Esau: Empty useless breath or man of peace who deserves to rule? Let the Midrash and Gematria decide

In the Toldot “Generations” of Genesis 25:19-28:9 we read Aish.com’s appraisal of Esau:

“We might claim that only due to his descendants — most notably Amalek — has Esau earned his inauspicious reputation. Alternatively, we may assume that the actions and attitudes of his descendants helped form the midrashic reading of the texts.

Here is Rabbi M. Glazerson, “Philistine and Palestinian” (1995)  p. 78:

“The Midrash points out that the name of Esau, ASAV (Ayin Sin Vav) suggests the sound of HEI (He Aleph) SHAV (Shin Vav Aleph “empty, useless breath.” This is the distinctive characteristic of Esau’s descendants and his spiritual adherents in all generations. It is also the cause of all their hatred for the Jewish people: those who are empty, and whose lives are meaningless, cannot help but be jealous of those who are full of wisdom and destiny. The “Divine Law” of Esau’s hatred is evident today in all walks of life.”

Glazerson’s source for Esau’s “empty, useless breath” is Midrash Bereishis (Genesis) Rabbah 63:8.

Esau ASAV עשו has the numerical value of 376; but so has:

1. ומשל OOMOSHEIL “and ruler” – Genesis 45:8.

“So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God; and He hath made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and ruler (וּמֹשֵׁל) over all the land of Egypt.”
וְעַתָּה, לֹא-אַתֶּם שְׁלַחְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה, כִּי, הָאֱלֹהִים; וַיְשִׂימֵנִי לְאָב לְפַרְעֹה, וּלְאָדוֹן לְכָל-בֵּיתוֹ, וּמֹשֵׁל, בְּכָל-אֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם

2. לרצון LERATZON”Favour,” “accepted” – Exodus 28:38.

“And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear the iniquity committed in the holy things, which the children of Israel shall hallow, even in all their holy gifts; and it shall be always upon his forehead, that they may be accepted/find favour לְרָצֹון before the LORD.”

ְהָיָה עַל־מֵצַח אַהֲרֹן וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת־עֲוֹן הַקֳּדָשִׁים אֲשֶׁר יַקְדִּישׁוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְכָֽל־מַתְּנֹת קָדְשֵׁיהֶם וְהָיָה עַל־מִצְחֹו תָּמִיד לְרָצֹון לָהֶם לִפְנֵי יְהוָֽה׃

3. שלום SHALOM “Peace,” “satisfied,” “well” – Genesis 29:6.

“And he said unto them, [Is] he well שלום SHALOM? And they said, [He is] well: and, behold, Rachel his daughter cometh with the sheep.”

וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם הֲשָׁלֹום לֹו וַיֹּאמְרוּ שָׁלֹום וְהִנֵּה רָחֵל בִּתֹּו בָּאָה עִם־הַצֹּֽאן׃

Using Gematria, we end up with a different “midrashic” reading; radically different. So different that it leaves me breathless:

Esau finds favour in the eyes of the Lord, and is subsequently made ruler (over – Israel?!).

Surely that leaves Rabbi’s anagrammatic gloss of Esau (and not Esau himself, as Rabbi Glazerson maintains) empty, useless and a waste of breath. But then we need to look beyond Rabbi Glazerson to his inspiration, the Midrash Bereishit Rabbah, and even further to that greater body of which this Midrash is only a minuscule part, namely, into the Oral Torah, – deep within its inworkings and inwormings (“Fear not, you worm of Jacob” Isaiah 41:14)- into the Zohar, the central pillar of Kabbalah.

Here is Michael Laitman in his “Zohar for all.”

“The more we try to live this inner picture through The Zohar and refrain from sinking into historic images of familiar Bible stories, the more The Zohar will promote us to the interior of the Torah, to the true Torah—the real perception of reality.”

“The Zohar is directing us.”

If not watching us.

I asked Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal (YourPhariseefriend):

“What do you consider to be the connection between the oral Torah, on the one hand, and Gematria and other devices such as the rearrangement of letters, on the other.”

He replied:

“The Oral Torah brings the commandments that are spoken about in the Written Torah – to life. an additional and even peripheral facet of the Oral Torah is a set of hermeneutical methods through which we can find deeper meaning in the text of the Written Torah – not so as to contradict the plain grammatical meaning – but to provide additional insight. Of these methods – gematria and rearranging the letters are two of the most peripheral techniques used.”

After taking a few dips – maybe dives would make me see better, but I can’t see it – into these “peripheral” tools (here and there), I must disagree with Rabbi Blumenthal’s view that these tools are merely peripheral to the Oral Torah. If this were so, it would mean that the Zohar, at least, which makes extensive use of these tools, is merely a peripheral work. Chabad, the de facto Judaism of modern times (according to Rabbi Boteach), is listening. You go tell them to ditch the Zohar into the basement of the sea; I’d like to get back to my Bible – stories ‘n all.

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One thought on “Esau: Empty useless breath or man of peace who deserves to rule? Let the Midrash and Gematria decide

  1. Pingback: Israel of the flesh and Jacob, the Israel of God « OneDaringJew

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