Faith and Ethics

“This” as Opposed to “I”

In an article for Toldot, 5773, Rabbi Cherki discusses the different natural inclinations of Jacob and Esau and how Jacob learned to combine heaven and earth.

The duality that appears in the family of the Patriarchs with the birth of the twins Jacob and Esau raises a question about the nature of the nation of Israel: Could it be that the nation suffers from a fault in its very essence, since it descended from only one of the twins while the other one was rejected? The fact that Esau is missing from the structure of the nation would seem to imply that Jacob was left without the vital forces which come to fruition in his brother’s character. The nation of Israel remained physically weak, and its main strength is its mouth. “The voice is the voice of Jacob” [Genesis 27:22]. Esau, on the other hand, with “the hands of Esau” [ibid], conquers the worlds of politics and culture without any opposition, but also without the moral partnership of the “simple man, a dweller of tents” [25:27]. This polarization between the spiritual and the physical, between this world and the world to come, seems to contradict the vision of a future world of unity and harmony which is part of our faith in the uniqueness of G-d.

Our Matriarch Rebecca felt the tension between the two approaches during her pregnancy. “And the two sons agitated inside her, and she said: if that is the case, why am I like this? (“Lama zeh anochi“). So she went to consult with G-d.” [25:22]. As Rashi writes, “They fought over the inheritance of two worlds.” Each one wanted to have possession of both worlds (Maharal). But since Esau was naturally inclined towards the current world, his main worry was that he would not receive the benefits of the world to come, and his main effort was therefore an attempt to enter into the world to come. And indeed Esau-Edom-Rome built up an entire theology with the sole purpose of rescuing the soul from becoming lost to oblivion. The children of Jacob, on the other hand, were confident as a result of their natural inclination that they had a portion in the world to come, and their main desire was to achieve political power in the existing world.

Rebecca was not aware that she had two children. Therefore, with her holy insight, she found it difficult to explain the unique Divine phenomenon when she ascribed it to just one child. Perhaps he was “I” – “Anochi” – the name describing the Holy One, Blessed be He, in the world to come, when He can be encountered face to face. Or perhaps he was “this” = “zeh” – the name of the Holy One, Blessed be He, as the G-d of this world. She therefore went to consult with G-d, asking to be told exactly which aspect of deity was relevant for the child. The answer was, “There are two nations in your womb” [25:23]. One belongs to zeh and the other belongs to Anochi.”

When Esau despairs of finding G-d, when he is “weary” from sinning (see 25:30), Jacob asks to buy his portion of this world from him in return for “this red material” [25:30]. Esau precedes his disciple Nietzsche by saying, “Behold, I am going to die” [25:32] – the concept of the Divine has died for him – and the result is, “why do I need this – zeh, this world?” [ibid]. He relinquishes any claims that he has.

As a result of Jacob’s efforts to take possession of the earthly level in addition to his natural spiritual talents, he creates a unique synthesis of the voice of Jacob and the hands of Esau, and he is transformed into “Israel” – a prince of G-d – who brings the vision of unity back to the world. Many years later in a dream, Jacob will see that he has the ability to join the different ends of the world together – in a ladder which links the heaven and the earth. Then he will be able to say, “G-d is here in ‘this place’ (zeh), and also in ‘I’ (Anochi)…” [28:16].

Source: “AS SHABBAT APPROACHES” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato, Toldot 5773, Volume 1449. (Zomet Institute) See:

Rabbi Oury Cherki

Rav Oury Cherki was born in Algeria in 1959 and grew up in France, and he made Aliyah in 1972. He studied at Merkaz Harav Yeshiva, which was founded by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook. He performed his military service in the artillery branch of the IDF. He studied with Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, Rav Yehuda Leon Ashkenazi (Manitou), Rav Shlomo Binyamin and Achlag. Rav Cherki heads the Israeli department of Machon Meir, and he is the Director of Brit Olam - the Noahide World Center. He teaches in many places throughout Israel. Rav Cherki is the spiritual leader of the "Beth Yehuda" community in Kiryat Moshe (Jerusalem). He has written many books on Jewish thought and philosophy.

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