Our calling is to follow our inner Jacob


Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose

“And the twins struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?” And she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD answered her, “Two nations are in your womb. Two separate peoples shall issue forth from your body. One people shall be mightier than the other. And the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:22-23)

This Shabbat, we once again read the famous tale of Isaac and Rebecca’s twins, Esau and Jacob, Eysav and Yaacov. The elder, Esau, is described in the Torah as a skillful hunter and a man of the field. He appears to be a person with great passions who is guided primarily by his appetites and emotions. Jacob, on the other hand, is portrayed as a mild man who stayed close to the encampment, mellower, more cerebral, and predisposed to employing logic and reason. Of course, our sacred Scripture is presenting us in this tale caricatures, or paradigms for our own self-awareness, a deeper understanding – and potentially – appreciation of others.

The struggle between passion and reason, emotion and logic, is common to many eras, religions and traditions. For example, in Greek thought, Apollo and Dionysus, the children of the chief god Zeus, were constantly at odds. Apollo, the sun god was the god of reason and rationality, while Dionysus was the god of wine, revelry and emotion; the god of unbridled passions.

In our own day and age, the battle between conscious restraint and wanton abandon continues to be waged. When I was a yeshivah high school student, I still recall an “emergency Shiur” hurriedly arranged by the dean of the institution to rail against a Nike commercial that promoted the notion of “Just Do It!” His contention was that this notion was an utter rejection of Judaism, which he categorized as a tradition of discipline, self-control and limitation.  He concluded his impassioned plea with the words: “Don’t Just Do It, Just Jew It!”

As Post-Moderns, we understand each of us has within us a little bit of Esau as well as an element of Jacob. But in the final analysis, it is Jacob, not Esau, who was chosen to be the progenitor of our people. Rationality and reason were intentionally chosen over emotion and passion. Or perhaps more aptly and accurately, reason is selected by the Almighty to rule over passion. As the prophet Malachi teaches in the Haftarah selection for this Shabbat, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord. Yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” (Malachi 1:2 – 3). 

Malachi’s point is not so much that God despises specific Biblical characters, but rather that the Holy One prefers caution and restraint over unchecked instinctive reactions. Thus, it is Jacob and not Esau who is given a place of primacy in Jewish imagination and ultimately becomes the father of the B’nai Yisrael, our ancestors, the Children of Israel.

With restrained passion and passionate restraint, I wish us all a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Carnie Shalom Rose is the Rabbi Bernard Lipnick Senior Rabbinic Chair at Congregation B’nai Amoona and a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association.