By: HaRav Menashe Sasson
Reporting from Jerusalem, Israel
Published in the U.S.A.
In Parashat Toledot, which, loosely translated, means “history,” “generations” or “born of,” we read the story of Ribka’s pregnancy with the twins Ya’akob and Esav, from whom two great nations descended. Ya’akob, as we know, was righteous. Esav, on the other hand, was the manifestation of idolatry and other evils.
The Torah then tells us: “And the children [Ya’akob and Esav] struggled in her [Ribka’s] womb,” Bereshit 25:22, and that HaShem told Ribka that “Two nations are in your womb, Two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older [Esav] shall serve the younger [Ya’akob].” Id., 25:23. There is also Midrash halakhah that states, “It is a well-known rule that Esav hates Ya’akob.” Sifrei, Bamidbar 69. The implication of the clash between Ya’akob and Esav, which began in the womb, and the Midrash that Esav hates Ya’akob, is clear: the battle between good and evil will persist for a very long time.
Ya’akob’s name was later changed by HaShem to “Yisra’el.” Your name shall no longer be Ya’akob, but [rather, you will be known as] Yisra’el.” Bereshit 32:29. Ya’akob’s descendants are the Jewish People, the nation of Yisra’el.
The descendants of Esav, on the other hand, are associated with the color “red.” “The first one emerged [was born] red, like a hairy mantle all over, so they named him Esav. Then his brother emerged [was born], holding on to the heel of Esav; so they named him Ya’akob.” Bereshit 25:25-26. Parasha Toledot also tells us that Esav liked a certain type of red stew. “And Esav said to Jacob, ‘Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished’ — which is why he was named Edom.” Bereshit 25:30. In Hebrew, the word “red” is “edom.” Thus, the descendants of Esav are known as the nation of Edom. Esav had a son Eliphaz. Eliphaz had a son, Esav’s grandson, Amalek.
Throughout history, the Amalekites and their descendants have sought to commit genocide against the Jewish people. The spiritual descendants of Esav, the Amalekites, have included: Haman, in the Book of Esther (which recounts events which occurred in modern-day Iran); the ancient Romans; Nazis; and Stalinists.
According to tradition, the modern-day descendants of Esav-Edom are mostly Western Europeans, more specifically, Christians, some of whom ultimately emigrated to, and founded, the United States. Interestingly, the United States flag and the flags of many European countries contain the color red, the color of Esav-Edom.
Are all, or even a majority of, Europeans, Americans, or Christians, Amalekites who hate Ya’akob? That is, do they hate the Jewish People? No. Of course not. Many have a deep love of the Jewish People and have never held — or even considered holding — Amalekite beliefs. In fact, the founders of the United States were deeply committed to Tanakh and the United States has been a staunch ally of the State of Israel, ever since the State of Israel was established in 1948. That does not, however, change the fact that, Biblically, members born into the Christian faith are the spiritual descendants of Esav-Edom.
Notwithstanding this spiritual legacy, HaShem gave each person free-will, that is, the ability (and responsibility) to make moral choices and decisions. Thus, a person is not irrevocably bound to his or her spiritual heritage. The purpose of Torah is not to confine an individual to his spiritual heritage, but rather, to assist each individual — Jew and non-Jew alike — in achieving his innate potential through the exercise of free-will.
Ramban, Commentary on the Torah, Bereshit at 169, quoting Tanchuma Lech Lecha 9a.
As we learned four weeks ago, in Parasha Noach, HaShem made a promise to never again bring upon the earth a flood that is intended to destroy the entire world, as He did when the world was exceedingly corrupt in Noach’s time. Rather, HaShem gave the world the Seven Laws of Noach, which all the peoples of the world were commanded to follow.
In about three months, we will read Parasha Yitro, which relates the giving of the Torah to the Jewish People at Mount Sinai.
The result of these two events, the giving of the Seven Laws of Noach and the Giving of the Torah to the Jewish People, means that there is only one true “religion.” That true religion is the Torah, which, on a macro level, creates two classes of people: Jews and Noahides. Thus, by definition, all other religions are religions which reject Torah and which, therefore, constitute idolatry.
So, what is a spiritual descendant of Esav-Edom to do? It’s simple: Persons who were not born to a Jewish mother, that is, persons who are not Jewish, should seek out an Orthodox rabbi who can assist them in learning, and living in accordance with, the Seven Laws of Noach. Alternatively, those who were not born to a Jewish mother may convert to Judaism; however, there is no requirement for them to do so.
In a similar vein, persons who were born to a Jewish mother, thus making them Jewish, but who have not yet had an opportunity to learn Torah and Halakha (Jewish Law) need only to embrace Judaism by seeking out an Orthodox rabbi and to begin learning and practicing Judaism.
It’s not easy to critically evaluate beliefs that a person has, for their entire life, assumed to be true; nor is it easy to so significantly change one’s life, especially considering the impact such change is likely to have on personal and familial relationships. This, however, is the high cost of ultimate truth.
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