One of the most intriguing stories we heard as children, is the sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau. Although the narrative is very descriptive, the story remains ambiguous. Both with regard to the true personalities of the main characters and the legacy that they leave over to their descendents.
Let us begin with the most obvious questions. If Esau is indeed an evil person, why does our patriarch Isaac love him even more so then he loves Jacob? Secondly, how, with a father like Isaac and a grandfather like Abraham, does one end up with an “Esau”? Thirdly, how genuine are the brother’s attempts, at various stages in their lives, at reconciliation?
We all dedicate most of our time and energy, in various professions and occupations, in attempting to make a living. There are varied approaches which generally fall into two categories.
There are those who seek a secure occupation or profession where the exposure to risk is limited. Then there is the entrepreneur who seems to thrive on the risks and challenges inherent in that world. A person can seek either to invest in a secure blue chip property where the risk is low but with only a limited yield. Or one can choose to speculate by transforming a vacant site into something which ultimately can produce a far greater return then his original investment.
So too in our spiritual and religious lives is there the tendency to move into one of these two very different directions. There are those who seek to play it safe and not expose themselves or their children to anything that is hostile or foreign to their innate values and traditions for fear of the risk of being influenced. Then there are those with greater courage, focus and sense of purpose who are willing to interact with outside negative influences, with a view of trying to transform them into a powerful positive force.
It is these two types of personalities that characterise Jacob and Esau, which are inherent inside each and every one of us. Our mission in life as Jews is not only to strive for a secure and limited return on our investment in life, but to learn how to both embrace and manage risk. To expose ourselves to a world that is both foreign and hostile so that we can refine and elevate those negative forces. The ultimate goal is only reached when we can create a reconciliation between these two tendencies in our own lives. Which in the macro world will bring reconciliation between Jacob and Esau.