The Eternal Hatred: Lessons from Yaakov and Esau

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

“And Esau ran to meet him, and he embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.” (Bereshis 33:4)

וַיָּ֨רׇץ עֵשָׂ֤ו לִקְרָאתוֹ֙ וַֽיְחַבְּקֵ֔הוּ וַיִּפֹּ֥ל עַל־צַוָּארָ֖ו וַׄיִּׄשָּׁׄקֵ֑ׄהׄוּׄ וַיִּבְכּֽוּ׃

רשי  “ויחבקהו. נִתְגַּלְגְּלוּ רַחֲמָיו, כְּשֶׁרָאָהוּ מִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה כָּל הִשְׁתַּחֲוָאוֹת הַלָּלוּ: וישקהו. נָקוּד עָלָיו; וְיֵשׁ חוֹלְקִין בַּדָּבָר הַזֶּה בַּבָּרַיְתָא דְּסִפְרֵי, יֵשׁ שֶׁדָּרְשׁוּ נְקֻדָּה זוֹ שֶׁלֹּא נְשָׁקוֹ בְּכָל לִבּוֹ, אָמַר רַבִּי שִׁמְעוֹן בֶּן יוֹחַאי, הֲלָכָה הִיא בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁעֵשָׂו שׂוֹנֵא לְיַעֲקֹב, אֶלָּא שֶׁנִּכְמְרוּ רַחֲמָיו בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה וּנְשָׁקוֹ בְּכָל לִבּוֹ (ספרי במדבר):

Rashi, of blessed memory, wrote regarding the verse “And he kissed him” that there are dots above the word in the Torah text, and the dots teaches that Esau did not kiss Yaakov with his whole heart, and Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai said, “It is a well-known (Halacha ) law that Esau hated Yaakov, but his mercy was aroused at that moment and he kissed him with his whole heart.”

The question is asked: Why did Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai say הלכה היא בידוע “It is a law” that Esau hated Yaakov? Why not say “It is a fact” or “reality” that Esau hated Yaakov? What does the term הלכה “law” signify here?

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai teaches that Esau’s hatred for Yaakov is not something fleeting or situational; it is inherent and unchanging. He did not say “fact” or “reality” because facts and realities can transform and become altered over time. Yet a “law” is constant—unmoving. This hatred is not a temporary phenomenon but rather an eternal law, like the immutability of the Torah.

That is why Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says it is a “well-known law”—to stress that this hatred is the underlying and genuine law. The image that Esau did not hate Yaakov wholeheartedly is false. The genuine underlying law and convention is that Esau hates Yaakov.

Rabbi Menachem Zemba Hy”d explained that while Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai as a principle sought rationale behind Torah verses (דורש טעם דקרא), here he says there is none. Esau’s hatred is a law—an inexplicable phenomenon not contingent on circumstances. Like antisemitism, which adheres to no reason—arising alternately when Jews are powerful or marginalized and in all situations.

This ancient hatred between Yaakov and Esau persists today in the relationship between the descendants of Yaakov and Esau. The Simchat Torah/October Hamas pogrom’s battle cry was “Slaughter the Jews!” Though the world saw, hardly any Christian leaders clearly condemned it. A tide of antisemitism has risen in Europe, the USA, Australia and beyond. And to our disappointment, it deeply affects even the Church.

Although there were a number of priests who spoke up against the antisemitism of the Shoah, the Church as a body failed to defend the Jews of Europe adequately at the time. In the 1960’s they made some amends via the Second Vatican Council, which rejected their false basis for antisemitism. However problematic equivocations persist, evinced by the need for Italian rabbis to pen a recent letter decrying false equivalences between Hamas victims and jailed terrorists. They claim that decades of dialogue crumble when Jews face attack, slaughter and pogrom, and this is met, not with solidarity but a ridiculous cacophony of diplomatic ‘acrobatics’.

Herewith is a translated copy of The letter (dated 23.11) of the Italian Rabbinical Council:

Dear Rabbis,

A few minutes ago we sent a press release on what happened yesterday with the Pope and more generally on the relationship with the Church. We send it to you for your information. 

Yesterday, the Pope’s meeting with the relatives of the hostages abducted by Hamas, which had been requested for some time and always postponed, was finally possible because it was followed by a meeting with relatives of Palestinian prisoners in Israel, as reported by the Pope, putting on the same level innocent people torn from families with people often detained for very serious acts of terrorism. And immediately afterward the Pope publicly accused both sides of terrorism. These high-level positions follow problematic statements by illustrious representatives of the Church in which there is no trace of a condemnation of Hamas’ aggression or, in the name of supposed impartiality, the aggressor and the attacked are put on the same level.

We wonder what decades of Jewish-Christian dialogue have been used for, talking about friendship and fraternity, if then, in reality, when there is someone who tries to exterminate the Jews, instead of receiving expressions of closeness and understanding, the response is that of diplomatic acrobatics, balancing acts and icy equidistance which is certainly equidistance but is not fair.

However, Jewish history also saw peaceful eras, not only in Yaakov’s time as Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says here Esau’s compassion swelled, leading to sincere fraternal reconciliation, but also in other golden eras when Jews have lived in peace with their neighbors.

So we retain hope but we are constantly mindful and wherever we live however comfortable we are in our surroundings, we must never never forget this particular Halacha.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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