Rabbi Fishel Todd
The phrase morat ruach is commonly translated as bitter distress – from the Hebrew word mar, meaning bitter. Rashi however relates morat ruach to a similar-sounding noun meaning rebellion: Esau’s wives openly practiced idolatry with the rebellious and malicious intent of causing maximum pain to Isaac and Rebecca.
Sforno expresses the parents’ feelings dramatically. With reference to a similar usage in Judges 13:5, he renders their attitude and behavior of morat ruach as “a razor and knife that cut short the spirit in the lives of Isaac and Rebecca”.
But in spite of this, Isaac tried to give the blessing to Esau. He did not, as Sforno emphasizes, recognize Esau’s behavior as intrinsically wicked, nor did he protest against the conduct of the wives. It appears that he suffered in silence, continuing to create space for them within his household in the hope that things might presently work out.
What finally caused Isaac to see things differently? According to Sforno, it was his lack of success in giving the Blessing to Esau. He recognized the Hand of G-d in the success and rightness of Jacob’s deception when he took what was intended for Esau, with the words “Yes, let him (Jacob) remain blessed” (27:26). Isaac read his failure as G-d saying that Jacob was worthy to succeed him and that Esau was unworthy to succeed him.
It appears that Isaac and Rebecca brought up their very different sons by creating the space for them to develop as individuals. Jacob was a person who ‘lived in tents’ – understood by the Rabbis as one who studied, and received the Tradition from his father, and later ‘in the School of Shem and Ever’. His source of instruction was interacting with the worthy fathers of the Tradition. In contrast, Esau was a man ‘who knew hunting, a man of the field’ – Isaac accepted that his education came from the Creation; the outside world was his teacher. He would distill the sacred truths from the experiencing reality – at the cost of many false starts and turns. Both approaches are valid – one suits one type of person and the other suits another. Everyone can potentially become the best possible person within his ability range, but not everyone can be a leader and bearer of a tradition.
The issue is when to stand by and when to intervene. The line between letting the individual learn from his/her mistakes, and what is not to be tolerated can be difficult to draw – all the more so in the days before the Torah was given with its explicit prohibition of marriage to a Canaanite (Deut. 7:3).
PARASHAT TOLDOT (HAFTARA) 5772
‘I have been loving you (the Israelites)’ said G-d, ‘ But I hated Esau, and I made his mountains a desolation, and his heritage for the desert serpents.’
‘O Priests! Who scorn my name… you bring abominable bread to my altar! And you bring a blind (defective) animal to my altar… would you bring such a thing as a present to your (Persian) governor?’ (Malachi 1:2-8 – extracts)
The prophesies of Malachi conclude the entire order of the Prophets within the Tenach. Who, however, was Malachi? The actual text gives no clue. Even the Talmud is uncertain of his actual identity. Recognizing that this prophesy was a late message- already after the building of the Second Temple – one opinion claims that Malachi was Ezra; another prefers Mordechai, but most hold that Malachi is his proper name, and that he was a prophet in his own right (Megilla 15a).
From his position in the last line of prophets it is reasonable to assume that he was the latest prophet of all, and this is supported by the text. Like Haggai and Zechariah before him, he lived after the Return from Babylon, but unlike them, he was obviously in action after the rebuilding of the Second Temple, as he criticizes the offerings brought there.
The Prophet Malachi urges that Israel cannot achieve its destiny just because of Esau’s downfall. A nation who accepted upon itself to be G-d’s people must deserve its privileged status amongst Mankind. Thus the Prophet severely chastens the Jews for the hypocrisy of those who, encouraged by their self-serving and insincere priests, can turn the service of G-d into what he patently sees as a farce. How dare they offer their old, crippled, and ill animals to G-d, while at the same time retaining the best for themselves? Would they dare give a something defective as a present to their Persian overlords?
Malachi thus exhorts the Jewish Priests to live up to their calling. They must be the teachers and model personalities. They can indeed spiritually raise the standard of the Jewish people if they set the example – a message that applies to all leaders, both religious and temporal.
Given the above, the actual dating of Malachi is difficult: however he must have been active between the period of the second Temple before the Jews put away their foreign wives under Ezra (implied in Mal. 2:11) – which would suggest his time being between 515 and 450 BCE (Rosenberg, S.G.: The Haftara Cycle  p. 20).
In his opening prophecy, Malachi includes the message that although Esau was Jacob’s brother, G-d loves (the nation of Jacob) and hates Esau. He then proceeds to severely rebuke the very nation that He loves. What has Esau got to do with his rebuke to Jacob?
Rosnenberg (supra) suggests that the connection with Esau refers to the latter’s conduct at very end of the First Temple Period. In the last Babylonian invasion of Judah in 586 BCE, ‘brother’ Edom (identified with Esau in Gen. 36:1) took advantage of Judah’s weaknesses to raid their territory and ravage the countryside. The Book of Isaiah refers to this event with the words: ‘Who is this coming from Edom, in blood-red garments (Isaiah 63:1)’ – indeed, the whole prophesy of Obadiah attacks Esau – very likely for this reason. This cowardly act on the part of a neighboring ‘brother’ rankled with the Jews for hundreds of years. Retribution finally came to ‘Esau’ under the Maccabees when the king, John Hyrcanus conquered Edom in 120 BCE and forcibly converted the population from paganism to Judaism. That ‘victory’ only lasted for a short time: unseemly squabbles between rival Hasmonean families and their supporters for the succession to the throne enabled the son of one such convert (following Josephus) – Herod the Great – to take advantage and, with the backing of Rome, usurp the throne (37 BCE), massacre the Hasmoneans, and firmly lock Judea into the Roman Empire, with all its disastrous consequences.
As Isaac said when he blessed Esau:
‘By the sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve. Yet it will be that when you are aggrieved, you may cast off his yoke from upon your neck.’ (Gen. 27:40)
The Midrash (Gen. Rabba 67:7) understands this verse as follows. If Israel transgresses the Torah and is undeserving of dominion, you will have the right to be aggrieved that he has taken your blessings: then you may cast the (Israelite) yoke from upon your neck.
This principle underlies G-d’s connection between Esau and His severe warnings through Malachi to the descendants of Jacob. He implied that the Jews would only be able to continue to enjoy the His protection and guidance if they behaved as their forefather did. Jacob was a ‘simple man who lived in tents’ (Gen. 25:27) – the word ‘simple’ according to Rashi meaning that he was an honest, straightforward personality. That contrasted with Esau who ‘hunted with his mouth’ (ibid: 28): understood by the same commentator to be someone who makes himself out to exemplify one thing, but in reality exemplifies something very different.
This also links with Malachi’s expression of G-d’s wrath against the Temple offerings. He effectively thundered that they were brought on the cheap – ‘the blind, the lame, the sick’. Even if the origins of such offerings could deceive the people, they could not deceive G-d. G-d knew the difference! And those responsible for allowing such deceptions were in effect going further than Esau. Esau deceived his father as to the nature of his personality (Rashi to ibid: ad loc). The Jews under Malachi attempting to deceive the Creator Himself!
That was the nature of the rebuke – effectively saying that such deceit would be preparing the ground for another rise of Esau’s descendants. If the Israelites behaved as Esau exemplified, Edom would be justified in thinking that the Jews were not worthy of being G-d’s chosen people, and He would support them accordingly.
As a message – without the Temple, prayer replaces offerings (c.f. Hosea 12:3). A Jew should aim to pray in such a way that he is making worthwhile, positive contact with G-d – ‘a valid unblemished high-quality offering’. The author was privileged to watch a certain leading Torah personality pray the Mincha silent prayer. He uttered no sound, yet one could feel the deep sincerity words of his words connecting with Heaven. No physical exercises, agonizing facial distortions, or taking a conspicuously long time to complete the prayer, but a meaningful, honest, communication with G-d and putting his praises, needs, and gratitude before Him.
Rabbi Fishel Todd