This week’s Torah portion is Toldot. Jacob and Esau, twins, are born. They struggle with each other in Rebecca's womb, and then after they are born, they struggle with each other in life. Jacob is portrayed as a sweet mama’s boy who stays home and helps with the cooking. Esau, on the other hand, gets a pretty bad rep from our ancient rabbis, a reputation which has carried on to today. There are many midrashim and commentaries that claim Esau was a murderer, an arrogant brute of a man, and that he was obviously not worthy of the blessing or birthright of his father. However, the text does not show this. The Torah itself shows us that Esau is born with a ruddy complexion, which the rabbis interpret as a sign that he has or will have blood on his hands. But it’s just his skin! No blood. Except maybe the blood of the animals he hunts, which again the rabbis point to as a sign of some sort of cruelty. But Isaac loves to eat meat, so why shouldn’t his son learn to love and be good at providing it?
When Esau learns that his blessing has been given to his brother, his first thought is not immediately to harm Jacob. He first weeps in anguish, in bitterness, and begs his father to bless him too. Isaac explains the blessing has already been given to Jacob, and Esau cries out, “Have you only one blessing? Bless me too, Father!” But Isaac has nothing left to give him. He is maybe out of line when he does, at the end of this scene, threaten to kill his brother, but he never really makes an attempt to do so. Jacob runs away, and Esau does not run after him, and when they are reunited they are both very gracious to each other. Maybe Esau never really meant he was actually going to kill his brother, but meant it more like, “Grrr I’m gonna kill you,” as many people today might say to their loved ones when they’re being obnoxious.
While there are layers of rabbis from ancient to medieval times describing all the sins and evil qualities of Esau, those qualities just aren’t found in the Torah itself. The Torah itself shows us a man, maybe not a man with the best foresight or intuition or not a man who's great a controlling his emotions, but still not an evil man. I see a sad, scared man, betrayed by his own family. Maybe one takeaway from this Torah portion is to not judge a book by its cover, or an argument from one side. Esau is a hairy, reddish colored hunter, and I think often depicted as larger than Jacob, although the Torah doesn’t specify size. You might have been told, as many are, that Esau was a brutish man, villainous from the start. That sounds like a guy any of us would run away from, too, probably.
But actually, it sounds more like Esau and Rubeus Hagrid, a character from the Harry Potter series, might be basically the same person. Many Hogwarts students, as well as adults, dislike or are afraid of Hagrid because he is large, hairy, and has a ruddy complexion. He knows his way around the scary and ominous Forbidden Forest, is handy with a weapon, and loves dangerous animals. Rumors fly around about him that indicate what a ferocious beast of half-giant he is, and many keep their distance. In reality, he is a sweet soul, kind of alone in the world, just trying to live his life. As we go on our way, we may or we may not encounter Hagrids and Esaus, exactly. But we will probably encounter people that are different and outcast in other ways. They may not be hairy and have red skin, but maybe they do look different or “funny” in other ways. They may not have reputations for being killers, but maybe other nasty rumors are spread about them. When we come across these people, let us emulate Harry, Hermione, and Ron, rather than our own ancient rabbis in how we deal with them. Let us be kind, and get to know people for who they really are, not for what they look like or what others may say they really are. And may we show all our fellow humans kindness. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.