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Yaakov vs. Esau in Kabbalah

[Selection from a Chassidic discourse by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn [1880-1950], delivered in 1942. Verses from Toldot are discussed in Part 4.]


There are various levels in the service of G-d. There is one level where the light of Holiness drives away the darkness, as is understood from the famous saying (Tanya, Chapter 12): "A small amount of light drives away a great deal of darkness." There is a higher level where one transforms the darkness itself into light.

The Zohar states: "the time of Prayer is the time of battle!" This means that during the time of prayer there is a spiritual battle between the Yetzer Hora (evil inclination) - which is the darkness in man, and the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) - which is the light. The Yetzer Hora is called "darkness", because its urge and desire is solely for physical pleasures. For this reason, even the intellect of the Yetzer Hora is given the name - the "Animal Soul." The Yetzer Hora is characterized essentially by emotional qualities: love, fear, pride, etc. It also has the power of intellect, but its intellect is only for material things, contriving all kinds of schemes to acquire the physical pleasures which it desires, and also finding many ways to justify itself. Sometimes, the person himself recognizes that he is wrong, but nonetheless he finds various rationalizations - even those which he knows are false, yet he uses these false reasons as a basis to gain his desires. Since such conduct is similar to animal behavior, the intellect of the Yetzer Hora is called the "Animal Soul." The primary essence of the Yetzer Hora is that it possesses a "power of desire." This will and desire of the Yetzer Hora is of exceptional strength, as seen from the famous saying (Sucah 52b): - "The more one satiates his animalistic desires, the more hungry and lustful he becomes." The same applies to the Yetzer Hora . The more one submits to its desires, the more powerful - and the more fiery - does the "power of desire" become, until it finally, G-d forbid, can lead a person to actually rob, steal and murder. This is exemplified by a son who rebels against his parents (Deut. 21:1), that through his gross over-indulgence in eating and drinking he finally reaches the stage of murder, G-d forbid. Hence, the Yetzer Hora and the Animal Soul are called "darkness." On the other hand, the Yetzer Tov, together with its intellect - the Divine Soul - is called "light," because it infuses light into the darkness of the Yetzer Hora and the Animal Soul.


This task of the Yetzer Tov and the Divine Soul to brighten the darkness of the Yetzer Hora and Animal Soul is called "battle," because each of them, the Animal Soul and the Divine Soul, employs its greatest powers, each one trying to overcome its opponent. The desire for victory and control over another, and especially over one who is an opponent and enemy, is so great, that all means are considered worthwhile to gain this victory. We find that in order to be victorious in battle, a king will utilize and expend his most precious treasures which have been accumulated and guarded for many generations, and both sides engage in battle with a firm determination to die - if necessary. This analogy can also be applied to the spiritual battle between the inner forces of good and evil - each one exercising its utmost capabilities to win.

In warfare, various types of weapons are used. There are certain types of arms which can only be used at short range, while others are fit only for long-range purposes. This is also true in the spiritual war between the Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hora, both possessing these various types of armaments. The revealed - or short-range - weapons of the Yetzer Yora, both possessing these various types of armaments. The revealed - or short-range - weapons of the Yetzer Hora are the physical and material things, even those which are permissible according to the Torah. As the Alter Rebbe [Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad-Lubavitch] explains in Tanya (Chapter 7), even kosher food, when it is eaten with the intention of satiating one's desire, becomes evil! The desire, which was the factor in using the food, transforms the good into evil, and this evil eventually becomes a weapon which destroys the person spiritually, or, at the very least, makes him spiritually defective. He receives his vitality from Evil, which brings him to the level where he derives pleasure from a physical desire.

The Yetzer Hora also possesses weapons that work on a long-range basis. Unlike the aforementioned, where one indulged only in things which are permissible, now the evil inclination causes him to transgress unwittingly, by doing things which are forbidden, thereby killing him spiritually! A man once came with his scholarly son-in-law to the Alter Rebbe in Liozna, and complained that his son-in-law, who had always conducted himself properly, suddenly was beset with doubts about his faith, thereby causing himself great anguish. The Rebbe told him that, unknowingly, he had eaten forbidden food. The Rebbe showed him the way to repent, and he became spiritually healthy once more. Thus, forbidden food and the like, are the vile weapons of the Yetzer Hora which reach far out and destroy, G-d forbid, or, at the very least, make the person spiritually defective.


The Yetzer Tov also possesses two types of weapons, i.e., those that perform at close-range, and those which are far-reaching. The latter are of such a nature that they prevail over even the hidden evil of the Yetzer Hora. These two types of weapons are: 1) kabolas ol malchus shomayim - to accept and carry the yoke of Torah and Mitzvoth, 2) yiras shomayim - fear of the Almighty. The service of Kabolas Ol Malchus Shomayim is the weaponry of the Yetzer Tov which works at short-range. Kabolas Ol means that one's service of G-d, both in the study of Torah and the fulfillment of the Commandments, is not dependent upon one's understanding, or desire to understand, the reason for the Mitzvah. On the contrary, he performs it simply because it is G-d's command, without questioning "why?" Kabolas Ol guards one from the Yetzer Hora and its desires, because he has resolved that everything the Yetzer Hora urges, he will not do. This resolution has been made as a result of Kabolas Ol, and not reason.

There is an essential difference between the service of G-d based on understanding and the service of G-d based on Kabolas Ol. When the resolution not to conform to the whims and desires of the Yetzer Hora is founded on reason, it is subject to changes in relation to the fluctuations of the intellect. This can be seen in the case of a scholar presenting a profound thesis and expounding upon it with deep insight. From every intellectual statement or concept there must necessarily follow a practical result or application. Obviously, the practical result depends upon the underlying reason. When another scholar repudiates the thesis, then the practical outcome is also correspondingly changed. Likewise, the service of G-d founded solely on intellect, will be affected by changes in reasoning and logic. On the other hand, service inspired by Kabolas Ol transcends reason; hence, there are no changes.

The resolution of Kabolas Ol, that whatever the Yetzer Hora desires, he abstains from, is the weapon which overpowers the Yetzer Hora. That is, he utilizes those physical objects which he needs, not for the purpose of gratifying his pleasurable desires, but because they are necessary for his physical existence. The second weapon of the Yetzer Tov is Yiras Shomayim, the fear of G-d, namely, that he fears that which G-d has forbidden. This overpowers the hidden evil of the Yetzer Hora, for Yiras Shomayim is characterized by a scrupulousness in all that one does, and therefore he is protected in all his ways.


The time and place of this spiritual struggle is during prayer. Then, both the Divine Soul and the Animal Soul strengthen themselves with their maximum power, each one trying to overcome the other. As it is written about Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:23): "and one nation will try to prevail over the other" (referring to the two nations stemming from Jacob and Esau). In a deeper sense, which is relevant in the service of every Jew to G-d, Jacob and Esau refer to the spiritual and the mundane, respectively. Esau, the son of Isaac, is called "a man of the field," (ibid. 25:27) for his interest lay only in mundane and worldly affairs; his whole desire was only for physical pleasures; he acted falsely and deceitfully. He had the greatest respect for this father, Isaac, (when he had to serve him food, etc., he dressed in his best clothes, thus fulfilling the commandment of honoring one's father) yet, he deceived him also.

Jacob, on the other hand, represents the spiritual, as he is called - "a simple man," (ibid.) one who is neither able nor desirous of fooling others. Jacob's only interest was in spiritual matters; all of his thoughts centered on how to elevate and improve himself, as it is stated (Kiddushin 40a) that a person should be kind to people and devoted to G-d. His whole pleasure was the study of Torah; he is described as "a tent dweller" (Gen, ibid.) - studying the Torah which was taught in the Yeshivot of Shem and Ever.

In terms of a Jew's service of G-d, Jacob and Esau correspond to the two souls within every Jew, namely, the Divine Soul and the Animal Soul, respectively. Both souls wishing to dominate the person, battle between themselves. This is the meaning of "and each nation will try to conquer the other." When two people fight, the actual fighting gives each one a certain amount of courage and strength. The same applies to the spiritual battle between the Divine Soul and the Animal Soul, which takes place during the time of prayer. Therefore, we find that during prayer two opposite emotions are revealed within the person, one stemming from the Divine Soul, and the other from the Animal Soul. We see that during prayer, various alien thoughts enter one's mind, until he even forgets that he is standing in the presence of G-d, the King of kings, and praying. However, when a person is occupied with his business affairs or other mundane matters, such as eating and drinking, then no other thoughts enter his mind. On the contrary, while speaking or listening to idle talk, he momentarily forgets his financial worries; but during the time of prayer strange and foreign thoughts enter his mind. We also find, however, that during prayer, even though one is not mindful of the meaning of the prayers, nevertheless there are certain paragraphs or verses which he says with an inner warmth, and a vitality that permeates his whole being. These opposite dispositions originate from the Divine Soul and the Animal Soul. The Animal Soul causes to arise in one's mind all sorts of strange and improper thoughts, distracting him from prayer, while the Divine Soul inspires him with vigor which expresses itself in a sudden heartrending outcry of repentance. This outburst stems from simple faith and complete trust that "he will be saved from it."

And through the individual redemption of each and every Jew, which is achieved by means of the victory of the good over the evil within himself - will come the complete Redemption of all our people. Then we will all witness the fulfillment of the prophecy - "how great is that day, there is none like it," with the downfall and destruction of Gog and Magog, and the complete Redemption of all the Jews through our righteous Messiah.


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