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.

The Camel Test

Abraham sends his servant Eliezer (אֱלִיעֶזֶר/help of God) to find a wife for his beloved son Isaac from along his family, “you will not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell, but will go to my country and to my kindred, and take a wife for my son Isaac” (Gen. 24:3-4).

Eliezer arrives in Nahor with ten camels, and others treasures in tow as a sign of Abraham’s wealth. He settles by the city well, and formulates a plan: “Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master” (Gen. 24:14).

She must offer water to both Eliezer and his ten camels? An extraordinary test for an extraordinary mission. This young woman, Rebecca, would draw roughly 100 gallons of water for the camels, in addition to the water draw for her regular chores. This was a test of kindness.

Abraham is known for his faith, see Genesis 15:6 or Romans 4; yet, he is also recognized for his kindness: חֶסֶד/ḥeseḏ. This Hebrew word is difficult to convey in English. It describes so much with so little. Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks defines hesed this way, “What is hessed? It is usually translated as ‘kindness’ but it also means ‘love’ – not love as emotion or passion, but love expressed as deed. Theologians define hessed as covenant love … Hessed is the love that is loyalty, and the loyalty that is love.” Sacks further explains that while tzedakah (charity) can be a gift or a loan of money, hessed is a gift of ourselves to the human other.

Hesed – kindness, loyalty, love – is a powerful, albeit simple word. In the Hebrew Scriptures it describes the covenant relationship of the Lord with Israel, and ultimately, how our human relationships are to be modeled in action.

The cultivation of kindness (חֶסֶד) begins in the home, with children observing the kindness displayed by their familial influences. From generation to generation, לדור ודור/le’dor va’dor, the kindness shown to neighbors develops in the context of family.

Abraham is said to have been an initiator of kindness. In other words, he did not wait to act in a kind manner, he was looking for the occasion to do so. We find this trait in Rebecca, as she initiated the kindness shown to Eliezer’s camels: “When she had finished giving him a drink, she said, “I will draw water for your camels also, until they have finished drinking” (Gen. 24:19).

It is important to note that Rebecca was not a peasant girl. She was from a family of position and social standing. In this we discover the heart of kindness: to bend or reach down. She reached down and showed kindness to Eliezer, by giving him water, and to the camels, by drawing water for them. The test of the camels designed by Eliezer was a test of kindness. Certainly in Eliezer’s mind a bride of Isaac would have to possess the qualities of the house of Abraham. She did.

The lesson we learn from Rebecca is simple, yet, as always, difficult. She challenges us to walk out the covenant commitment of kindness. To walk in a manner that is selfless, and attuned to the need of the wider community around us. From the Word, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). As Yeshua/Jesus expressed it: “Therefore, do unto others as you would have them do unto you: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

The name Rebecca (רִבְקָה/riḇqâ) means to ensnare. Yet, when used for a girls name, it implies to ensnare with beauty. It was not Rebecca’s outward beauty that caught Eliezer’s attention, but the beauty of her kindness. We, dear friends, can look beautiful, righteousness, perfect on the outside, but inward be filled with dead men’s bones (Matt. 23:27). This moment in Rebecca’s life demonstrates that the outer appearance is secondary to the inner beauty that reaches out and blesses those in their moment of weakness and vulnerability.

Those born-again, now drawn close to the Living God in Messiah Yeshua by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, shine out the quality of kindness exampled in the House of God. As He reached down to us, filling and refreshing us, we reach out to those around us in like manner. Let us imitate this (Eph. 5:1), to the glory of our Father, not ensnaring by an outer appearance of righteousness, but catching people up in His kindness that refreshes them in an exhausting world.

As Peter writes: “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control [a]perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Pet. 1:5-8).

As a Bride preparing, His fruit will come forth, and in the watering we will be caught up in Him, by His kindness.

Be well. Shalom.

A Storks Kindness

Reading the lists of clean and unclean foods and animals found in the Bible can seem pointless, even extremely antiquated. Yet, there is a rabbinic teaching that says the lists of clean and unclean food are not so much about the food, but about us. We should not take on, as we might say, the qualities of forbidden foods.

But what of the stork? It’s on the forbidden list (Deut. 14:18), but why?

Stork in Hebrew is חֲסִידָה/ḥăsîḏâ, meaning: the kind bird, stork. It’s from the root חָסִיד/ḥāsîḏ, meaning pious, godly, holy, merciful, saint. Aren’t these good qualities? Well, yes. We are to be holy disciples of Messiah, saints. Appearances, however, can sometimes be deceiving.

The stork identified in the Bible was recognized for its kindly, compassionate behavior, but only to storks of its kind. Towards other birds, they were noted to be cruel at times.

The message is simple, our kindness, godliness, mercy, and grace is to extend beyond those of our own “kind,” beyond those like us. We cannot adopt a storks faith. We must recognize the image of God in the human other, even those we do not know, recognize or relate to, and respond according to His Word.

Messiah examples this for us in John 4, by His interaction with the Samaritan woman of unsavory character, delivering a message of forgiveness and recovery. Also, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk. 10), making a recognized enemy the hero of the drama. Messiah warns against acting hypocritically, directing us to act faithfully (Lev. 19:18, 34).

It is easy to act in a kindly manner toward those most like ourselves; but we do not live righteousness in a vacuum. We live His Word in a complex world, with many different peoples, and customs.

Take the kindness the Living God has shown you, show it to those close to you, but also to those you do not know, probably would choose not to know, and there, you will learn the depths of His amazing grace. Difficult, but God. Hallelujah!

Be well. Shalom.