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He Was What He Wasn’t
By Rabbi Label Lam
And the first one emerged ruddy; he was completely like a coat of hair, and they named (called) him Eisav. (Breishis 25:25)
…and they named him Esau: They all called him this because he was complete (עָשׂוּי) [lit., made,] and fully developed with hair, like one many years old.
Ironically, it’s hunting season again. Perhaps it’s a classic case of “Mida Kneged Mida” – “Measure for Measure”, that every year at this time for the past 3333 years we find ourselves stalking Eisav to discover what went so terribly wrong. Here we have a talented and charismatic individual born into the best possible family imaginable and yet he earns the title RASHA- wicked!
How could that have happened?! We are like forensic scientists at a crime scene, with all the yellow police tape and flashing lights, looking for the smallest of clues. How did this happen?
This year something occurred to me from the words of Rashi. Since the verse states that “they called his name Eisav” Rashi tells us his name was given by everybody. How does that work? For certain his father Yitzchok gave him his name at the Bris but all that looked at him understood how appropriate that name was and they called him Eisav, almost as a nickname or a descriptive title.
It seems the name Eisav not only described him but his shaped his character and his destiny. He saw himself as complete without needing any improvement or development. That’s a huge problem by itself. Nobody is perfect. In life we fail our way to success. The most successful person is not the one who makes the fewest mistakes but the one who learns the most from his mistakes. What if a person cannot afford to make mistakes!? If one can’t afford to risk failing then he can’t hope to succeed either.
When HASHEM made man he first declared, “Let us make man in our image!” To whom was HASHEM speaking and with whom was HASHEM consulting?! One answer is that HASHEM was inviting all the heavens and earth to plug into and contribute to the creation of mankind. An alternative approach is that HASHEM was speaking to man. Man needs to participate in his own making by improving himself.
I once saw that someone wrote, “Self-esteem is the reputation you have with yourself!” If in fact Eisav had this impression of his self as already made and complete, then he has a big problem. Now that problem is compounded by another seemingly small detail that Rashi spells out.
By way of introduction though let’s describe the phenomenon first. I know of a few cases where a child became aware that they were a genius, and they actually were. In each of those situations the child and later the adult grossly under achieved. Why? They could not take risks since their identity was wrapped up in being a genius. They could only lose by taking action. So they played the game of life cautiously.
For this reason it’s important because it may even prove harmful to praise children for being cute or brilliant because while those are gifts from HASHEM that they can be grateful for it does not represent a behavior that can be replicated. Tell a child or an adult, “It looks like you put a lot of effort into this” and that’s really encouraging.
The simple fact that “everyone called him Eisav” locked him in to his identity. He became a slave to the image he inherited. Everything he did was to impress and please his followers. He devoted the entirety of his life painting an external mirror and avoiding inner reflection, to prove to the world that he was what he wasn’t.