Two Sons, Two Directions 

Rabbi Bernie Fox

And Hashem said unto her: Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your midst, and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger. (Sefer Beresheit 25:23)

Rivkah conceived after being barren for many years. As the pregnancy progressed, she began to experience terrible pain. Rashi explains that the pain was not merely physical. Rivkah sensed that one of her sons was drawn to righteousness. However, the other son was equally attracted to idol worship. She was deeply disturbed by the contrary natures of these children. She sought some explanation and turned to a prophet[1]. Hashem responded through this prophet. He explained that Rivkah carried two children. They would develop into separate nations. Throughout history, they would struggle with each other for supremacy.

This prophecy was an accurate description of the relationship that would develop between Esav and Yaakov. Eventually, this conflict would be continued through Bnai Yisrael and Edom. The Chumash seems to indicate that Rivkah was satisfied with this explanation. 

Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik Zt”l asks an obvious question. Rivkah was told that her children would represent alternative outlooks. She was correct in her intuition that they were drawn in different directions. One would represent truth and service to Hashem. The second would represent falsehood and idolatry. Why was Rivkah comforted by this explanation? Her fears had been confirmed. One of her sons would, indeed, be evil.

Rav Soloveitchik explains that Rivkah’s greatest fear was not that one of her sons would be drawn toward evil. She had a far greater concern. These two children would grow up in the same home. They would live together. Inevitably, they would influence each other. The good of one son might moderate the evil of the other. However, the righteousness of the good son would be diminished through exposure to evil. In the end, the potential of the good son to become a tzaddik would be compromised.

The prophet responded to this concern. He explained that the two nations would separate from within Rivkah. Rashi explains that this was intended in an almost literal sense. The two sons would begin to develop in their separate directions virtually from birth. They would become estranged from each other at an early age. This alienation would prevent the sons from influencing one another. The son drawn toward evil would not be influenced by the presence of the more righteous brother. But the righteous son would not be swayed by the evil son. Rivkah now knew that this one child would have the opportunity to become a tzaddik. She was satisfied with this assurance [2].

The Name Edom 

And Esav said to Yaakov, “Pour into me, now, from this very red food, for I am exhausted.” Therefore, he is called Edom. (Sefer Beresheit 25:30)

Esav comes home from the fields. He is exhausted and famished. Yaakov is cooking red soup. Esav asks Yaakov to give him the soup. Yaakov asks Esav to sell him his rights as firstborn in exchange for the food. Esav agrees. Through this incident, Yaakov acquired Esav’s birthright.

The Torah quotes Esav’s exact words. He refers to the soup as “very red food.” The Hebrew word Esav used to refer to the “very red food” is adom. The Torah explains that Esav acquired the name Edom as a result of this incident. Edom is derived from the term adom – Esav’s term for the red food.

Apparently, the Torah attributes some importance to Esav’s manner of referring to the soup. He called it “very red food.” The Torah includes this detail in relating the incident. This detail is further stressed through the name Edom. Giving this name to Esav provides a permanent reminder of this detail of the incident. Of course, this raises a question. Why is this aspect of the incident so crucial? Why does the Torah endeavor to memorialize Esav’s reference to Yaakov’s soup?

Various answers are given to this question. One of the most unique is provided by Rambam – Nachmanides. He argues that, in fact, there is no specific significance to the color of Yaakov’s soup. The Torah does not intend to memorialize this detail of the incident. Instead, the Torah is communicating an important message about Esav.

Esav was not fit to be Yitzchak’s spiritual heir. He was completely absorbed in the material world. He was instinctually motivated. This caused him to sell his birthright for a bowl of soup. To communicate its message, the Torah gives Esav a name that recalls this incident. The name Edom accomplishes this goal. Esav referred to the soup as “very red food.”

The name Edom is derived from Esav’s reference. In short, the color of the food is not important. However, the color provides a basis for the name Edom given to Esav. This name is designed to recall this incident [3].

Nachmanides’ insight solves another interesting problem. The Torah generally refers to the land settled by Esav and his descendants as the land of Edom. Why is this land not referred to as the land of Esav?

[1] Rabbaynu Shlomo ben Yitzchak (Rashi), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 25:22

[2] RavYitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, Chidushai HaGRIZ on T’NaCH and Aggadah, Parshat Toldot

[3] Rabbaynu Moshe ben Nachman (Ramban / Nachmanides), Commentary on Sefer Beresheit 25:30.