Esau Is Not Rejected

This sheet on Deuteronomy 2 was written by Jonathan Sacks for 929 and can also be found here

Note the Bible’s attitude to Esau and his descendants. Moses commands; ‘Do not hate an Edomite [a descendant of Esau], for he is your brother’ (Deut. 23:7).

God instructs the Israelites: “You are passing by the borders of your brothers, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. Although they fear you, be very careful not to provoke them. I will not give you even one foot of their land, since I have given Mount Seir as Esau’s inheritance. (Deut. 2:4–5)

Something of deep consequence is being intimated here. The choice of Jacob does not mean the rejection of Esau. Esau is not chosen, but neither is he rejected. He too will have his blessing, his heritage, his land. He too will have children who become kings, who will rule and not be ruled. Not accidentally are our sympathies drawn to him, as if to say: not all are chosen for the rigours, spiritual and existential, of the Abrahamic covenant, but each has his or her place in the scheme of things, each has his or her virtues, talents, gifts.

Each is precious in the eyes of God.

To be secure in my relationship with God does not depend on negating the possibility that others too may have a relationship with him. Jacob was loved by his mother, Esau by his father; but what of God, who is neither father nor mother but both and more than both? We can only know our own relationships; we can never know another’s. Am I loved more than my brothers or sisters? Less? Once asked, the question must lead to sibling rivalry, but it is the wrong question and should not be asked. Love is not quantifiable: not a matter of more or less. Jacob is Jacob, heir to the covenant. Esau is Esau, with his own heritage and blessing. The people of the covenant must wrestle, as did Jacob, in the depths of the soul
to discover the face, the name and the blessing that is theirs.

Before Jacob could be at peace with Esau and with himself, he had to overcome mimetic desire, abandon sibling rivalry and learn that he was not Esau but Israel – one who wrestles with God and never lets go.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks z"k (1948-2020) was the former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, and the International 929 president.

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