prey, traps and weapons. The human gift of speech is turned toward the purpose of exercising power over others, subverting their will. This is not leadership for the well-being of the people, nor is it the conquest of the Earth commanded to Adam. This is raw power for its own sake. Esav, like Nimrod, “hunts” people in order to own their allegiance.
According to Targum Yonatan (Bereishit 25:27), on the day that Esav came back weary from the field and sold his birthright to Yaakov, he had fought and defeated Nimrod. Esav becomes Nimrod’s spiritual heir: like Nimrod, Esav is born with the need for power, for controlling other people. Esav kills Nimrod not to destroy what he had been, but rather to possess it for himself. Esav’s path is the same as Nimrod’s strategy described by Ramban – conquer your neighbors, create an army, build an empire. Replace G-d.
Esav carries out this strategy. By the time Yaakov comes back from Aram at the beginning of our Parsha, Esav was living in Se’ir and it was already known as Edom.
Ramban explains (Bereishit 36:6) that Se’ir had been a tribe led by a clan chief; Esav moved in and took over. The country was renamed Edom, and after several generations of Esav’s rule, the descendants of Esav went from being chieftains to being full-fledged kings, a much higher level of organization and leadership. A chieftain has power over his clan by virtue of the loyalty sworn to him personally, while a king’s subjects owe him allegiance and are subject to his power and authority, even though they may never have direct contact with the king. His influence extends through his officers and ministers by virtue of his ability to “hunt people.”
If this ability is used for the sake of gathering as much power as possible, to replace G-d, then it is damaging to human society.
The Haftarah tell us that at the End of Days, Esav’s quest for power will no longer be tolerated. When Moshiach comes, one of his tasks will be to send a delegation to Esav and “judge” them. Esav’s descendants cannot be allowed to attempt to wrest power away from G-d, and replace His Will with their own. If people are to serve G-d, to do what is good and right, they must be free. They cannot be “hunted” by the likes of Esav.
Does that mean that Esav will need to be totally destroyed? The Ramban quotes a Midrash that suggests otherwise.
ר ‘ דרשו אלוף עירם, שהוא עתיד לערום תיסוריות למלך המשיח, במהרה יגלה:
And regarding Iram, the rabbis said: he is destined to gather treasures for the Moshiach, let him be revealed soon. (Ramban, Breishit 36)
Iram, the very last of the “chieftains” mentioned in the Parsha, refers to the final incarnation of Esav, during the days of Moshiach. Moshiach will find him a role that utilizes his powers and abilities for the good of mankind. In our society, “gathering treasures” requires the “hunting of minds.” Our entire economy is based on the ability of people to communicate and influence others, be it finance, sales, or the management of large corporations. This sphere can be viewed as yet another frontier to conquer, yet another way to amass power, yet another way to manipulate people. Or, it can be viewed as a way of “gathering treasures for Moshiach” – making the wealth of the entire world available to those who need it.
In the End of Days, Esav will be the financial arm, supporting the voice and vision of his brother Yaakov. The talents of Esav and the talents of Yaakov will be used together for the good of all. Esav will no longer compete for power, neither with Yaakov and nor with G-d. And then, “וְהָיְתָה לַה’ הַמְּלוּכָה” – all kingdom will be Hashem’s.
Copyright © Kira Sirote
In memory of my parents, Peter & Nella Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ואמי מורתי חנה בת זעליג ז”ל