Toldos: Honor Your Parents... Even Eisav Did.
וַיֵּצֵ֥א יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב מִבְּאֵ֣ר שָׁ֑בַע וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ חָרָֽנָה:
"Yaakov left Be'er Sheva and went to Charan." (Bereishit 28:10)
The Gemara in Megilla (17a) teaches that Yosef disappeared from his father for twenty-two years "mida k'neged mida," corresponding to the twenty-two years that Yaakov did not honor his parents while he was in Lavan's house. (The Gemara in Megillah 16b teaches that Yaakov was not punished for the fourteen years he spent learning in Yeshivas Shem V'Ever as Rabba said in the name of Rav Shmuel Bar Marta "The study of Torah is greater than honoring parents" - see also Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 240:13)
The Mitzva of Kibbud Av V'Eim is certainly one of great importance.
"Honor your father and your mother. You will then live long on the land that G‑d your L-rd is giving you." (Shemos 20:12)
The Gemara in Shabbos (127a) teaches "These matters are those that a man eats their fruits in this world and their principal is retained for him in the World to Come. And these are they: Honoring one's father and mother…"
But can we truly consider Yaakov’s failure to perform Kibbud Av V'Eim a sin? Yaakov fled from Eisav to save his life and was following his mothers instructions in doing so. In addition, it was Yitzchak who told Yaakov to go to Padan Aram to find a wife. Was his absence not a result of him listening to his parents wishes?
In contrast to Yaakov, Chazal are effusive in their praise of Eisav regarding the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim.
Rav Shimon Ben Gamliel said: All my lifetime I tended to my father, yet I did not do for him a hundredth part of the service Eisav did for his father. I used to wait upon my father in soiled garments and go out into the streets in cleaned ones, but when Eisav waited on his father he did so in royal robes. “For nothing but royal robes befits my father's honor." (Bereishis Rabbah 65:15)
"Rav Nechunia taught in the name of Rav Tanchum bar Yudan: Who caused Yaakov's honor to be withheld in this world? The great honor that Esav showed for his father… Esav said: 'My father is worthy of using royal garments.'" (Pesikta Rabbati 23)
In Devarim (2:2-5), Hashem tells Klal Yisrael to bypass the nation of Edom. "You shall not provoke them, for I will not give you of their land...because I have given Mount Seir to Eisav as an inheritance." The Medrash in Devarim Rabbah (1:17) says that Eisav (later in the form of Rome) was being rewarded for honoring his parents. Rabbi Yehudah bar Sima said: Hashem saw Eisav destroying His Temple and remained silent... because Eisav still deserves reward for honoring his parents... The Holy One, blessed be He, said: "I am paying Eisav his dues."
Eisav was a murderer and yet in the merit of his Kibbud Av V'Eim he is accorded tremendous honor. Given the nature of of Yaakov’s righteousness and the wicked ways of Eisav, how are we to understand this contrast when it comes to Kibbud Av V'Eim?
Furthermore, while Chazal make it clear that Eisav was exemplary in honoring his father there are some indications that he was somewhat less than stellar in this arena.
וַיְהִ֤י עֵשָׂו֙ בֶּן־אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֔ה וַיִּקַּ֤ח אִשָּׁה֙ אֶת־יְהוּדִ֔ית בַּת־בְּאֵרִ֖י הַֽחִתִּ֑י וְאֶת־בָּ֣שְׂמַ֔ת בַּת־אֵילֹ֖ן הַֽחִתִּֽי: וַתִּֽהְיֶ֖יןָ מֹ֣רַת ר֑וּחַ לְיִצְחָ֖ק וּלְרִבְקָֽה:
“And Esau was forty years old, and he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a vexation of the spirit to Isaac and to Rebecca.” (Bereishis 26:34,35)
Why does the Torah tell us how old Eisav was when he married? Rashi explains:
בן ארבעים שנה: עשו היה נמשל לחזיר, שנאמר (תהלים פ יד) יכרסמנה חזיר מיער, החזיר הזה כשהוא שוכב פושט טלפיו לומר ראו שאני טהור, כך אלו [אלופי עשו] גוזלים וחומסים ומראים עצמם כשרים. כל ארבעים שנה היה עשו צד נשים מתחת בעליהן ומענה אותם, כשהיה בן ארבעים אמר אבא בן ארבעים שנה נשא אשה, אף אני כן:
forty years old: Esau was compared to a swine, as it is said (Ps. 80:14): “The boar from the forest gnaws at it.” This swine, when it lies down, stretches out its hooves, as if to say, “See, I am a clean (kosher) animal.” So do these [the chiefs of Esau] rob and plunder and then pretend to be honorable. During the entire forty years, Esau kidnapped wives from their husbands and violated them. When he was forty years old, he said:“My father married at forty; I, too, will do the same.” From Gen. Rabbah 65:1
Eisav is compared to the pig. Just as the pig sticks out its feet to shows us its split hooves and proclaims itself to be kosher so too Eisav, after years acting immorally, sticks out his feet and proclaims himself to be kosher because just as his father married at forty so too would he. But even this marriage was an act of rebellion.
מורת רוח: לשון המראת רוח, כמו (דברים ט כד) ממרים הייתם כל מעשיה
a vexation of the spirit: Heb. מֹרַת רוּחַ, an expression of defiance of spirit הַמְרָאַתרוּחַ like (Deut. 9:24):“You have been rebellious מַמְרִים.” All their deeds were to provoke and to grieve. [From Targum Onkelos]
Rashi makes it clear that Eisav marries these women as an act of rebellion. And what is worse his marriage caused Yitzchak to have significant health issues.
וַֽיְהִי֙ כִּֽי־זָקֵ֣ן יִצְחָ֔ק וַתִּכְהֶ֥יןָ עֵינָ֖יו מֵֽרְאֹ֑ת וַיִּקְרָ֞א אֶת־עֵשָׂ֣ו | בְּנ֣וֹ הַגָּדֹ֗ל וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ בְּנִ֔י וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו הִנֵּֽנִי:
“It came to pass when Isaac was old, and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and he said to him, "My son," and he said to him, "Here I am." (Bereishis 27:1)
Rashi explains that Yitzchak became blind because Eisav’s wives would burn incense to their idols and the smoke blinded him.
Even the way Eisav speaks to Yitzchak leaves much to be desired. When Yaakov masquerades as Eisav in order to receive the blessing of the bechor, Yitzchak says:
וַיִּגַּ֧שׁ יַֽעֲקֹ֛ב אֶל־יִצְחָ֥ק אָבִ֖יו וַיְמֻשֵּׁ֑הוּ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר הַקֹּל֙ ק֣וֹל יַֽעֲקֹ֔ב וְהַיָּדַ֖יִם יְדֵ֥י עֵשָֽׂו
“So Jacob drew near to Isaac his father, and he felt him, and he said, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau." (Bereishis 27:22)
Rashi explains that Yitzchak did not just hear the sound of Yaakov’s voice but picked up on the type of language being used. Yaakov spoke entreatingly to Yitzchak saying “please rise” while Eisav spoke harshly using language like “Let my father arise!”
So while it may at first appear that Eisav is the picture of the dutiful son marrying at forty and wearing royal robes in Yitzchak’s presence we have to look at the bigger picture. Eisav’s first forty years were spent thieving, plundering and raping women. His marriage was an act of rebellion and his idolatrous wives blinded Yitzchak. Eisav speaks irreverently to his father. These facts do not exactly tell the story of a dutiful son who excels in Kibud Av V’Eim. Why do Chazal laud Eisav for his performance of the mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’Eim?
The Clothes Make the Man
Earlier we mentioned that Eisav’s Kibbud Av was seen from the fact that he wore special clothing when he served his father. Rav Shimon ben Gamliel wore soiled clothing so that he would appear as a lowly servant before his father. Eisav wore special clothing so as to honor his father. Let us examine the nature of these begadim.
וַתִּקַּ֣ח רִ֠בְקָ֠ה אֶת־בִּגְדֵ֨י עֵשָׂ֜ו בְּנָ֤הּ הַגָּדֹל֙ הַֽחֲמֻדֹ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר אִתָּ֖הּ בַּבָּ֑יִת וַתַּלְבֵּ֥שׁ אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹ֖ב בְּנָ֥הּ הַקָּטָֽן:
“And Rebecca took the precious garments of Esau, her elder son, which were with her in the house, and she dressed Jacob, her younger son.” (Bereishis 27:15)
Rivka was able to dress Yaakov as Eisav because Eisav kept these special clothing at his parents house. The Torah calls these clothes חֲמֻדֹ֔ת, precious, but the word חֲמֻדֹ֔ת also means coveted. The Daas Zekeinim explain that Eisav’s special clothing originally belonged to Nimrod. Embroidered on these clothing were exceptionally lifelike pictures of all of the birds and animals of the world. The pictures were so lifelike that animals would be drawn to them making it exceptionally easy to hunt them. According to the Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 65:16), these clothing were the original clothes that Hashem made for Adam HaRishon which were passed on to Noach who passed them on to Cham who passed them on to his grandson Nimrod. Nimrod like Eisav was a hunter. Eisav was jealous of Nimrod and killed him in order to acquire these precious clothing. This is why the Torah uses the language חֲמֻדֹ֔ת to indicate that these precious garments were coveted by Eisav.
The word beged, clothing, also means treachery. The name Nimrod shares the same shoresh is the word moreid, which means rebelliousness. Thus Nimrod, dressed in his begadim, is the ultimate personification of rebelling against God. The Zohar teaches, “Rabbi Eleazar said: "Nimrod used to entice people into idolatrous worship by means of those garments, which enabled him to conquer the world and proclaim himself its ruler, so that people offered him worship. He was called 'Nimrod,' for the reason that he rebelled against the most high King above, against the higher angels and against the lower angels." (Zohar, Bereishis, Section 1, Page 74a) It is fitting that Nimrod would want these clothing specifically. As we mentioned above these clothes originally were made by God for Adam HaRishon after he sinned. These garments themselves are the ultimate symbol of rebellion against God.
Eisav murders Nimrod in order to acquire these clothing. They then become the clothing that Eisav keeps at his parents house that were used in order to serve Yitzchak. Eisav was a wealthy man. One imagines that he owned a large wardrobe. Why of all of the clothing he owned does Eisav choose to serve his father in these clothes?
Kibbud Av V'Eim, its not just for Jews
Why don't we make a Beracha on Kibbud Av V'Eim? Rav Akiva Eiger quotes Binyamin Zeev, who answers,“Concerning your question as to why we do not make a blessing on the positive commandments of honoring parents, showing respect to the elderly, and on several other commandments, the answer is as follows. We only make a blessing on commandments by which we are sanctified from the other nations, as those nations do not perform those commandments at all. But on commandments which the other nations occasionally observe, we do not make a blessing, for through those commandments we are not sanctified over the other nations since they sometimes perform these commandments just as we do, such as honoring parents and respecting the elderly, etc.”
We cannot make a beracha of asher kidishanu bimitzvosav vitzivanu for a Mitzvah that is not uniquely Jewish. Every Nation has its source of strength, an area of holiness that allows it to sustain itself in this world. The source of Eisav's strength is his commitment throughout the generations to the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim. As we will soon see it is not just Eisav who excels in the Mitzvah of Kibbud AV V'Eim but it is his legacy for all time.
“And Yaakov kissed Rachel and lifted up his voice and wept.” (Bereishis 29:11)
Rashi explains that Yaakov lamented the fact that while Eliezer came to Rivkah with jewelry and precious stones he came with no gifts to give. Why did Yaakov have no possessions? Eliphaz, the son of Eisav, had pursued Yaakov to kill him at his father’s behest. Eliphaz overtook Yaakov, but having grown up in Yitzchak’s lap, he held back his hand. He said to Yaakov, ”What shall I do about my father’s orders?“ Yaakov replied,”Take what I have, for a poor man is counted as dead." (Rashi quoting the Medrash 29:11)
Eliphaz is the father of Amalek who ultimately is the grandfather of the Amelekite Nation, the eternal enemy of the Jewish people. Why would Yaakov help Eliphaz? Bear in mind that this is the same Yaakov who returns for the pachim ketanim and the Gemara in Chullin (91a) teaches “from here we see that for Tzadikim their property (mamonam — their money) is more precious to them than their physical welfare (gufam – their bodies).”
Furthermore, if Yaakov is already having a halachik conversation with Eliphaz, why not simply argue that just as one cannot violate Shabbos if their parent asks them to, so too Eliphaz cannot murder Yaakov just because his father instructed him to do so? If, as the grandson of Yitzchak Avinu, Eliphaz is truly sensitive he certainly should understand this argument!
Yaakov Avinu understood that Kibbud Av V'Eim is the spiritual heritage of Eisav. It is through this Mitzvah that ultimately Eisav can achieve his tikkun, rectification. Though Yaakov would be impoverished it was worthwhile to give his money to Eliphaz and allow him to fulfill his Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim. Unlike a parent who instructs their child to be mechallel Shabbos, this is a situation where Eliphaz could fulfill his fathers instructions and avoid murder at the same time.
Our Chachamim count Eliphaz among the seven prophets of the goyim who merited that the shechina rest upon him and the Rama MiPano teaches that Onkelos was an “ibur” of Eliphaz. Onkelos, the nephew of Hadrian, converted to Judaism. He studied under Rav Eliezer ben Hurcanus and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah and authored the Targum Onkelos which Jews for centuries have studied as part of our Mitzvah of shnayim kimra viechad targum. What was it that allowed Eliphaz to attain such spiritual heights and progeny? It was the fulfilling of the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim.
Dama ben Nesina
Dama ben Nesina was a gentile nobleman who lived in Ashkelon. Chazal in both the Yerushalmi and the Bavli (with slight differences) tell us about the tremendous respect that Dama ben Nesina accorded his parents.
The Gemara (Avoda Zara 24a and in the Yerushalmi Kiddushin 1:7 - as well as in the Medrash Rabbah Bamidbar 1:15) teaches that Rav Eliezer was asked, to what extent does one have to respect their parents? He answered, Go and see what Dama Ben Nesina, a gentile from Ashkelon, did for his father. Once, the Sages sought to purchase a precious stone from Dama for the avnei shoham (in the ephod) of the Kohen Gadol for a large amount of money. Dama went into the room where the jewels were kept but he saw that his father was fast asleep and one of his feet was resting on top of the chest, in which the gem was contained. Dama was faced with the choice of awakening his father or missing the opportunity to sell the gem and chose not to awaken his father. Thinking that Dama wished to get a higher price for the gem, they offered significantly more money but Dama explained that even if you were to give me an entire house of gold and silver I would not awaken my father. At that moment, the father awoke from his sleep and entered the room which allowed Dama to fetch the precious gem. The Rabbi's offered Dama the increased sum of money but Dama refused to sell it and would only take the original price as he refused to sell the schar of the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim. As a result of Dama's exceptional performance of this mitzvah Hashem rewarded him with the birth of a parah aduma, a red heifer, which was then bought for the exact amount of money he lost in performing the mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim. When the people heard this they said, "The duty of honoring one's parents is truly great in the eyes of the Almighty. Therefore did He bless Dama ben Nesina."
What is the connection between Dama ben Nesinas performance of the Mitzvah of Kibbu Av and his reward of the parah adumah?
וַיֵּצֵ֤א הָֽרִאשׁוֹן֙ אַדְמוֹנִ֔י כֻּלּ֖וֹ כְּאַדֶּ֣רֶת שֵׂעָ֑ר וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ שְׁמ֖וֹ עֵשָֽׂו:
And the first one emerged red; he was completely like a coat of hair, and they named him Eisav. (Bereishis 25:25)
בזֹ֚את חֻקַּ֣ת הַתּוֹרָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר דַּבֵּ֣ר | אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֣וּ אֵלֶ֩יךָ֩ פָרָ֨ה אֲדֻמָּ֜ה תְּמִימָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר אֵֽין־בָּהּ֙ מ֔וּם אֲשֶׁ֛ר לֹֽא־עָלָ֥ה עָלֶ֖יהָ עֹֽל:
“And Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aaron, saying: This is the statute of the law which Hashem has commanded, saying, “Speak unto the Bnai Yisrael, that they should take for you a red heifer, faultless, that has no blemish, and upon which never came yoke.” (Bamidbar 19:1-2)
The story of Dama ben Nesina is deeply connected to the story of Eisav. The name Dama is the same letters as Edom, the name that describes Eisav as ruddy and ultimately the nation (Rome) that is descended from Eisav. Dama is rewarded with a para adumah, a red heifer and Eisav is born with a ruddy, red complexion. Dama ben Nesina shares the same spiritual DNA with Eisav.
There were two avnei shoham in the ephod. The names of six tribes were inscribed on one stone, and the other six on the second stone. The two stones were meant to represent Yaakov and Eisav. Had Eisav not lost his way he would have been the father to six tribes and Yaakov would have been the father of the other six tribes. When Eisav sold the bechor to Yaakov he forfeited his half of the shevatim and his stone in the ephod. Ultimately Eisav regrets his decision to sell the rights of the first born. He couldn't bare to be excluded from the ephod. His intent to kill Yaakov Avinu was an attempt to regain his position as a father of shevatim and to be reinserted into the ephod. Only he couldn’t kill Yaakov immediately because Yitzchak was still alive. The mitzvah of Kibbud Av outweighed his desire to regain his position. He would have to bide his time. While the opportunity would not present itself in Eisav’s lifetime, his progeny would be given the chance.
Dama ben Nesina, the spiritual heir of Eisav, initially has a desire to arouse his father so that he could reinsert Eisav into the Ephod. Though he would have sold the chachamim the stone and restored Eisav to the Ephod, it could not have been a tikkun for Eisav because he would have violated the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av. By holding back from the sale and fulfilling the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av, Dama is ultimately able to rectify the sin of Eisav and make the sale of the stone to be used as one of the avnei shoham. In this way Eisav has a portion in the Ephod of the Kohen Gadol.
A Holy Hypocrite
With this approach in mind, we can understand the Medrashim (quoted earlier by Rashi) that refer to Eisav as a pig. Eisav, like the pig, is the ultimate hypocrite. He portrays himself to his father as one thing but to others he is something else entirely. But let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves a question. Which one was the true Eisav? Was Eisav the murderer, the rapist, the thief? If so, why does he care about marrying at forty like his father? Why won’t he kill Yaakov in Yitzchak’s lifetime? Why does he care about having a place on the Ephod?
In truth, like so many of us, Eisav was two people. From the time he was conceived he had a propensity for idolatry. Yitzchak understood the nature of Eisav and he appreciated the challenges Eisav would face. Yitzchak also understood the opportunity that Eisav had to rectify the sin of Adam HaRishon. Adam rebelled before God. God gave him clothing that symbolized that rebellion. Nimrod continued the rebellion in those very same clothing. Eisav killed Nimrod. Eisav had the same character traits as Nimrod. They were both hunters. Yes, Eisav was a rasha in every sense of the word but if he would surrender his defects of character to God he could have rectified the sin of Adam HaRishon. This is why Eisav serves Yitzchak in the clothing of Nimrod. He is taking his begadim, his treachery, and he is doing his utmost to surrender to Hashem through the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av, the Mitzvah that is most identified with serving Hashem as the Gemara in Kiddushin (30b) teaches there are three partners in the creation of man - Hashem, the father and the mother.
Yaakov did not have the challenges of Eisav. He spoke pleasantly to his father. Eisav spoke demandingly. Yaakov follows his father's wishes and doesn’t marry women from Canaan as Eisav did. Yaakov does not engage in acts of rebellion, he sits and learns Torah all day. But Yitzchak sees the true character of Eisav. In truth he is none of the things that he does. Yes, like the pig, in his current state he is not kosher but the pig sticks out his feet begging to be kosher. The Merash in Vayikrah Rabbah says that one day the pig, the chazir, will be chozer, return. Many meforshim explains (see Ricanti, Vayikra 11, Ritva Kiddushin 49b) that this is referring to Edom. Ultimately Eisav returns. Unkosher as Eisav may seem, his inner desire is to return, and return he will. The Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’Eim is the pathway for his return.
What is the connection between Eisav, Kibbud Av and Parah Adumah? “It is known that the Angel over Eisav is Samael, who is the Satan, who is the Evil Inclination, who is the Angel of Death.” (see Baba Basra 16a) The Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V’Eim rewards a person with a long life as the passuk in Shemos (20:12) says, “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you.” So on the one hand Eisav embodies death but performs the Mitzvah that brings long life. Which one is the true Eisav? The ash of the para aduma mixed in water from a live spring and is an antidote against the spiritual impurity of death. In other words, the Mitzvah of Parah Adumah clarifies the true nature of Eisav. He does not truly desire to be the angel of death. The act of honoring parents as practiced so perfectly by the descendant of Eisav, Dama ben Nesina, was rewarded with the birth of a parah adumah. It showed the true nature of who Eisav was.
Rav Akiva and Eisav
Yaakov is so named because at birth he was grasping at the heel of Eisav. The Baal Shem Tov explains that Yaakov was drawing out the soul which was embedded in the heel of Eisav.
The Meor Einayim quotes the Arizal who explains that when Eisav spoke to his father it was the voice of Rav Akiva that he was hearing.
Rashi (Bereishis 26:27) tells us that Eisav would ask Yitzchak how do we tithe straw. The Gemara in Nedraim (50a) tells us that Rav Akiva and his wife Rachel were so poor that they would sleep on straw. Akiva lovingly picked a piece of straw from his wife’s hair and said that one day he would buy her a piece of jewelry - a Jerusalem of Gold. At that moment a poor man came to the door and asked Rav Akiva for straw because his wife had just given birth. Rav Akiva donated his straw to this poor man. Fittingly it is the spark of holiness in Eisav, Rav Akiva, that finally answers his question about tithing straw. Indeed the Baal Shem Tov said that it was the spark of Rav Akiva within Eisav that asked the question about tithing straw in the first place.
With this in mind we can explain the inner meaning behind a fascinating story brought down in the Machzor Vitri.
Rabbi Akiva was strolling through a cemetery when he saw a naked man, black as charcoal, carrying much wood and hurrying like a horse.
"Stop!" the rabbi ordered him. And the man stopped.
"What is with you?" demanded Rabbi Akiva, "What is this harsh labor of yours? If you are a slave and your master is so harsh, then I will free you. And if you are poor, let me make you wealthy."
The man answered, "Please, rabbi, do not delay me! My supervisors may become very angered if I am late!"
Rabbi Akiva responded, "Who are you and what do you do?"
The man replied, "I am dead. Every day, they send me to chop wood upon which they burn me every night."
Rabbi Akiva asked, "And when you were in this world, what was your work?"
"I was a tax collector," the man answered. "I would favor the wealthy and persecute the poor."
"So," asked the rabbi, "have you heard anything from your supervisors about any way you could be redeemed from your punishment?"
"Yes," the man replied. "I heard from them, but it is something that could never happen. They said that if I had a son and if that son would stand among the congregation and say kaddish and the congregation would answer, "Amen! Y'hay shmai rabba m'vorach!"—then they could acquit me from my punishment."
"But," he continued, "I did not leave a son behind. True, my wife was pregnant when I died, but I do not know whether she gave birth to a boy. And if she did, who would teach him Torah? I do not have a single friend in the world!"
On the spot, Rabbi Akiva resolved to search for that child. He asked the man for his name.
"My name is Ukba. My wife was Shoshiva. My town was Lanuka'a."
Immediately, Rabbi Akiva set out for that town. When he arrived there, he asked the townspeople about Ukba.
"May his bones grind in hell!" they replied.
He asked about his wife Shoshiva and they said, "May her name and her memory be erased!"
He asked about her child and they said, "She had a boy and he is uncircumcised."
The people hated her so much, they hadn't even bothered to circumcise her child.
Without further delay, Rabbi Akiva took this child and circumcised him. He sat the child before him to teach him, but the child would not learn.
So he fasted for forty days. After forty days, a voice came from heaven: "Rabbi Akiva, what are you fasting for?"
He replied, "Master of the Universe! Have I not already made myself a guarantor before You for the lad?"
Immediately, G_d opened the boy's heart and the rabbi was able to teach him how to read Torah and how to say the Shma Yisrael and the Silent Prayer and Grace After Meals. Then he stood him before the congregation and he said Barchu and they answered him. He said Kaddish and they answered him, "Amen! Y'hay shmai rabba m'vorach!"
His father was freed and came straight to Rabbi Akiva in a dream. "Let your heart rest assured that you saved me from the judgment of Gehinom."
The Gemara in Kiddushin (31b) teaches that after death we can honor our parents by saying “so said my father, my teacher, hareini kaparas mishkavo (I am the atonement for his death). This statement is only true for the twelve months immediately following death. After that the son honors his father by saying “zichrono levracha lichayei Olam Haba.” (May his memory be blessed for the life of the world to come.)
Today we don’t find people saying hareini kaparas mishkavo because the mourners kaddish is a substitute (see Gilyonei HaShas). In other words, Kaddish is a form of Kibbud Av V’Eim. Now we can understand why it is Rav Akiva, the spark that dwelled within Eisav, that ensures that the son will learn to say Kaddish, honoring his father and saving him from Gehenom.
Mordechai and Esther vs Haman
The Medrash says that when Eisav was growing old, he called in his grandson Amalek and said: "I tried to kill Jacob but was unable. Now I am entrusting you and your descendants with the important mission of annihilating Yaakov's descendants. Carry out this deed for me. Be relentless and do not show mercy."
Generations later the struggle would continue with their descendants, as Mordechai and Esther battle Haman in the Purim story. In fact, in the Targum Sheini Haman is introduced in the opening of the third perek with a list of ancestors that goes back 20 generations, ending with Eliphaz. The clear implication is that the battle between Haman and Mordechai is another manifestation of the eternal battle between Yaakov and Eisav.
The Medrash further develops the the idea that the story of Purim is an expression of the battle between Yaakov and Eisav.
"When Eisav heard his father’s words, he let out a most loud and bitter scream" (Bereishis 27:34).
"And he (Mordechai) let out a loud a bitter scream" (Esther 4:1).
Rav Chanina said: Whoever maintains that the Holy One, blessed be He, is lax in dispensing justice... He is merely long suffering, but [ultimately] collects His due. Just as Yaakov made Eisav break out into a cry years later in Shushan his ancestor Mordechai (Bereshis Rabbah 67:4) would break out into tears.
We see this same theme in Kabbalah as well.
The Nachal Kedumim explains that Mordechai was a gilgul of Yaakov and Haman was a gilgul of Eisav.
הַצִּילֵ֥נִי נָ֛א מִיַּ֥ד אָחִ֖י מִיַּ֣ד עֵשָׂ֑ו כִּֽי־יָרֵ֤א אָֽנֹכִי֙ אֹת֔וֹ פֶּן־יָב֣וֹא וְהִכַּ֔נִי אֵ֖ם עַל־בָּנִֽים:
Now save me please from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him, lest he come and strike me, [and strike] a mother with children. (Bereishis 32:12) The words “hatzileini na miyad” (“save me please from the hand”), are the roshei teivos of the name Haman.
As we will see, in the story of Purim, the descendants of Yaakov move from survival to victory.
Yaakov lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, Eisav was coming, and with him were four hundred men; so he divided the children with Leah and with Rachel and with the two maidservants. And he placed the maidservants and their children first and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and her Yosef last. And he went ahead of them and prostrated himself to the ground seven times, until he came close to his brother. (Bereishis 33:1-3)
Yaakov Avinu made the decision to bow down to Eisav, a decision that would not be rectified until many years later.
Now it came to pass when they said [this] to him daily, and he did not heed them, that they told [this] to Haman, to see whether Mordecai's words would stand up, for he had told them that he was a Jew. (Esther 3:4)
What is the passuk referring to when it says "Mordechai's words"? The Medrash (Esther Rabba 7:9) tells us that it is a reference to a conversation that occurred between Mordechai and the servants of the King. The King’s servants asked Mordechai, why do you refuse to bow down to Haman especially in light of the fact that your ancestors bowed down before the ancestors of Haman? Mordechai asked, "Which of my ancestors bowed down before the ancestors of Haman?" The King's servants replied, "Did not your ancestor Yaakov bow down before Eisav his brother, who was Haman’s ancestor?"Mordechai answered, "I am descended from Binaymin and when Yaakov bowed down before Eisav, Binyamin was not yet born and he did not bow down before any human all his days... Just as my forefather did not bow to Eisav, I who hail from the tribe Binyamin ("ish yemini") will not bow to his descendant either." Chazal tell us that the fight between Yaakov and the malach of Eisav occurred on Yom Kippur night. In that fight, though Yaakov was victorious he suffered an injury. When he saw that he could not prevail against him, he touched the socket of his hip, and the socket of Jacob's hip became dislocated as he wrestled with him. (Bereishis 32:36). The limp that Yaakov suffered in his life is what caused him to bow down to Eisav (Ramak) and while Yaakov did so appropriately, it ultimately would require a tikkun that was performed by Mordechai, the descendant of Binyamin. Perhaps this is in accordance with the Tikunei Zohar who says that Purim is greater than Yom Kippur (Yom Kippur is only like Purim) so it is on Purim that there is a rectification of the injury that occurred on Yom Kippur.
Now that we have established that the Purim story represents a continuation of the battle between Yaakov and Eisav we are ready to tackle a difficult question.
And Mordecai returned to the king's gate, and Haman rushed home, mourning and with his head covered. (Esther 6:12) Why was Haman's head covered? Why what Haman in mourning?
The Gemara (Megillah 16a) explains that when Haman was leading Mordechai through Shushan on the King’s royal horse, Haman’s daughter overheard from a distance what was going on. She naturally assumed that Mordechai was pulling the horse on which her father Haman must be sitting as he was honored throughout the streets of Shushan. Seeing an opportunity to disgrace Mordechai, as the granddaughter of Amelek this was not an opportunity to be missed, she poured vile refuse on what she thought was the head of Mordechai. When she realized that it was her father Haman, she jumped off of the balcony and committed suicide. This explains why Haman returned home with his head covered with filth and mourning the death of his daughter. There is an obvious question on this Gemara. We have all done things to our parents that we regret. Sometimes we have done things accidentally and other times we have done them on purpose. Haman's daughter made a mistake. It happens. She certainly was doing something that she thought would make her father proud. Why would this mistake be worthy of committing suicide? There are many beautiful answers to this question but perhaps the answer of Harav Yitzchak Sorotzkin is most appropriate for this Dvar Torah. We have clearly shown that the one Mitzvah that the descendants of Eisav excel in is Kibbud Av V'Eim. We saw it with Eisav and Yitzchak, Eliphaz and Eisav, Dama ben Nesina and now we will see it with Haman and his daughter. The zechus that sustains Amalek is their Kibbud Av V'Eim. No matter what her intentions were, Haman's daughter understood that she had embarrassed her father. In her world that meant that there was no further reason for her to live. Amalek can only survive if they are true to the lineage of Eisav and once she strayed from that heritage there was no capacity for her to continue. Inadvertent or not, when you stick your hand in fire you are going to be burned. Perhaps this explains why Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, was perfectly suited to lead the charge against Amalek. As we previously pointed out, Mordechai was a descendant of Binyamin and thus would not bow to Haman. Esther had an additional advantage. The gemara in Kiddushin (31b) teaches that "Rabbi Yochanan said: Fortunate is one who never saw his father and mother, as it is so difficult to honor them appropriately. The Gemara relates that Rabbi Yochanan himself never saw his parents." Esther who was orphaned of both her father and mother never had the opportunity to cause pain to her parents and thus was the perfect foil to Haman.
A Mother's Sacrifice
In light of everything we have learned, I believe we are now ready to answer our initial question. How is it that Yaakov, the paradigmatic Tzaddik, is dominated by Eisav, the paradigmatic Rasha, simply because he did not have the opportunity to honor his parents?
Kibbud Av V'Eim is the type of Mitzvah where either you have done it or you haven't. Eisav was a rasha in every sense of the word but at the end of the day he gave honor to his parents. Throughout the generations it has been his legacy. Yaakov Avinu did nothing wrong by fleeing from Eisav. He was following his parents instruction. But, as we mentioned above in reference to the daughter of Haman, if you stick your hand in fire you're going to be burned. Yaakov was away for 22 years and did not have the opportunity to serve his parents. As a result, he lost Yosef from his life for the very same amount of time.
Rav Pam zt"l asks, what was it that gave Yaakov Avinu the strength to persevere throughout all the trials and tribulations he endured? Yaakov had his money taken by Eliphaz, he was cheated by Lavan, he confronted Eisav under life threatening conditions, he had his daughter Dina abducted, he suffered the death of his wife Rachel and lost his son for 22 years. How could anyone survive such a life?
The Medrash in Bereishis Rabbah (68:7) says that Yaakov had the strength to persevere because of his mother's sacrifice. Yaakov kept saying to himself “If I give up I will forfeit all the energies that my mother invested in me to help me obtain the Berachos.”
Our parents have invested in us more than we can possibly imagine. The story is told of a child who was running a camp and the child's parents wanted to send his younger sibling to the program. The child responded that he would be glad to take the younger brother into his camp and told them the cost of the program. The parent replied, "They say it costs a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child, the question I have for you is, was that a gift or a loan?" But beyond what our parents have given us in terms of material possessions they have given us life itself. The generation that received the Mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'Eim did not need their parents to take care of their psychical needs because Hashem took care of everything for them. The honor they accorded their parents came from the recognition that without our parents we would not even be here. It is, as the Ramban says, a Mitzvah that trains us to focus on the source of all life, Hashem Himself.
Kibbud Av V'Eim is not a Mitzvah that lasts forever. I've spoken to so many talmidim and talmidot that would love nothing more than to have the opportunity to call their parents and say thank you for all that they have done for them but unfortunately their parent had passed on. If you have the opportunity to call your parents and give them nachas, if you have the opportunity to serve your parents even in the smallest of ways, grab it with two hands. It is too precious of a Mitzvah to miss out on.