Once upon a time, and as it is written in the Torah (Old Testament) there lived a great man whose name was Isaac who was married to Rebekah. They loved each other but could not conceive a child. Finally late in their years, they conceived and had twins, Esau and Jacob. Esau was born first and came out of the womb red and hairy while his brother Jacob was born ‘smooth’ holding onto the foot of his older brother Esau.
As it sometimes true now, a father has a favorite as does mother.
Isaac’s favorite son was Esau who was a bit untamed, wild and free. He was ‘instinctive’, some would call him a ‘primitive’ man who learned the mysteries of the land and was an expert hunter. And Jacob? He was a bit of a mama’s boy. He would be at his mother’s side during the day, listening to her stories and helping her cook and manage the house. Esau was valued for his brawn while Jacob was valued for his connection with mother and could attend to her needs. (A good psychotherapist would have a field day with this family.)
One time, Esau was away on a long and unsuccessful hunting trip. When he arrived home, he was very, very hungry and asked his brother Jacob to cook something for him. Jacob would not cook for his brother until Esau handed over the birthright of the first-born which, as the tradition dictated, entitled him to EVERYTHING upon his father’s passing. Esau agreed, gave up his birthright for some food. There was one more thing that Esau maintained as a holdout over his brother, his father’s blessing before Isaac died. In those days, a blessing was like a foretelling truth, a powerful energy that would make words come true.
Eventually, Isaac grew very old and knew he was soon to die. He was hunched over and his hair had turned white. And the worst, he was almost completely blind.
Isaac summoned Esau. “Here I am,” Esau answered. “My son, before I die, I want you to go on a hunt. When you come home, prepare the meat the way I like, and bring it to me. Then I will then give you my blessing.”
Rebekah happened to over-hear this conversation from the other room.
As soon as Esau left, Rebekah took Jacob by the arm and whispered to him, “Your father sent Esau away to hunt. When your brother returns, he is going to prepare your father’s favorite meal, and then your father is going to give him the blessing.”
“Quickly! Do what I ask! Bring me two young goats from our herd, and I will make your father’s favorite dinner. I want you to serve it to him, and your father will believe you are Esau, and you will get the blessing instead of your brother.”
But Jacob replied, “Esau is very hairy, and I am not! If father feels me, he will know I am Jacob and am trying to trick him. He will curse me instead of blessing me!”
“Let the curse be on me, and do what I say,” Rebekah said.
And so Jacob did as his mother wished. Jacob brought the two goats and Rebekah prepared a delicious feast. She commanded Jacob to dress in Esau’s clothes. She wrapped Jacob’s arms in the skins of the goats and on the back of his neck so he would feel hairy and smell like his brother Esau. Wearing Esau’s clothing and with the skins on his body, Jacob then took the steaming hot meal to his father.
“Who is there?” his father asked.
“It is your first born son Esau,” Jacob said. “I have brought your favorite dinner, just like you asked.”
“How did you do it so quickly?” his father asked. “Your God was with me, and he gave me success,” Jacob answered. “Eat, and then you can give me your blessing.”
“You don’t sound like Esau,” Isaac said. “You sound like your brother Jacob. Come here. Let me touch you.”
Isaac felt the fur on Jacob’s neck and arms. And then he said, “The voice is Jacob’s, but the arms are Esau’s.”
He was about to give his blessing when he asked again, “Are you really my son Esau?”
“Yes, I am,” Jacob lied.
And so Isaac ate the meal he thought Esau had brought him. When he was finished he said, “Come here, my son, and kiss me, and then I will give you my blessing.”
So Jacob came near his father and kissed him. Isaac could smell the smell of Esau’s clothes, and so he blessed him saying…
“The smell of my son is like the smell
of open country the Lord has blessed.
May God give you the dew of heaven,
and the richness of the earth,
corn and new wine in plenty!
Let nations and peoples serve you.
May you rule over your brothers,
and may they bow down to you.
Let anyone who curses you be cursed,
but blessed be anyone who blesses you!”
Isaac this had given Jacob his blessing, but he thought it was Esau.
Jacob had barely left his father’s side when his brother Esau came in from his hunting. He fixed his father’s favorite meal, just as his father had asked him to. He brought it in to him, so that he could get his blessing.
“Who are you?” his father asked.
“I am Esau, your firstborn son Esau” he said.
Isaac began to shake terribly because he knew he had been tricked.
“Then who was just here? Who brought me my favorite meal, the one that I just ate? I gave him the blessing. and I can’t take it back!”
Esau knew right away who it was and he cried out a terrible cry.
“Bless me also!” he pleaded.
“I can’t,” Isaac said, “Your brother has tricked me, and he has stolen your blessing.”
Esau cried out again. “You named him right when you named him Jacob,” Esau cried (‘Jacob’ sounds like their word for ‘cheat’). “He has cheated me twice. First he took my birthright, and now he has stolen my blessing!” Now he knew how valuable his father’s blessings were – but it was too late.
“You must have a blessing for me,” he said to his father.
Isaac said, “I have already made you your brother’s servant. I have given him the corn and new wine of our fields. What do I have left to give to you?”
Esau fell to his knees. “Is there nothing left for me?” he cried out.
Then his father said to him,
“You will not have the richness of the earth,
The dew from heaven won’t be given to you.
You will have to live by taking,
and you will serve your brother.
But one day you will break free.”
What does this story have to do with what happened to men?
This story mirrors aspects of the tragedies that are alive again today. Within each of us men are both of the twins. We have an ‘Esau’ archetype who is wild and free. He is instinctual and adept at survival. He knows and respects the land. His ‘Rambo’ wisdom comes from his body’s knowing of the energies that surround him. He is wild at heart. He is truthful and powerful in that instinctual self. Some call him the energy of the ‘wild-man’. For most men, the Esau or wild-man energy lies dormant but may show itself in sports or in watching movies where untamed men are our heroes. When in the unawakened state, he can become brutish, abusive and self-serving.
The ‘Jacob’ inside us is quite smart too, but his intelligence is for negotiating and manipulating to get what he wants in his life. He is adept at lying and cheating to get his way. He is very clever and if awakened can use his brilliance in living a powerful and purposeful life.
Most of the men who are our leaders, seem to be lead by their inner unawakened ‘Jacob’ archetype. Our economic crisis may have been fueled by this type of man who is self-serving. We are frequently seduced into his cleverness. Our prisons are filled with unawakened ‘Esau’ types. Jacob is mostly white collar; Esau, mostly blue collar. Get the picture?
And to make matters a bit more complicated, we seem to reward and idolize those financially successful and clever men while we may be a bit more wary of those ‘Esau’ types. It is the ‘Jacobs’ who have the large goat herds while the Esau’s are hard working and surviving.
What has this cost us as individuals and a world culture? You can fill in the blank here.
I am more interested in repairing and awakening. What must happen for us to survive and thrive is awakening. As men, we must find our awakened Esau that exemplifies compassionate fierceness; we must love the hunt of real truth within and embrace our masculine magnificence. The world is hungry for the awakened Esau to be our leaders, to value instinct as well as cleverness; courage and integrity as a core value; transparency and truth over manipulation. We must initiate men into their authentic power that is not abusive but is supportive and purposeful; and honoring of the feminine.
Bring this awakened wild-man masculine to the boardroom, to the bedroom (my personal favorite) or to your community. You will feel it in your balls, your body and witness the energy surge within.
- H. Lawrence knew this masculine essence when he wrote:
When we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels turning in the
cages of personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright
but things will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies taut with power,
we shall stamp our feet with new power
and old things will fall down,
we shall laugh and institutions will curl up like
One place where I have personally found this map is in the Mankind Project’s New Warrior Training Adventure. Something ‘Esau-like’ came alive when I did my weekend 20 years ago. And this energy still is alive in me and is the source of wisdom and authentic power.
The awakened Esau within may be one ingredient indeed that holds the potential for healing us as men; make us safer fathers, life partners and leaders.