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Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
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Home » Toldot

Toldot: Clutching the Heel

Submitted by on October 25, 2006 – 8:50 pmNo Comment | 2,567 views

The Birth of Twins

They had assembled to help Rebbecca through her difficult labor. This was not an ordinary delivery, there were twins in her womb. Not ordinary twins either, these twins were engaged in a bitter rivalry that began the moment they were conceived. Their continuous bickering had given their mother no rest and the assembled waited with baited breath for their first glimpse.
At long last the first of the twins arrived and he sure looked different. He was completely covered in a fine coat of red hair and gave off the appearance of a mature adult.
Taken aback, the assembled were prompted to name the baby, Esau. Esau means completed. With his hair fully grown and his body seemingly mature, Esau seemed  complete at birth.
Not to be outdone, the next baby wasted no time in arriving. Seemingly furious at having been outpaced, he followed closely behind, his little fist tightly wrapped around his  brother’s heel.
His seeming race to the finish charmed the onlookers, but before anyone could suggest a name, a voice sounded, as if from heaven, and named him Jacob. Jacob means, G-d’s heel. (1)
This is the story as it appears in the Torah, embellished with tidbits culled from the works of our sages. Yet one wonders at the meaning behind the bizarre appearance of these two babies, who would later play a pivotal rode in the prorogation of civilization. clutching the heel - innerstreamSurely the strange events surrounding their birth serve as a metaphor for their respective destines.

Two Dimensions of Life

When G-d created Adam, he breathed into him a breath of life and Adam became a living soul. (2) According to biblical commentary the breath of life and the living soul refer to two dimensions within us. (3)
The moment a child is born it is immediately alive. It is a living soul. This life-force expresses itself through physical animation. The baby breathes, cries and eats; using all five senses within weeks of its birth. When the Torah described Adam as a living soul it was in reference to this tactile plane of life.
It takes several years for the second dimension to come forth. The second dimension is our potential to express our divine spark and to fulfill our divine mandate. This requires education and a degree of intellectual and emotional maturity. When the Torah spoke of the divine breath within Adam, it was in reference to Adam’s divine potential. His ability to transcend the tactile and physical.

Cultivating the Breath

Cultivating our breath of G-d and enabling it to dominate over the base elements of our nature is a lifetime endeavor. At times our divine spark prevails over our material selves. At such moments we are inspired by the beauty of the intangible. We are enchanted by the ethereal. At such times, music art, philosophy and Torah elicit powerful responses.
Then there are times when our base nature prevails over our divine spark. At such times we are intrigued by physical stimulation and coarse materialism. The more tangible the endeavor, the greater our response. Food, athleticism and other forms of physical pleasure dominate our interests at such times. (4)

Mature at Birth

Esau felt complete at his moment of birth. He had no interest in the higher calling of existence, in the divine breath of life. He cared only for the thrill and stimulation of the physical. He had no need for further maturity and spiritual development. The senses necessary for the pursuit of his life’s interests were already available to him.
This is why he was born with a mature appearance. His hair made him appear fully grown for he had no need for the second dimension of growth. For growing as most people do, to develop their breath of G-d.

The Heel and the Serpent

Jacob, on the other hand, emerged clutching his brother’s heel, the part of the body that is subject to the influence of the serpent.
When G-d cursed the serpent for persuading Eve to eat from the forbidden fruit he granted the serpent permission to bite mankind on the heel. (5 ) What is the meaning of this bite?
The heel is the lowest surface in the human body. It represents the coarsest and lowest of the human experience. It is, in a word, Esau’s lifestyle. The serpent, who persuaded Eve to contravene the Divine commandment, represents the evil inclination.
The evil inclination holds no sway over our Divine breath, only over our heel; the lowest plane of existence, our powers of action. The powers of action were essential to Esau’s lifestyle. They were his raison d’etre. As such, his entire lifestyle was subject to the influence of his inner serpent, his evil inclination. (6)

Heel of G-d

Jacob emerged from the womb, his little fist tightly wrapped around his brother’s heel. Jacob would not allow his brother to make the terrible mistake of surrendering his heel, his powers of action, to the serpent. Jacob, whose name means G-d’s heel, would hold on tightly and attempt to persuade Esau that even the heel belongs to G-d. (7)
Jacob has yet to succeed. We are still subject to the allure of the heel and the bite of the serpent.  But Jacob’s struggle is far from over and our prophets assure us that his day will come. When the Moshiach will arrive and mankind will be captivated by the divine, Jacob will finally prevail. (8 )


  1. Genesis 25: 22-26. See Rashi’s (R. Shlomo Yitzchaki, Troyes France, 1040-1105) commentary on these verses.
  2. Genesis 2: 7.
  3. See Kli Yakar (R. Ephraim Shlomo of Luntshitz, 1550-1619) on Genesis 2: 7.
  4. See Tanya (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813) ch. 27.
  5. Genesis 15: 3.
  6. See Kli Yakar on Genesis 25: 25.
  7. Sefer Halikutim (Tzemach Tzedek, R.Menachem M. Schneerson, Third Rebbe of Lubavitch, 1789-1866) p. 1134.
  8. Bereishis Rabbah, 78: 14. See also Rashi’s commentary to Genesis 33: 14.<,li>

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