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Esau, post-election, reclaimed from history

December 3, 2016

Surely you have read about me. “Esau the meek” some call me. Esau, the one who had his birthright taken from him not once, but twice, by his brother, Jacob.

I was, they say, a refined man. I don’t deny it. I spent time at home and in camp, and so I had time to think and meditate, to consider the ways of the world. I suppose I was too trusting, a bit naïve. I believed what people told me.

My brother? We never really got along. We did not have much in common. He hunted. I think he enjoying killing. He spent weeks tracking game, stalking it, slicing throats, sending arrow tips into hearts and lungs, and then returned to camp with his trophies draped around his neck or dangling from his forearms, their blood matted on his flesh like red tattoos.

He snarled more than he laughed.

Me? I was the quieter of the two, by far. I always withdrew into myself when he was around, which wasn’t often, but still too much for me. His presence filled a tent. He roared and swore, and dominated by the sound and fury of his voice.

Who was drawn to him? People in camp who didn’t have as much power as they wanted fawned over him. His fellow-hunters shouted their approval at whatever he said. He spoke about dominating other tribes, and how the weak should be cut out of the camp like lame animals from the herd.

He broke things and blamed others for it. He bent words as easily as he broke promises. When he wanted something, he took it, and if he couldn’t get it right away, he figured out how to get it later. When he wanted my father’s blessing intended for me, he pretended to be me! “Are you really my son, Esau?” my father asked, and he said, “I am” {Genesis 27:24}. Alright, our mother helped him in the deceit, but that was his way as well. People were drawn to him, his projection of strength, his roar and charm, and he used them.

He was mean. He spoke to wives, sisters and slave-girls as if they were Divine mistakes at the time of their creation, God’s flaws bettered by the creation of men. And yet he was somehow drawn to them, as if that which was beneath him was his for the taking. He pawed at them, fondled them, and then bragged about it over the fire when men gathered or the hunt was done. I don’t think he made much of a distinction between the animals he hunted and the people he degraded. He saw both as weak.

Me? I thought they would all see through it, except for those in his orbit. Those who were too enthralled to see through the bluster and bombast. Those he charmed. Those he puffed up or put down, always with a smile. So I thought that most of the people would steer clear of him, would rally to my side, would stick up for me.

And it didn’t happen. He took my birthright again, lying through his teeth and false smile. There is a verse that you read in the story about us. It arrives in the text, in the Book of Genesis, chapter 27, just after Jacob told our father in the first deceit that he is me {“I am Esau, your first-born”} and the verse reads, “Isaac [their father] did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like those of his brother, Esau, and so he blessed him” {Genesis 47:23}.

The words haunt me because we did not recognize him for who he was. He deceived not by what he wore but by his clever use of words. Sarcasm poured forth from him, accompanied his laughter, masking the pain that he dispensed. Any mistakes he made were not errors in judgment. They were, he said, the misinterpretation of his words that his enemies used against him, and so they were the real threats.

I – no longer meek – eventually became enraged, so much so that our mother told him to leave immediately and to stay with Uncle Laban in Haran, but I fear he will return, stronger than before, more assured of his invincibility.

I spoke to my friends in camp, those who see him for who and what he is, and they told me of a woman in a distant land that makes fine wine from its numerous vineyards, and boasts of a city intersected by canals. There was a man, just like my brother, a leader of his tribe, who considered himself infallible, equally immune to the meaning of consent, shady and slick in business practices: Shmuel {Silvio} Berlusconi by name. The woman – Puah {Francesca} [bat] Comencini – brought together many, many people [more than a million, in fact, in 2011] in a group she called Ihm Lo Achshav, Amatai?/”If Not Now, When?” [Se Non Ora Quando] and they marched in villages and cities in protest, and they shouted, “We want a country in which it is possible for women to live in dignity!” and nine months later, Berlusconi resigned. I was told that she said to her daughter, “You have to walk every day. You have to walk like a winner. And one day it will be true.” [source: The New Yorker Magazine, 11/28/16 ‘When in Rome – The Women’ page 33]

This gives me hope. This gives me strength. I don’t know what will happen between me and my brother. Perhaps we will see each other again, perhaps not. Perhaps we will hate each other, perhaps we will hug each other.

He is an ever-menacing presence for me, but the mitzvot and the words of Puah {Francesca} [bat] Comencini inspire me. Perhaps men and women in my tribe will shout and march, and Jacob will hear us and he will tremble…as we are now.

The day will come.

Rabbi Elliot J. Holin