Toldos: Names of a People ~ Reuven Chaim Klein

My wife and I were once travelling in the subway in Los Angeles, and a friendly African-American stopped us to ask, “Hey! Are you guys Amish?” To which I promptly replied, “Nah, we’re Hebrews.” But why are Jews called “Hebrews”? Better yet, why are Jews called “Jews”? If we want to get Biblical, the Jewish People are known as “Israelites”; what is the meaning of that term? These questions and more will be answered in the article before you.

The first person described in the Bible as a “Hebrew” (Ivri) is Abraham. In the Torah’s account of the war between the Five Kings of Sodom and the Four Mesopotamian Kings, a refugee from the war told Abraham about the abduction of his nephew Lot: “The refugee came and he told Abraham the Ivri [Hebrew]… and Abraham heard that his brother[’s son] was captured (Gen. 14:13-14).” What does it mean that Abraham was an Ivri?

The Midrash (Ber. Rabbah 42:8) offers three explanations for why the Torah refers to Abraham as an Ivri: One opinion maintains that it alludes to the fact that if the entire world would be on one “side” (ever) of a scale, and Abraham would stand on the other, then because of Abraham’s great stature the scale would balance. A second opinion explains that Abraham was called an Ivri as a genealogical marker to show that he descended from Eber (Ever), who was a great-grandson of Noah’s son Shem (Gen. 11:21–24). A third opinion explains that he was referred to as an Ivri because of his Mesopotamian origins from the other “side” (ever) of the Euphrates River, and because he spoke the Ivri (ostensibly “Hebrew”) language.

Pesikta Rabbati (Pesikta 33) offers a fourth explanation: When Gd saw that the entire world worshipped idolatry, and Abraham separated himself from them by not doing so, He called Abraham an Ivri. That appellation referred to the fact that Abraham took the opposite “side”, regarding this pivotal issue, than did the rest of the world. Another Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 3:8) explains that the Jews are called “Hebrews” (Ivriim), because they were destined “to cross over the [Red] Sea” (she’avru ha’yam).

The term Bnei Yisrael (literally, “Sons of Israel”, or “Israelites”) appears in the Bible a whopping 636 times, and the term Yisrael (“Israel”) as way of referring to the Jewish People is used over two-thousand times! Yisrael is actually an alternate name for the Partriach Jacob. By using Yisrael as a patronym, all the Jewish People are also called Yisrael or Sons of Yisrael.

Rabbeinu Bachaya (to Exodus21:6) explains that the term “Hebrew” connotes a lower spiritual level than the term “Israelite”. Based on this, he explains that it is appropriate to refer to a Jewish slave as an Eved Ivri (“Hebrew” slave), even after the Sinai Revelation (after which the term “Hebrew” largely fell into disuse in the Bible), because a slave lives on a lower plane of existence than does a freedman. For this reason, throughout most of the Bible, the Jewish People are called “Israelites” — a term which connotes a higher level (not to be confused with Israeli, which refers to somebody hailing from the modern State of Israel).

From where does the name “Jew” come? As you might know, after the rules of King David and King Solomon, the Jewish People split into two parallel kingdoms: the Kingdom of Judah (Yehuda) in the south and the Kingdom of Israel in the north. The Kingdom of Judah, which consisted of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, continued to be led by the Davidic dynasty. The Kingdom of Judah was named after Jacob’s fourth son Judah, from whom the Davidic line descends. Judah, in turn, was named so by his mother Leah as a means of expressing thanks (hodaah) to G-d for granting her a fourth son (see Gen. 29:35).

The Kingdom of Israel consisted of the remaining Ten Tribes, and was led by various kings from those tribes. The Northern Kingdom first fell to the Assyrians, and the Ten Tribes were exiled to parts unknown. Well over a century later, the Southern Kingdom was conquered by the Babylonians, and the Jews who lived there were exiled to Babylon.

The gentilic Yehudiim applies specifically to Jews who were subjects of the Kingdom of Judah. When the Persians superseded the Babylonians, they allowed the Jews in their empire to return to the Holy Land, and establish the semi-independent Persian province Yehud Medinata (“The State of Judah”). Centuries later, when the Romans incorporated the Holy Land into their vast empire, they applied the name “Judea” to that stretch of land (until they rebranded it as Syria Palaestina after the Bar Kochba revolt).

From here evolved the term “Jew”: The Ancient Greek word for Yehudi is Ioudaîos. (Interestingly, the earliest appearance of this word is in the so-called Moschos Inscription, in which a Jew-turned-Hellene named Moschos erected a stele to honor the Greek gods.) As you can see, in Greek, the h-sound of the word Yehuda was dropped. When that word was introduced into Old French, it lost the d-sound to become giu (although in many other European languages, the d-sound remained intact). The Modern English word “Jew” was born from that.

Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm once debated a radical secular Israeli who denied the Jewishness of the State of Israel. In the midst of the debate, Rabbi Lamm supposedly said: “You talk about French nationals and Spanish nationals and Italian nationals, and deny the nationhood of the Jewish people. In the country from which I come, we also have Hebrew Nationals — but at least they claim that their baloney is kosher!”

Toldot: The Smell of Truth ~ Tzvi Abrahams


The Smell of Truth

רֵיחַ: smell

רוּחַ: wind, spirit

רֵיחַיִם: millstone, grinder

יְרִיחוֹ: Yericho

יָרֵחַ: moon

וַיָּרַח אֶת רֵיחַ בְּגָדָיו וַיְבָרְכֵהוּ וַיֹּאמֶר רְאֵה רֵיחַ בְּנִי כְּרֵיחַ שָׂדֶה אֲשֶׁר בֵּרְכוֹ ה’
And he smelled the smell of his clothes and he blessed him, and he said, “See, the smell of my son is like the smell of the field that is blessed by Hashem.”1

Rashi explains that the field referred to in the pasukthat is blessed by Hashem with a pleasant fragrance is a field of apples, a synonym for Gan Eden. Rivkah had given Yaakov the clothes of Eisav known as the בִּגְדֵי חַמוּדוֹת,literally “desirable clothing,” so called because one would become disguised to look like an animal when they were worn, and thus they were sought after by Eisav and Nimrod, both of whom were hunters, אִישׁ צַיִד. Eisav dispossessed the בִּגְדֵי חַמוּדוֹתfrom Nimrod, which were originally worn by Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden. Hence, they carried with them the sweet fragrance of Gan Eden.

Yitzchak recognized the smell of Gan Eden because he himself had been there. Just when Avraham was about to shechthim at the Akeidah, Yitzchak’s soul temporarily left him, entered Gan Eden, and returned.

The Maharsha brings down another opinion from the Midrash that says the smell of Gan Eden was not due to the clothes that Yaakov was wearing, but rather to the smell emanating from Yaakov himself, due to hisצִדְקוּת/righteousness.2

Conversely, when Eisav entered the scene, he brought with him the smell ofGehinnom, as the pasuksays: וַיֶּחֱרַד יִצְחָק חֲרָדָה גְּדֹלָה עַד מְאֹד/And Yitzchak trembled a great trembling. Rashi says that Yitzchak trembled as he saw Gehinnomopen up in front of his eyes, and according to Midrash Rabbah, it was because he smelled the stench of Gehinnom. In brief, Yaakov brought with him the smell of Gan Eden while Eisav brought with him the smell of Gehinnom.

If indeed we are to attribute the differences in smell of Yaakov and Eisav to their respective polar opposite levels of tzidkusandrishus, then the question begs to be asked: how come now, only after his sons have reached the age of sixty-three, does Yitzchak finally comes to his senses — with his sense of smell finally revealing to him the truth?

Another question: Yitzchak recognized the smell of Gan Eden because he had been there, but how did he recognize the smell of Gehinnom?

To help answer these questions, we must take a deeper look into the sense of smell.

רֵיחַ: Smell

If there would be such a notion of donating senses, like we see with organ donors, and someone was willing to pay you a million dollars for one of your senses, which one would you be willing to part with? By far, the sense of smell is the sense that one could easily live without.

Hashem could have easily designed the world without smell. What is it about smell that Hashem deemed so significant to fashion it within His creation?

The Gemara in Brachos, after discussing the various brachoson smells, rhetorically asks from where we know that one must bless on smells, as it says:כָּל הַנְשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵל יָ-הּ/all of the neshamahpraises Hashem, וְאֵיזֶהוּ דָבָר שֶׁהַנְשָׁמָה נֶהֶנִית מִמֶנוּ וְאֵין הַגוּף נֶהֶנֶה מִמֶנוּ,הֶוֵי אוֹמֶר זֶה הַרֵיחַ/and what thing does the neshamahbenefit from where the body doesn’t benefit from — the sense of smell.3

רוּחַ: Wind, Spirit

רֵיחַ בָּא מִרוּחַ /rei’achcomes through the ruach.

The Maharsha states that out of all the senses, smell is the mostruchani.רֵיחַcomes from the passing of רוּחַfrom outside the body into the body by the way of נְשִׁימָה/breath.

Smell, far from being physical, is not even a taste — rather, it is just a whiff of something. It is so fleeting that we don’t even say an after-brachah.

It is so ruchanithat it can be a רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ לַה’/pleasing fragrance to Hashem through the burning of the sacrificial offerings and the ketores/incense.

We also see the connection between רֵיחַandרוּחַin connection with Havdalah, where we smell the besamimto revive ourselves from the departing of the extra soul.

Interestingly, the organ of smell, the nose, אַףin Hebrew, is also a word for anger, because anger is exhibited through the flaring of the nostrils. Anger originates from the liver, which heats up the body, which in turn causes shortness of breath, which in Hebrew is called קוֹצֶר רוּחַ/literally a shortness of spirit, because by becoming angry we diminish our spirit and connection with Hashem. This shortness of breath is therefore exhibited in the nose because we are trying to replenish our shortness of spirit by breathing in air. Instead, by breathing in deep breaths, we are able to counteract the anger that Chazal/the Sages call קוֹרוֹת רוּחַ/a cooling of spirit.4

The position of the nose, designed specifically above the mouth, is for the purpose of detecting any food that may have gone off before it enters the mouth. There are dangerous smells, like gas and poison; repugnant smells, like excrement, body odor, rotting food, and death; and there are pleasant smells that draw us close, like perfumes, flowers, meat on the barbecue, etc. Smell has the power to draw close or to repulse. Generally, things that are good for us smell nice, whereas things that are bad for us smell bad.

The Gemara in Brachosbrings a pasukin Hoshea:יֵלְכוּ יֹנְקוֹתָיו וִיהִי כַזַּיִת הוֹדוֹ וְרֵיחַ לוֹ כַּלְּבָנוֹן/Young boys will give off a pleasant smell like the Lebanon,5meaning that in the future, when we do teshuvah, young boys will give off a pleasing fragrance through not sinning. Have you ever been aware of the beautiful smell of a newly born baby? Now we can understand why they have such a gorgeous smell — because they have not yet tasted sin.

On the other hand, when the רוּחַ/ruachof life leaves the body, it leaves behind a stench. The body fills up with the ruach hatumahin the shape of flies and maggots.

So we can now understand why Yaakov smelled of Gan Eden and Eisav ofGehinnom. The tzaddik, who is free of sin, who has ruach hachaim, who is connected to life, smells fragrant. The rasha, who is enveloped in sin, who has lost his connection to life, is no different to a dead body that is filled with tumah. Like the Gemara in Brachossays, the resha’imeven while they are in this world are considered like they are dead, whereas the tzaddikimeven when they leave the world are considered living.

יְרִיחוֹ: Yericho

Rashi to the Gemara in Brachosgives the reason for Yericho’s name as due its abundant palm groves that give off the pleasant smell of its dates, hence יְרִיחוֹfrom its רֵיחַ.6Also, the burning of the incense from the Beis HaMikdash was so strong that it could be smelled even as far as Yericho.

יָרֵחַ: Moon

We can relate יָרֵחַtoרֵיחַin the sense we could say that just like smell is just a whiff of something, so too the light of the moon is just a reflection of the real thing.

רֵיחַיִם: Millstone, Grinder

The Radak in his Sefer HaShorashimconnects רֵיחַיִםtoרֵיחַ. We could say that the mill grinds things down to the point where it becomes a רֵיחַof its former self. Also, the grinding process releases the inner qualities of what is being ground in the form of its רֵיחַ/smell.

InParshas Ki Seitzei,it says that with regards to collateral on a loan, one is not allowed to hold back a רֵיחַיִםovernight, and not just a רֵיחַיִם, but any item a person is dependent upon to make food or his livelihood. Perhaps the Torah is hinting to us with the use of the word רֵיחַיִםthat just like in the physical world we need to break things down in order to make them edible and digestible, so too in order to taste the spiritual world of רֵיחַ/rei’achandרוּחַ/ruach, we need to break ourselves down by refining ourselves to the point where we are in touch with our spiritual core.

InSanhedrin, the Gemara expounds the pasukin Yeshayathat saysוַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַתה’7in connection with the Mashiach. Rav Alexander expounds the wordוַהֲרִיחוֹin the context of רֵיחַיִם/millstone, in that only after the loading of the mill, with all the exertion involved in the grinding, can one benefit from all the hard work. So too יִשְׂרָאֵלwill only be able to benefit from the redemption after the Mashiach has been loaded like a mill with mitzvos and יִסוּרִין/afflictions.8

In contrast, Rava expounds the pasukוַהֲרִיחוֹ בְּיִרְאַתה’ in the context of מַרֵיחַ/smell, that the Mashiach with his extraordinary powers will be able to judge with his sense of smell. Unlike ordinary judges who have to resort to their powers of sight and sound and can therefore be misled by someone’s appearance and (weeping) voice or false testimony, not so the Mashiach, who will judge with his sense of smell, which cannot be mistaken, as the Maharsha says:

כִּי חוּשׁ הַרֵיחַ הוּא רוּחָנִי מֵחֵלֶק הַנְשָׁמָה כמ”ש כָּל הַנְשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵל יָ-הּ,וְאֵיזֶהוּ דָבָר שֶׁהַנְשָׁמָה נֶהֶנִית מִמֶנוּ וְאֵין הַגוּף נֶהֶנֶה מִמֶנוּ,זֶה הַרֵיחַ,אַבָל שְׁאַר הַחוּשִׁים יוֹתֶר גוּפָנִים וְהַטָעוּת מָצוּי בָּהֶם.

Because the sense of smell is ruchani, being a part of the neshamah, like it is written, ‘What thing does the neshamahbenefit from and the body doesn’t benefit from? The sense of smell’; whereas the other senses are more physical and therefore are prone to deception.[//bq]

Before we try to answer the questions from above, we need a bit more background information:

וַיְהִי עֵשָׂו בֶּן אַרְבָּעִים שָׁנָה וַיִּקַּח אִשָּׁה אֶת יְהוּדִית בַּת בְּאֵרִי הַחִתִּי וְאֶת בָּשְׂמַת בַּת אֵילֹן הַחִתִּי
And when Eisav was forty years old, he married Yehudis the daughter of Beri the Chiti, and he married Bosmas the daughter of Ilan the Chiti. And it was painful in the eyes of Yitzchak and Rivkah.9

It pained them because the wives of Eisav burned incense to avodah zarah, the smoke of which caused Yizchak to lose his ability to see straight, as it says: וַיְהִי כִּי זָקֵן יִצְחָק וַתִּכְהֶיןָ עֵינָיו מֵרְאֹת. Rivkah, though, who grew up with avodah zarah, was not as sensitive to it as Yitzchak. The name Bosmas, frombosem/perfume, hints to us that Yitzchak was also affected by the smell of the incense to the point where he lost his ruach hakodesh.

אָמַר ר’יְהוֹשֻעַ בֶּן לֵוִי גָרַם לְהוֹרוֹ [לְאָבִיו]לְסַלֵק מִמֶנוּ רוּחַ הַקוֹדֶשׁ
Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi said that it caused his father to lose his ruach hakodesh.10

עֵשָׂו אִישׁ צַיִד
Eisav was able to trap his father through his marriage. By bringing avodah zarahinto the house, he was able to pull the wool over his father’s eyes. He was able to disguise the bad smell of being a rashaby wearing the בִּגְדֵי חַמוּדוֹת that smelled of Gan Eden, a bit like someone who has bad body odor that he neutralizes with perfume. This was Eisav who disguised his smell, symbolized by marrying Bosmas, meaning perfumed.

Obviously, Yitzchak knew that his son Eisav, compared to Yaakov, was “off thederech,” but how far off the derechhe didn’t know until Gehinnomopened up under his very eyes. Just like Avraham found it difficult to let go of his son Yishmael, a father will always live in hope that he will eventually be able to impact his son and bring him back from his wayward ways.

So too we are Hashem’s children, בָּנִים לה’, and even though we have strayed from Hashem, Hashem has never abandoned us and still has his hand open for us to return.

וַעֲשֵׂה לִי מַטְעַמִּים כַּאֲשֶׁר אָהַבְתִּי וְהָבִיאָה לִּי וְאֹכֵלָה בַּעֲבוּר תְּבָרֶכְךָ נַפְשִׁי בְּטֶרֶם אָמוּת
And make for me tasty food that I like, and bring them to me and I shall eat, and through this my soul will bless you before I die.11

Yitzchak reasoned that through these מַטְעַמִּים/sweet-tasting foods he would regain his ruach hakodeshthrough being in a state of simchahand therefore be able to bring down the blessings.12

After regaining his ruach hakodesh, Hashem opened up his eyes — his inner eye — and he saw the truth to the point where his neshamahwas now able to literally smell the truth.

Now, Baruch Hashem, we are ready to answer our questions!

Question One: If indeed we are to attribute the differences in smell of Yaakov and Eisav from their respective polar opposite levels of tzidkusandrishus, then the question begs to be asked: how come now, only after his sons have reached the age of sixty-three, does Yitzchak finally comes to his senses?


We said above that the Mashiach will judge with his sense of smell, because there is no mistake when it comes to the sense of smell. One literally can smell the truth, and one can smell if something is fishy. But this is only if one’s רֵיחַis in touch with his רוּחַ, and so once Yitzchak regained his ruach hakodesh, he could very much smell the truth.

An additional point: Since Yaakov and Eisav went their separate ways as early as fifteen years old, long before Yitzchak lost his ruach hakodesh, why was Yitzchak unable to smell the rishusof Eisav earlier? The answer given is that early on Yitzchak was unable to feel it, as Eisav was able to trap him with his mouth (כִּי צַיִד בְּפִּיו), however by the time Yitzchak became elderly, Eisav’s rishuswas so great it was impossible to hide.13

Question Two: Yitzchak recognized the smell of Gan Eden because he had been there, but how did he recognize the smell of Gehinnom?


Going with the opinion in the Midrash that the reason for the smell of Gan Eden was because of Yaakov’s tziddkusand not because of the clothes, when Eisav enters the scene, the stench of Gehinnom, due to his rishus, was now all too apparent to Yitzchak, whose power of smell was so acute that he could now only smell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

It’s not that he recognized the smell of Gehinnom, but that he literally smelled the stench of Gehinnomמַמַשׁ, to the point where its smell was so pungent and repugnant that it left him in a state of trepidation.

The name יָרֵחַ/moon also has the connotation of “will give off a pleasant smell,” where a yudat the beginning of a word in Hebrew can also represent the future tense. In the future, the moon, which is compared to the Jewish Nation, will no longer be diminished and instead will return to its former glory, signifying that the Jewish People will have fulfilled their mission, and they too will give off a good רֵיחַ, generated from keeping the mitzvos.14

People who don’t take care of their personal hygiene have bad body odor, even to the point where they become accustomed to their own smell. When we clean ourselves, we no longer smell bad; so too when we are spiritually clean we give off a good aroma.

Besides Gan Eden smelling nice because it gives off the fruity fragrance from the field of apples, so too it is enhanced by the רֵיחַ טוֹב that comes from all the tzaddikimwho are clothed in their mitzvos. Each mitzvah gives off its ownרֵיחַ, just like with the arba minim, where the esroghas taste and רֵיחַ, where taste is Torah and רֵיחַis from doing the mitzvos.

Please G-d, the time should draw near when the Jewish People fulfill their destiny of being like the יָרֵחַ/moon, where by leading a life of mitzvos we will give off a goodרֵיחַ/smell — to be a רֵיחַ נִיחוֹחַ/a pleasant smell and נַחַת רוּחַ לה’/a resting of spirit to Hashem. To be like a רֵיחַיִם/millstone where we grind ourselves down to reveal the sweet-smelling fragrance of our רוּחַ/ruachand perhaps reach the awareness of Yitzchak where we can literally smell the truth.

1Bereishis 27:27.

2Taanis 29b.

3Brachos 43b.

4See Ramchal, Adir BaMarom, p. 76.

5Hoshea 14:7.

6Rashi to Brachos 43a.

7Yeshayah 11:3.

8Sanhedrin 93b.

9Bereishis 26:34.

10Bereishis Rabbah 65:4.

11Bereishis 27:4.

12Kli Yakar on Bereishis ibid.

13See Anaf Yosefto Midrash Tanchuma, Ki Seitzei, s.v., shelo yehei.

14See Shem Mishmuel, Noach5676.

Toldot: Heal, Esau! ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

Video Summary

Toldot / Eikev

Gen. 25:26 – After that, his brother emerged, his hand grasping on to the heel [בַּעֲקֵב] of Esau; so he called his name Jacob [יַעֲקֹב].

Gen. 26:4-5 – I will increase your offspring like the stars of the heavens … because [עֵקֶב] Abraham obeyed My voice.

Gen. 27:36 – Is it because his name is Jacob that he outwitted me [וַיַּעְקְבֵנִי] these two times. He took away my birthright and see, now he took away my blessing.

Nahmanides (Ramban) in Deut. 7:12 lists several possible meanings of the rootעקב:

a) because of, due to; b) bypassing/ circumventing, something twisted or serpentine; c) the back part of the foot [עקב], i.e. the heel. Ramban (based on Onkelos’ translation) suggests a common theme to all meanings: circuitousness]

Ramban on Deut. 7:12:Onkelos… translated it to mean something twisted, derived from “And the crooked path [העקוב] shall be made level” (Is. 40:4) – the twisted road going this way and that. In this vein also: “polluted [עקוב] with blood” (Hosea 6:8) – encircled, surrounded. It therefore means to say: the reason for your obeying these laws and keeping them would be so that God may preserve his covenant with you. [Onkelos] interpreted this well. Similar is “Because of [בגלל] this thing” (Deut.15:10) – for this reason; the word בגללis related to:“and they rolled [גללו] the stone from the well’s mouth” (Gen. 29:3). It is further my opinion that any usage of עקבinvolves a turning or rolling, as in “The heart is deceitful [עקוב] above all things” (Jer. 17:9), “he has deceived me [ויעקבני] these two times” (Gen. 27:36), “But Jehu did it in cunning [בעקבה]” (II Kings 10:19) – all of these indicate something twisted and roundabout. That is why Jacob [יעקב] is called Jeshurun [root ישרdenoting straight], because the opposite of “twisted” העקובis the straight / level מישור. And the back part of the foot is called עקב: “his hand grasped Esau’s heel [עקב]” (Gen. 25:26), because it is rounded.

The Pentateuch also states that Jacob’s name is derived from the root עקב: Gen. 25:26 – And after that came forth his brother, and his hand had hold on Esau’s heel [עקב]; and his name was called Jacob[יעקב]. That is to say, the Torah attributes the name Jacob directly to the back part of the foot that Jacob was holding. However, Esau associates the name with delay and tarrying1(and by extension deceit): Gen. 27:36 – Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has deceived me [ויעקבני] these two times.

One cannot deny that the root עקבbears the connotations Esau attributes to it as well, and these ideas dovetail with all the meanings Nahmanides noted. Nahmanides himself explained that the basic denotation of עקבis twistingand turning, and upon reflection, twisting and turning -unlike level or straight movement- represent a delay,tarryingand prevention. As for other denotations, in regard to the meaning a) “because” – the result of a particular act (such as its reward) is not automatic, but is usually postponeduntil the completion of the act; b) regarding the meaning of “bypassing and crookedness” – they are the opposite of both physical and intellectual straightness, and thus ipso facto represent a detour, a delayin progress; c) in respect to the meaning the heels of the feet – the heel brakesand preventsprogress [cf. English expression “to dig one’s heels in”]. Therefore, it would seem that Esau was correct in interpreting his brother’s name as meaning delayingandimpeding.

Moreover, it seems that further support for this is provided by comparisons with other Hebrew roots with the letters עק, all of which have in common distress, enclosure, twistedness, prevention, andend state /border, as in the following:

  1. עקב: a) borderline /end of the body2; b) end /closure of a process3; c) prevention of progress (ויעקבני).

  2. עקד:binding, turning andclosure.4

  3. עקה: as in מעקהbanister/ railing.5

  4. עיק:oppressive,enclosing,twisting,restricting.6

  5. עקל:twisted, crooked.7

  6. עקר:closed off or limited from birth.8

  7. עקש:“twisted and crooked” (Rashi on Deuteronomy 32:5).

This holds true for words that end with the lettersעק, with various prefixes:

  1. זעקה/צעקה:the calling for help as the result of a sense of constriction and distress.9

  2. עקם:twisted, perverted.

  3. עקץ:an appendix that exerts pressure and stings.10

  4. עקף:delay /sneakiness.11

Rashi, at the beginning of this week’s portion (in his second explanation), cites the Rabbinic interpretation of ויתרוצצו(and the children struggled together within her): Rashi Genesis 25:22 – ויתרוצצוthey struggled” – one is forced to explain this using a Midrashic approach: they struggled with one another, arguing about the inheritance of both worlds. [We cite here the Midrashic text:] Tanna Devei Eliyahu Zuta (Ish Shalom edition) Section 19: Jacob said to Esau… “We have two worlds before us: this world, and the world to come. This world contains eating and drinking, dealing in business, marrying a wife and fathering sons and daughters, but the world to come is not like that…” Right away, Esau denied the resurrection: “The living, who breathe and possess a spirit die; how is it possible that the dead can come back to life?”

It would seem that the conflict expressed in this Midrash relates to Esau’s later accusing Jacob of having deceived him twice – ויעקבני זה פעמיים. Esau claims that Jacob’s intent is to place obstacles before him and prevent him from progressing. Jacob answers that he doesn’t deny the charge, because his objective is indeed to delay him, but not as Esau thinks. Jacob describes to Esau the two worlds before them: the material world, which is transient, and the true world, which is eternal. By holding onto his heel, Jacob is hinting to Esau: “Take a good look before you decide to enter the ‘rat race’ of this world, which will fill up your life and drain you of all your strength. Instead, let us both tarry and devote some years to learning the ways of God at the study house of Shem and Ever, so that the two of us can acquire both worlds. That way, we will follow in the footsteps of our forebear Abraham, to whom the Blessed One promised reward as a consequence of his righteousness: Gen. 26:4-5: “…I…will give unto your seed all these lands…as reward [עקב] for Abraham having hearkened to My voice” [as Ibn Ezra interpreted the above promise]: Gen. 22:18because you have hearkened to My voice;Ibn Ezra:עקב– reward at the end.

Haketav Vehakabbala explains the reason that reward is called עקב: “…becausereward is what comes at the end of the act, just as the heel is found at the end of the body. Thus ‘reward’ at the end is called ekev.”12

In conclusion: Jacob proposes the positive aspect of delay [עיכוב] to his brother, i.e. the עקב/ reward that in the end awaits those who do not waste their lives impulsively on fleeting, this-worldly satisfactions. May God grant us the opportunity to devote our lives consistently [בעקביות] to His eternal Torah, and as a consequence [עקב], may we merit joy in this world and eternity in the next. Amen.

1In the Rabbinic vernacular: עיכוב, interchanging the letter קfor a כ.

2 אֹחֶזֶת בַּעֲקֵב (ברכה:כו).

3 עֵקֶב אֲשֶׁר שָׁמַע (שםכו:ה).

4כפי שפירש רדק(ערךעקד):וַיַּעֲקֹד אֶת יִצְחָק בְּנוֹ (בראשית כב:ט)ויקשור.עֲקֻדִּים נְקֻדִּים(שםל:לט),פירוש שהכתמים שלהן במקום שקושרין אותו היד והרגל,שכופפין היד על הרגל וקושרין ובאותו מקום היו כתמיהם לכך קראן עקודים.

5דברים כב:חוְעָשִׂיתָ מַעֲקֶה לְגַגֶּךָ;רשימעקהגדר סביב לגג.

6רדק(ערךעיק‘)אָנֹכִי מֵעִיק(עמוס ב:יג),שַׂמְתָּ מוּעָקָה (תהסו:יא),עָקַת רָשָׁע(תהנה:ד)תרגום צרה עקה.וכן פרשי את כולם:רשי עמוס ב:יגמעיקתרגום של מציק. רשי תהסו:יאמועקהלמסגר וכל המעיק והמציק כמוהו. רשי תהנה:דעקתלמצוק.

7אֳרָחוֹת עֲקַלְקַלּוֹת(שופטים ה:ו);מצצ שופטים ה:ועקלקלותמלשון מעוקל ומעוקם.וְהַמַּטִּים עֲקַלְקַלּוֹתָם(תהלים קכה:ה),ופירש רדק(ערךעקל‘)כלם ענין עוות.חבקוק א:דעַל כֵּן יֵצֵא מִשְׁפָּט מְעֻקָּל;מצצמעוקלענין עקום.ישעיהו כז:אוְעַל לִוְיָתָן נָחָשׁ עֲקַלָּתוֹן;מצצעקלתוןענין עקום ועוות כמו ארחות עקלקלות (שופטים ה).ובגמרא מצינו עקלתוןעלקוים נטוים צמודים(זיגזג):בב קב:-קג:מתני‘.האומר לחבירו בית כור עפר אני מוכר לך,היו שםסלעים גבוהין יטפחיםאינן נמדדין עמהבעי רבי ירמיה:כשיר[סלעים המפוזרים בצורת צמיד],מהו?כשורה[סלעים המפוזרים בשורה אחת ישרה]מהו?איצטדינין[סלעים המפוזבצורת קרני השור],מהו?דרך עקלתוןסלעים המפוזבצורת זיגזג,מהו?תיקו.רשבם ותוסישנים שירטטו את העקלתוןכעין האות הלועזית W,ובמאירת עינים (חומ ריח:ג)צייר גם Z,שכולם מתארים קווים אלכסוניות הפונים לכאן או לכאן. וזל הערוך (ערךאיצטדינן‘):באיצטדינין מהו דרך עקלתון מהו פירוש איצטדינין אלכסון.קצת משמע שהבין ששתיהן שאלה אחת,היינו שהמאפיין המיוחד של האיצטדי(ו)ן הוא סידור מושבי הצופים בצורה אלכסונית,והיינו ל‘ “עקלתוןהמורה על צורה זו (ויהיהאלכסון” = לעקלתוןבחילוף אותיות המבטא וחילוף מיקום אותיות).וראה פרבנו גרשום שפבצורה קצת שונה.

8דבלב:הדור עקש ופתלתול;ספרי האזינו שח:הדור עקשאמר להם משה לישראל עקמנים.רשיעקשעקום ומעוקל,כמו:ואת כל הישרה יעקשו(מיכה ג:ט),ובלשון משנה חולדה ששיניה עקומות ועקושות.

9תהלים קז:ווַיִּצְעֲקוּ אֶל הבַּצַּר לָהֶם מִמְּצוּקוֹתֵיהֶם יַצִּילֵם.שופטים ד:גוַיִּצְעֲקוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל הוְהוּא לָחַץ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּחָזְקָה.שםו:ווַיִּדַּל יִשְׂרָאֵל מְאֹד מִפְּנֵי מִדְיָן וַיִּזְעֲקוּ.שמות ב:כגוַיֵּאָנְחוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מִן הָעֲבֹדָה וַיִּזְעָקוּ.ירמיהו מח:דנִשְׁבְּרָה מוֹאָב הִשְׁמִיעוּ זְּעָקָה.

10מגילה כד:משנהכהן שיש בידיו מומין לא ישא את כפיו...גמראעקומות,עקושותלא ישא את כפיו;רשיעקומותכפופות.עקושותלצידיהן.

11סוכהלא:-לב.לולב כפוף,קווץפסול;רשיקווץשיוצאין בשדרה שלו עוקצין כמין קוצין.

12ראה ראבע הנל,והשוה גם רשי תהיט:יב.