In this week’s parsha the Torah tells us of a short exchange between Moshe Rabainu and a nameless King of Edom regarding granting the Yidden permission to quietly cut through the king’s land, Edom, en route to Eretz Cana’an. The Ramban questions why the Torah does not tell us the king’s name. He suggests that the Torah only gives the names of kings that are noteworthy, like Sichon & Og who were giants and mighty warriors, whereas this king of Edom was a nobody, neither famous nor infamous. Perhaps we can offer another understanding as to why this King of Edom is presented as a no-name individual.
Moshe, representing the Bnai Yisrael prefaces his request by giving the king a synopsis of what had happened to the Yidden during the previous 300 years. He relates of the time they spent in Egypt and tells him “Vanitz’ak el Hashem vayishma kolainu” We cried out to Hashem and He heard our voices” (Bamidbar 20:16). Rashi, citing a Tanchuma, tells us that Moshe with these words is telling the King of Edom that Hashem responded to our cries in Mitzrayim because of the bracha that Yitzchak had bestowed upon his son Yaakov when he said “Hakol kol Yaakov” – that whenever there will be a cry from Yaakov’s descendants Hashem will respond. It was this bracha that enabled Bnai Yisrael‘s cries to be answered in Mitzrayim.
The King of Edom, however, refuses to allow the Yidden access to his country and amasses a show of force at the border. Rashi tells us that by doing this, he was saying in response that Yitzchak had also promised his ancestor Aisav something when he told him “Vehayadayim yedai Aisav” – Aisav’s hands will rule supreme and he will have the power to physically prevail over other nations.
What caught my eye is that Moshe Rabainu calls “Hakol kol Yaakov” a “Bracha” – blessing, whereas Edom calls “Vehayadayim yedai Aisav” a “Havtacha” – assurance. This subtly shows a significant difference between the King of Edom & Moshe Rabainu vis-a-vis their relationship with Yitzchak. You see, every promise is a blessing but not every blessing is a promise. For when one receives a blessing (unless it is from Hashem Himself) he has merely been given a hope and a prayer that something good will happen, but it’s definitely not a done deal. An assurance on the other hand is a promise that the good will happen. Moshe considered the statements of Yitzchak as a bracha– a hope for success but not an assurance. This mindset keeps a Yid on the straight & narrow and eager to maintain his relationship with Hashem so his bracha can see fruition. Aisav (& future Edomites), however, considered Yitzchak’s words as assurances. This allowed Aisav the freedom to disconnect from the world of the Avos and more importantly from Hashem. Aisav was desperate to not have to have a yachas – a relationship- with his Creator. So he took the brachos of Yitzchak and considered them as money in the bank, and by doing so freed himself from the yoke of religion and any future subservience.
This really was always the modus operandi of Aisav. He could not deny the existence of Hashem but he could rationalize that there was no need for Him. His bumper stickers proclaimed “Kochi ve’otzem yadi asa li es hachayil hazeh” -”My strength of hand gave me all this wealth”. He deemed himself a self-made man, confident and assured of his successful trek through life sans Hashem. And that is why he was called “Aisav”- from the word “assu”- ready made, good to go and no spiritual batteries needed.
With this we can understand why this King has no name. The Torah is teaching us that if one wishes to live a lifestyle feeling independent, totally removing G-d from one’s Rolodex, and making Him a non-entity, then Hashem will treat that wretched individual in a similar fashion. If, in one’s world Hashem is not a player then neither will he be in Hashem’s.
Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Nosson Greenberg is rov of Khal Machzikei Torah of Far Rockaway, N.Y., and maggid shiur at Yeshiva of Far Rockaway.