Friday, November 12, 2004

Shabbat Shalom: Rav Kook ZT"L on Harnessing the Power of Esau


This week we read the description of the birth of Jacob and Esau, and their respective naming:

"The first one came out reddish, as hairy as a fur coat. They named him Esau. His brother then emerged, his hand grasping Esau's heel. He named him Jacob." [Gen 59:25-6]

Esau's name means made or completed. He emerged from the womb full of strength and energy. Jacob's name refers to the fact that he was holding on to Esau's heel. When Jacob is named a second time, it is also in connection to his relationship with his brother Esau. The night before meeting up with Esau, he struggles with a stranger. This stranger, Esau's guardian angel, tells him:

"Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel. You have contested with (or: ruled over) angels and men. You have won." [Gen 32:29]

What is the inner meaning of Jacob's names? What is the significance of his grasping on to Esau's heel? Why does he have two names?

There are both positive and negative forces in the world. The same is true on an individual level: every person has positive and negative traits. The negative forces are necessary, however; without their power and strength, many good things would lack the energy to be realized.

Esau represents those raw, base forces in the world. His reddish complexion indicated the violent, brutal nature of his personality. Jacob did not prevent Esau from coming into the world. Rather, he held on to his heel, holding him back. The name Jacob refers to this aspect of restraint, reining in the fierce forces.

The goal is not to simply hold back these negative forces, but rather to gain control over them, to utilize them, like a raging waterfall harnessed for the production of electricity. For example, the Talmud tells us that a person with blood-thirsty tendencies should become a ritual slaughterer (a shochet) or a mohel. This higher level is the significance of Jacob's second name, Israel (from the root-word sar, to rule).

The name Jacob is appropriate when the Jews are in the Diaspora. There they serve as a moral measure to somewhat restrict the wild, violent forces in the world. When fully redeemed in the land of Israel, the Jewish people will be able to achieve the higher level of Israel. They will be able to demonstrate how a nation can utilize its
material, physical powers for positive and moral goals.

[Ayn Aya I:68]


Blogger Dennis Day said...

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D Day

4:58 PM  

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