Parshat Toldot

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וַיִּגְדְּלוּ הַנְּעָרִים וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו אִישׁ יֹדֵעַ צַיִד אִישׁ שָׂדֶה וְיַעֲקֹב אִישׁ תָּם יֹשֵׁב אֹהָלִים

And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who knew how to hunta man of the field … whereas Jacob was a simple man, dwelling in tents. Genesis 25:27

Who knew how to hunt: [He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father … — Rashi on the verse

The story of the sibling rivalry of Jacob and Esau (Yaakov and Eisav) is one we are all familiar with from childhood. Eisav, the red-haired hunter with the hot temper, Yaakov the quiet student with a trick or two up his sleeve, lentil stew and birthrights, goat skins and blessings are all involved in this fascinating story.

When we look at the two main protagonists, we automatically associate Eisav with the class bully, the street-smart tough guy who gets what he wants by whatever means necessary, and Yaakov with the book-smart kid who always has his hand up with the correct answers.

But it would be a mistake to think of Yaakov as naïve. Yes, he was the better behaved of the two brothers, and yes he stayed far from Eisav’s violent and immoral lifestyle, but when the Torah describes him as “ish Tam” a simple man, the meaning is far from naïve.

Simple here means that he was innocent, without guile and without deception — he was honourable, reputable and sincere. He was however not naïve and was able to stand up for himself even when dealing with unscrupulous and unprincipled individuals like his brother Eisav and his uncle Lavan. (The story of Yaakov’s seeming deception over Isaac’s blessings is an interesting departure from his honest nature and needs to be discussed separately.)

Innocence was once a virtue wished upon the youth. Their childish lack of understanding of innuendo and double entendre was something to cherish. Sadly that has changed. As parents sneak young kids into the cinema and ignore the age restrictions their children slowly lose their innocence. We allow them television in their bedrooms and internet on their phones and we are surprised when suddenly they are no longer children. Recent studies show over forty per cent of children are being exposed to explicit imagery on a regular basis as they innocently surf the web. Parents who regularly rely on their children for free tech support are the very ones expected to police the same children’s internet habits. Even normal daytime TV has a staggering effect on the desensitising of our youth to what they see. Singers and artists who know they are role models for the youth dress as provocatively as the law allows them, and compose lyrics which shun any sense of commitment to society or to stable relationships. The Hollywood stars whom our young people idolise marry and divorce as if there is no tomorrow and certainly no need to try and make a relationship succeed.

So, there goes the innocence. That is Eisav.

How do we reclaim Yaakov? How do we get back to a situation where our children can play innocently without being subject to the immodesty and desensitisation of the world around them? The answer is simple, but the application is more difficult. We all need to be that much more aware of what our eyes are seeing. Just as we ensure the food we eat is kosher, healthy and nutritional, so we must ensure that the things we and our children see and hear are also kosher, healthy and nutritional. Slowly, slowly we can try to change the tide so that modesty and innocence are once again considered virtues, and violence and immorality are relegated to where they belong. We may be unable to change the world, but we can certainly have an effect on our own families and friends.

Yaakov fears Eisav for many years, but eventually goes to battle with his angel, whom he vanquishes, and eventually sends Eisav on his way, remaining with his family intact. Let’s try to do battle with that angel of Eisav that we see all around us on billboards and on MTV, in novels and magazines, so that we can remain with our families intact, wholesome and innocent … “simple” in the Yaakov sense of the word. Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Zalman Lent


Rabbi Zalman Lent is a Community Rabbi in Dublin and  director of  Chabad of Ireland.

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