When discussing Toldot I mentioned an old college paper I wrote about Jacob and Esau in the Midrash and Zohar. Just for chuckles I went traipsing through the dark digital wastelands of my hard drive to bring back this priceless jewel from my student days. Here are some of the choicer tidbits:
Fun with Sefirot:
Isaac is identified with Din, but Rebekah is identified with Shekhinah, “softened” with Hesed (Love), Abraham’s Sefirah. Isaac is “severe Judgment”, but Rebekkah is described as tempering him: “Rebekah issues from the side of severe Judgment, but she withdrew from among them and joined Isaac; for although she issues from… severe Judgment, she is mild Judgment.” (Zohar) The last line of the page is particularly significant: “If she had not been mild, the world could not have endured the severe Judgment of Isaac.”The implication here is fascinating; it seems that without Rebekah’s moderating influence, Isaac could have become as bad, or even worse, than Esau.
...within the Zoharic cosmological system of the ten Sefirot, Isaac is symbolized by the Sefirah Din, Severe Judgment, whose color association is red. Similarly, Esau is always identified with red in rabbinic literature. The Midrash uses the following description: "He was red, his food red, his land red, his warriors were red, their garments were red, his avenger will be red, clad in red." (Midrash Rabbah)
Here is where we begin to see the violent de-legitimization of Esau. The Midrash associates the color red with war, and connects Esau’s redness with his violent behavior... [In Kabbalistic commentaries on the Zohar,] Esau, identified with the liver, is actually accused of needing to sustain himself with blood, both spiritually, as a violent warrior, as well as, apparently, in terms of physical nutrition. Esau is thus turned into a cannibalistic and vampiric figure; he is, literally, demonized.Discussing the womb-fight:
...[There is a variant midrash stating] that the brothers’ dispute [in the womb] involved proxy fighters, their respective guardian angels. Esau was allied with Samael, and Jacob with Michael (who, incidentally, was responsible for saving his father Isaac as a boy, by substituting a ram for Abraham’s sacrifice). The tradition goes on to say that Samael went so far as to attempt to kill Jacob, and it was eventually necessary to for God to convene a heavenly court to arbitrate the dispute between the angels (we are not told who won).At the end of the day, Jews just don't like hunters:
...[Here] we see a direct Midrashic association of Esau with Samael (showing that the connection was not something invented by the Zohar). This relationship is teased out even further through Midrash relating to the twins being born with their respective “signs”. Jacob is described as having been born circumcised, a sign that he was particularly special and holy (some other Biblical figures with the same distinction include Adam, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Joseph, Moses, Samuel and David). Esau, on the other hand, in addition to being born hairy (including a full-grown beard), with all his teeth, and being “blood-red, a sign of his future sanguinary nature”, is born with the mark of a serpent, “the symbol of all that is wicket and hated of God.” (Ginzberg)
Both the Zohar and the Midrash identify Esau as a hunter on multiple levels. One Midrash commentary associates the term as having a spiritual dimension: “Both [brothers] were hunters of men, Esau tried to capture them in order to turn them away from God, and Jacob, to turn them toward God.” (Ginzberg) Esau is portrayed as hunting men in various ways- through physical violence, as he does with Nimrod; through the spiritual component, by trying to “hunt” men’s souls, and, lastly, through intellectual deceit. Esau deceives his father into thinking him pious, and there is even a Midrash that, in an interesting twist on the verse, “Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for hunted game” (Gen. 25:28), says that he actually serves his father non-kosher dog-meat. We see hunting and trapping going from mere physical descriptions to immoral activities, which can in turn be plugged into the Sefirotic system, emblematic of the seduction and deception of the “left side”.
Oh, for the days when I had that much free time.