Esav’s name implies a finished product, while Yaakov’s implies an element of lacking. What did Esav have, and what did Yaakov lack? These names were given with Divine inspiration, and they foretell their bearers’ essence and what their task would be in this world. Esav was pure materialism. This is why his name suggests that physically, he was born complete. Our Sages teach that “an ox on the day it is born is already called an ox, and a ram on the day it is born is already called a ram” (
65b). In this sense Esav was similar to an animal, which is fully developed at birth, unlike man, who grows to maturity over the course of many years. The
1:27) explains further that man gradually perfects himself through Torah and
, the opposite of animals who are born mature. This is why the Torah says of a newborn animal, “an ox or a sheep or a goat when it is born” (
22:27). It is a fully developed animal immediately at birth, unlike a human being, who undergoes a long period of maturation. In describing the creation of other entities, which were created in their final, finished, perfect form, the Torah says “it was good.” The Torah does not use this expression in describing the creation of man, because “Man is born like a wild ass” (
11:12). He lacks perfection and “goodness,” and must acquire them gradually, step by step.
Yaakov’s essence was spirituality, and his task in life would be to achieve spiritual perfection. At birth, he was clearly still far from perfection, with a lifetime of work yet ahead of him. This is why his name is related to
, the lowest of the limbs: this was to be his starting point. He would develop himself from heel to head, working his way up from bottom to top.
However, Yaakov’s name was not only “
;” it begins with the additional letter
, the first letter of Hashem’s Name, represents the core of holiness in man.
The Maharal writes that the word
(animal) is composed of the letters
, which also spell
. An animal is born complete, lacking nothing.
in it, there is
, its essence – it already has all it needs to perform its basic functions. Man’s name,
, is derived from the word
, earth. Man is like earth which has not yet borne fruit, but has within it the potential to produce if properly cultivated. The same is true of a human being. He is born lacking, but has the potential to bring his latent capacity for perfection to fruition (
, Chapter 3).
Avraham, on the other hand, worked to perfect himself from head to heel; see
. Because he was the founding father of the Jewish nation, and the first ever to be involved in perfecting himself spiritually, it had to be done in this order. In subsequent generations, his children after him could begin their own spiritual endeavors from the point where Avraham had left off. The advanced levels he achieved became the inheritance of his descendants.