Parshat Toldot: Why Isaac Loves Esau

Esau and Jacob: The Embodiments of Isaac

According to Rashi, the word “offspring” in the first verse of our parshah refers to Jacob and Esau, Isaac’s children. Building on our identification of two phases of birth, natural and conscious, we can say that Esau represents Isaac’s ability to give birth naturally, or habitually, without thought or volition, while Jacob is an expression of Isaac’s power to give birth based on conscious volition. Thus, Esau represents Isaac’s habitual, innate self (the sefirot from victory to foundation), while Jacob expresses Isaac’s emotional and intellectual self (thesefirot from loving-kindness to beauty and from wisdom to knowledge, respectively). Still, Jacob came to fully manifest Isaac's intellect only once victorious over Esau’s angel1 who changed his name to Israel יִשׂרָאֵל , the Hebrew permutation of which spells לִי רֹאשׁ , meaning “I have a head,” i.e., Isaac’s head.

In this article, we will concentrate on Isaac’s natural or habitual relationship with Esau. Since Esau was a product of Isaac’s natural or innate ability to give birth, Isaac loved him naturally, even involuntarily (just as every father finds that he has a natural love for his children, which is independent of his conscious will). The Torah states that Isaac loved Esau because Esau always had game that he had hunted in his mouth.


Esau’s offspring are the nation of Edom, whose name in Hebrew (אֶדוֹם ) stems from the same root as imagination (דִמְיוֹן ). The natural world, in its wild state is likened to our inbred but unruly imagination. Before it is tamed by the wisdom of the Torah, our imagination is regarded as the instrument of the evil inclination. But, as explained by the Arizal, the good and evil inclinations are actually, at their outset, two holy angels; two different forces in the psyche. In Chassidic teachings it is explained that the evil inclination keeps a baby alive by keeping the memory of danger alive. Without an evil inclination, which at first is focused on survival alone, a baby would time and again put its hand into a flame, unable to imagine the consequence of its actions. While Esau represents our inbred power to imagine the physical consequences of our actions, it is only through the study of Torah that we become able to imagine the consequences of our actions from a spiritual perspective—the special gift of Jacob.

It is not surprising therefore that Isaac hoped that Esau would take his place beside him in thepartzuf of the four natural elements, which we described earlier and which is the basis for the human representation of the Divine chariot. Let us explain this in a bit more detail.

Esau, Earth, and Humility

The Divine chariot, which Ezekiel describes in the first chapter of his book, is the instrument upon which the Almighty rides, i.e., moves from one expression to the next. The manner in which God rides the Divine chariot can be likened to the way in which the Creator expresses Himself through nature. Rectified and perfected nature (through the physical mitzvotperformed by the people of Israel) can reach a state in which it is exactly aligned with the will of the Creator. Likewise, a human being can bring his natural faculties to a state in which they perfectly reflect the will of the Almighty. The natural faculties of man correspond to the four basic elements of antiquity: fire, air, water, and earth.

In the Jewish people, the three patriarchs represent the first three of these elements and hence the first three of these natural faculties. Isaac hoped that Esau would represent the fourth, which corresponds to earth and to the natural Jewish faculty of humility or lowliness. But, though Esau does indeed connect with the earth thus giving Isaac hope that he would complete the rectification of Cain and Noah who are both described as men of the earth,2 in the end Esau was unsuccessful and bred false humility,3 which later found its way into the teachings of Jesus and from there into Christianity.4 Instead, only many generations after Esau would there be a true embodiment of the element of earth in King David, the lowliest of all men.5 Thus, the complete model of the natural elements and their Jewish archetypes is:





Esau as part of the Divine chariot

But, if we add Esau to the three patriarchs, we find that their combined numerical value is 1014: אַבְרָהָׂם יִצְחָק יַעֲקֹב עֵשָׂו = 1014. 1014 is also 3 times the product of God’s essential Name, Havayah י־הוה and “one” (אֶחָד ), the two words which are the essence of monotheism: “God is one.”

Furthermore, Abraham was the 20th generation of mankind, Isaac was the 21st, and Jacob the 22nd. Together their sum is 63, which together with another 22 for Esau (who was Jacob’s twin and therefore also the 22nd generation from Adam) we get 85, which is the numerical value of “mouth” (פֶּה ). The Arizal divides 85, the numerical value of “mouth” into 63 and 22. 63 is the filling of Havayah that equals 63 (pronounced, sagסַג , in Hebrew) and represents the mouth of the mother principle, or the sefirah of understanding. 22 is of course the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet.6

Among the organs of the body, the mouth corresponds to the sefirah of kingdom; during speech it emits air and is thus the sefirah of understanding (air) expressing itself through thesefirah of kingdom, which corresponds to the earth element.

Isaac builds Esau

We mentioned above that would Esau have rectified himself as Isaac had hoped, he would have been the archetypal soul corresponding to the element of earth.7 In nature, the building of the sefirah of kingdom, the building of the earth, is through the power of might represented by the fire element. In Kabbalistic and Chassidic teachings it is explained that Ecclesiastes’ saying that “everything comes from earth [not the planet, but the element] and everything returns to earth”8 applies even to the sun itself. In any event, this is the reason that Isaac, who represents the element of fire, loves and cherishes his son Esau and is always trying to help him build himself, just as fire seeks to build the earth.

The four elements and the four archetypal souls that represent them also correspond to the four letters of God’s essential Name, Havayah, as follows:

letter of Havayah


archetypal soul













Esau and Tefilin According to Rabbeinu Tam

But, looking at the final column of our last table, we see that it is out of chronological order, since Esau was born before Jacob. If we write the corresponding letters of Havayah in their chronological order, we will get yud-hei-hei-vav (יההו ), one of the 12 possible permutations of the Name, Havayah. This particular permutation is related to the order of the Torah passages mentioning tefilin9 as they should be written on the tefilin scroll according toRabbeinu Tam.10 Indeed, Rabbeinu Tam’s first name was Jacob and his connotation Tam, which means “earnest,” comes from the verse: “And Jacob was an earnest man….”11 So it turns out that we have a special segulah (charm) for tikun olam, as it is dependent on the rectification of Esau the lost Jewish soul (Esau was born to a mother and father, Rivkah and Isaac, who were both righteous): donning the tefilin of Rabbeinu Tam.

Tefilin made according to Rashi strengthen Judaism from the inside, but the tefilin made according to Rabbeinu Tam rectify our relationship with the nations of the world. They enable us to influence them, to be a “light unto the nations”12 and to help usher in the era which is described by the verse: “At that time, I will transform all nations to speak clearly to call upon God and to worship Him together.” All this is related to the donning of the additional pair oftefilin called the tefilin of Rabbeinu Tam.

The order of the redemption and the ascension of the Mashiach includes five stages that are alluded to in the verse: “Behold, my servant [the Mashiach] will [1] prosper, he will be [2] raised and [3] lifted up and [4] exalted, [5] greatly.”13 In the order of the redemption, the rectification of the nations of the worlds is the fifth and highest stage referred to in the word “greatly” (מְאֹד ) which permuted spells the word “Adam” (אָדָם ), hinting to the rectification of all mankind. The fourth stage involves the gathering of the exiles of the Jewish people. These two final stages thus correspond to the tefilin of Rabbeinu Tam (the fifth stage) and thetefilin of Rashi (the fourth stage).

(Based on the Daily Dvar Torah from Monday, 25th Cheshvan, 5768 – November 6, 2007)

1. Genesis 32:25-30.

2. Ibid. 4:2 and 9:20.

3. The exact terminology is lowliness, but for the interest of relating this faculty with something that is well known, we sometimes use humility and lowliness interchangeably. See also note 5.

4. This is the reason that the sages identify the Christianity as the spiritual inheritors of Edom, to the point of identifying Christianity with Esau.

5. King David says about himself: “And I will be lowly in my own eyes” (2 Samuel 6:22). Moshe Rabbeinu is described by the Torah as “the most humble of all men” (Numbers 12:3). As explained in Chassidut, one cannot reflect upon one’s own humility, whereas lowliness is the product of true self reflection. That is why Moshe did not affirm his own humility (he only expressed it rhetorically as "what are we?") while David was able to reflect in words on his lowliness. For more on Moshe and David as the archetypes of humility and lowliness, the key to psychological health, see the first article in our Hebrew volume Lev Lada’at.

6. 63 itself divides into 22, Jacob and Esau’s generation and 41—the numerical value of “mother” אם . 41 further divides into 22, as above, and 19, the numerical value of “Eve” חוה , the archetypal mother figure, “the mother of all life.”

7. There is an even earlier correspondence of the elements with archetypal souls in which Abraham corresponds to water, Efron the Hittite to earth (his name in Hebrew עפרון comes from the word for earth, עפר ), and the two aspects of Sarah alluded to in the verse: “The life of Sarah was… the years of the life of Sarah,” correspond to fire (holiness) and air (life).

8. Ecclesiastes 3:20.

9. There are four readings in the Five Books of Moses that mention the mitzvah of tefilin. All four are inscribed on the parchment that goes into the head tefilin and on the four parchments that go in the hand tefilin. They are: Exodus 13:1-10, Ibid. 13:11-16, Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Ibid. 11:13-21.

10. There is a halachic dispute between Rashi and his grandson, Rabbeinu Tam, as to the order in which the Torah readings inscribed on the parchment in the tefilin should be written. According to Rashi, one writes the readings in the order that they appear in the Torah itself. According to Rabbeinu Tam , the two readings that start with the word והיה (Exodus 13:11-16 and Deuteronomy 11:13-21), another permutation of Havayah, should be inscribed in juxtaposition between the other two.

11. Genesis 25:27.

12. Isaiah 42:6.

13. Ibid. 52:13.

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