The Vort – Esav's Cry – Toldot

On a pshat level, the story of Yaakov, Eisav and the birthright presents the ethically sensitive reader with many questions. Eisav is foolish and irresponsible, but without the classic rabbinic midrashim that demonize him, does he truly deserve to have his birthright stolen? Yaakov is clever and crafty, but isn’t there a hint of duplicity and dishonesty in his behavior?
A fascinating midrash from Bereishit Rabba deals with this question, in a slightly indirect way. It says (Bereishit Rabba 67:4) – Anyone who says that God is overly merciful angers God. What is the proof? When Eisav learns what Yaakov has done to him, he lets out a loud and bitter cry – “va’yitzak tza’akah g’dolah u’mara.” Those words appear exactly one other time in Tanach, in the story of Purim. Mordechai, learning about the oppression and evil that has befallen the Jews, lets out the same cry (Esther 4:1) “va’yitzak tza’akah g’dolah u’mara” – and he let out a loud and bitter cry.
Call it midah k’negged midah, call it karmah, call it payback: the message is clear. Yaakov’s actions, even if justified, caused immense suffering. That suffering had power, and it came back to Yaakov. After thousands of years, it’s the same bitter cry.
In the midrashic worldview, Esav and his descendants represented great evil: the Jews archenemy Amalek comes from Esav, as does the oppressive Roman Empire. However, Chazal (the rabbis) recognize their own part of that evil. In the Jewish worldview, suffering in the world is not something foreign or alien. It is not the work of the devils and ghosts. It is undeniably human. In spite of all the suffering caused to them at the hands of the Romans, Chazal are able to see through their own pain and hear that the sounds of the suffering are the same. These same bitter cries, of Eisav, of Mordechai, continue to echo through the world today. Let us have the wisdom and strength to hear them and recognize them as our own. Shabbat shalom.

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