A Lesson from … Esau?

“And Rebecca took the beloved garments of her older son Esau that were in the house…” (Gen. 27:15).

וַתִּקַּח רִבְקָה אֶת-בִּגְדֵי עֵשָׂו בְּנָהּ הַגָּדֹל, הַחֲמֻדֹת, אֲשֶׁר אִתָּהּ, בַּבָּיִת

I am always amazed that we can read verses of Scripture, and even teach them year after year, and miss one beautiful detail.

If anyone knows anything about Esau, it is that he and Jacob struggled, and that Jacob was chosen by God over him to continue the covenant established with Abraham. He is portrayed, and rightly so, as a wild man, “Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field” (Gen. 25:27), one whose brides caused bitterness of spirit to his father and mother (Gen. 26:34-35).

Still, there is an interesting detail in the verse above regarding the preparation of Jacob as Rebecca disguised him, she used הַחֲמֻדֹת, אֲשֶׁר אִתָּהּ, בַּבָּיִת, beloved, precious (הַחֲמֻדֹת) garments belonging to Esau that were in her house.

Esau had his own house, wives, family, so why were his beloved garments there? The rabbis explain, that when Esau would appear before his aging father Isaac, he would change into his favorite, most important clothes; clothes that he kept in his parents house. Why?

Esau loved and respected his father. Isaac was nearly blind at this time (Gen. 27:1), and he would not notice the quality of Esau’s clothing. He couldn’t see Esau’s clothing. Yet, Esau could. Rather than appearing before his father in the same clothing he had hunted and butchered in, Esau, for the love and respect of his beloved father, change into his best clothes before visiting Isaac.

Rebecca, knowing this, used those very beloved, purposely placed clothes, to deceive Isaac when she disguised Jacob; and it was perhaps in those very beloved clothes that Jacob ran for his life (Gen. 27:43). In his anger, Esau then did what was displeasing in his fathers eyes, and took a daughter from his uncle Ishmael (Gen. 28:8-9).

Esau wore his finest garments in order to show respect for his father, a gesture that Isaac was unable to recognize. It was from a genuine love and respect that Esau had for him, after all, Isaac and Esau shared a close father and son relationship (Gen. 25:28). Esau was not posturing to gain favor, as that he already had. No, it was Jacob who wore Esau’s outward expression of love and respect in order to complete the ruse of his mother, thus trampling on Esau.

The life and lessons of Esau are often overlooked in light of his many mistakes, but the love he had for Isaac should not be overlooked. It was genuine. Esau was not perfect, but neither was he outside the Abrahamic tent of kindness.

Even after his brother steals his birthright and blessing, and runs for his life, it is Esau who, years later, “ran to meet him (Jacob), and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept” (Gen. 33:4). This action was rooted in the same love and respect that Esau had for their father, kindness perhaps learned from Abraham himself.

Sometimes a small detail, even the placement of clothes, can open our eyes enough to see someone differently than we have before. God did not choose Esau, and that is His sovereign design; but there are still valuable lessons we can learn from him, as it says in Pirkei Avot 4:1, “Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written, “I have gained understanding from all my teachers” (Psalm 119:99). And Paul exhorts us, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Ro. 12:9).

Esau loved Isaac, and he ultimately showed his love for Isaac by loving and welcoming home his brother Jacob, and years later they, together, buried their father (Gen. 35:29).

Be well. Shalom.