Parashas Toldos

This week’s parashah recounts the birth of Yaakov and Eisav. The Torah describes Eisav as ruddy (Bereishis 25:25). The Midrash comments that Eisav was inclined to bloodshed (Bereishis Rabbah 63:8). The Maggid connects this Midrash with another Midrash about Eisav (Bereishis Rabbah 63:13). Yechezkel 35:1-15 portrays Hashem’s final revenge against Edom, the nation Eisav fathered. There it is written (Yechezkel 35:6): “‘Therefore, as I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘[I swear] that I shall turn you into blood, and blood shall pursue you. While you have hated bloodshed, blood shall pursue you.’” The Midrash asks in wonder: “Eisav hates bloodshed?” The Midrash then answers: “The blood of circumcision and the blood of sacrifices.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash using the following Gemara (Shabbos 156a):
One who is born under the sign of Mars is destined to be a shedder of blood. Said Rav Ashi: “a blood-letter, a murderous bandit, a slaughterer of livestock, or a circumciser.”
Quoting the Akeidas Yitzchak, the Maggid explains that mazel determines general tendencies, but not specific behavior patterns. Thus, although a person born under the sign of Mars will be inevitably drawn to bloodshed, this tendency can be exercised in a variety of ways. Accordingly, an inborn tendency for bloodshed does not negate a person’s free will, for he is free to choose how to channel this tendency. He can exercise it through workaday activities, such as medicinal bloodletting or slaughtering livestock. Alternatively, he can use it for an abominable purpose such as murder. Or – at  the opposite pole – he can use it for a mitzvah purpose such as circumcision. An inborn tendency for bloodshed does not force a person to commit any sin: a person can exercise this tendency and still live a perfectly righteous life.
Eisav was the firstborn. As such, he was in a position to assume the duty of performing the sacrificial service: this duty was originally the calling of the firstborn, before it was given over to the Kohanim and Leviim. Eisav was therefore born under the sign of Mars, giving him a tendency for bloodshed. He was supposed to use this tendency for performing sacrifices. But Eisav despised the sacrificial service. He was, as Rashi on Bereishis 25:32 says, repelled by its many laws, and by the severe penalties – including death in some cases – for failing to observe these laws. So Eisav sold his birthright to Yaakov, casting aside the sacrificial service. This left him to exercise his inborn tendency for bloodshed through murder. He deserved to be punished because he initially had a nobler outlet for his tendency for bloodshed – circumcision and sacrifices – but had rejected it.
This, the Maggid says, is the meaning behind the verse in Yechezkel, as the Midrash interprets it. Yechezkel declares: “‘Therefore, as I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘[I swear] that I shall turn you into blood, and blood shall pursue you. While you have hated bloodshed, blood shall pursue you.’” The phrase “I shall turn you into blood” refers to Eisav’s inborn drive for bloodshed. Eisav might try to point to this inborn drive as an excuse for his misdeeds. Hence the verse continues: “and blood shall pursue you.” Here Hashem tells Eisav that even so he will be punished. The verse then gives the reason: “you have hated bloodshed.” The Midrash explains this well by saying that this refers to the blood of circumcision and sacrifices. Eisav despised the blood of circumcision and sacrifices, and chose instead the path of murder. He thus was a sinner, and Hashem treated him accordingly.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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