Rashi, Bereishis, 25:22, sv. And [the children] crushed: …Alternatively, they were struggling one with another over the inheritance of two worlds [this world and the next world].
The Torah tells us that Esav and Yaakov were already clashing in the womb of Rivka. Rashi, in his second interpretation explains that they were fighting over who would inherit Olam Hazeh (This world) and Olam Haba (The World to Come).
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l explains that both brothers felt they had the ultimate right to both worlds – accordingly he asks a very strong question. With regards to Yaakov, despite his spiritual leaning, it is understandable why he believed he could succeed in Olam Hazeh as well as Olam Haba – the Torah’s approach is that there is no contradiction for a spiritual person to also prosper in Olam Hazeh. However, it is very difficult to understand how the totally materialistic Esav could possibly believe that he had a connection to the purely spiritual Olam Haba.
In order to answer this question, Rav Feinstein first analyses why Yitzchak Avinu wanted to give the Blessings to Esav, rather than Yaakov. He explains that Yitzchak surely realized that Yaakov was on a higher spiritual level than Esav, but he believed that Esav’s role was to physically provide for Yaakov so that Yaakov could focus on spiritual pursuits. This indeed was the nature of the highly successful relationship between Yaakov’s sons, Yissachar and Zevulun – Zevulun provided for Yissachar’s physical needs so that Yissachar could focus on his spiritual growth.
Therefore, Yitzchak believed that Esav was most fitting to receive the blessing – indeed, the nature of the blessings that Yitzchak intended for Esav are completely focused on material abundance, not spiritual blessing. Yitzchak’s error was that he believed that Esav could become a righteous person through elevating the physical world in order to provide for Yaakov. However, in truth, Esav had become so engrossed in the material world, that he had no connection to spirituality, rather he was immersed in all kinds of immoral behavior.
This explains Yitzchak’s reasoning, but, as we asked earlier, what was Esav thinking? Rav Feinstein offers a remarkable answer – he writes that Esav understood Yitzchak’s desire that Esav provide for Yaakov, and he was willing to do so! However, the mistake Esav made was that he believed that if he would fulfill that aspect of his role, then he would be ‘exempt’ so to speak, from following the dictates of leading a moral life. He reasoned that in exchange for providing for Yaakov he could involve himself in all the forbidden pleasures of Olam Hazeh and HaShem would forgive him because he would be fulfilling HaShem’s will in enabling Yaakov to live a spiritual life. In this way, he reasoned that he would merit to inherit Olam Haba in addition to Olam Hazeh.
Rav Feinstein continues that Esav’s mistake was that HaShem does not accept bribes of a person doing certain Mitzvos and in reward, ‘letting him off’ of keeping other, less palatable Mitzvos. Rather, HaShem demands that a person strive in all aspects of his Avodas HaShem, even the areas that are more difficult. Accordingly, Esav lost his opportunity and instead Yaakov had to take on both the spiritual and physical roles.
Rav Feinstein’s principle has a number of applications: It is not uncommon that generous donors to Jewish causes are weak in their general Torah observance – there may be a number of reasons for this, but one factor that can play a role is that they have a feeling of being ‘exempt’ from other Mitzvos as a result of their generosity. Rav Feinstein teaches us that this attitude is highly erroneous – whilst giving charity is a great Mitzva, it is only one of many obligations that one must strive to observe.
Rav Noach Weinberg zt”l recalled a fundraising encounter that encapsulates this phenomenon – he had a meeting with an extremely wealthy man, with the potential for a huge donation. In the course of their discussion, it became apparent that this man was married to a non-Jew. On discovering this, Rav Noach strongly rebuked the man telling him it was unacceptable to be intermarried, ignoring the damage that this would cause to his fundraising efforts. Rav Weinberg did not care that this man was a massive donor to numerous worthy causes – that did not exempt him from intermarriage! The man was actually very impressed at Rav Weinberg’s honesty, and he told Rav Weinberg that he was the first fundraiser to tell him the truth and not flatter him – and the man gave a very large donation!
This lesson can apply to those of us who are not massive donors, and those of us who do strive to observe the Torah. Each person has a tendency to be stronger in one area of Avodas HaShem than others – there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but it is essential that a person not think that just because he excels in this area, he is exempt from working on other areas that come less naturally to him.
For example, a person may contribute a great deal to his community – that is great, but it does not exempt him from the obligation to learn Torah every single day. Another person may excel in prayer, but he also need to make sure he spends time with his family. The examples are endless, and each person’s test in this area is unique to his own situation and capabilities.
May we all merit to strive in all areas of Avodas HaShem.