"O L-RD, Who are my power and my strength and my refuge in the day of trouble, to You nations will come from the ends of the earth and say, 'Only lies have our fathers handed down to us, emptiness in which there is nothing of any avail! Can a man make gods for himself, and they are no gods? 'Therefore, behold I let them know; at this time I will let them know My power and My might, and they shall know that My Name is the L-RD".
Jeremiah 16:19-21
Esav and Narcissism

By: Rivka Levy

Esav, the ancestor of ‘Edom’ and our modern Western culture, was an interesting character. On the one hand, appearances were everything: he played the dutiful son to a tee; he was very ‘frum’ and asked his dad, Yitzchak, lots of ‘deep’ philosophical questions about whether a person needed to tithe salt and straw; he was a ‘success’ in the ‘real’ world – there wasn’t an animal (or a person…) that Esav couldn’t ensnare and kill. He was wildly popular with the ladies (especially the married ones…) He amassed a lot of wealth with all his hunting, and stealing and killing. In short, he was a real catch.

On the other hand, there was a very big ‘downside’ with Esav: he was incredibly selfish, and could only think about himself. When he finally realizes that his idol-worshipping wives are upsetting his parents a bit (which is important only because it makes him look bad) – he tries to ‘fix’ the problem by marrying a daughter of Ishmael = another idol worshipping wife, but this time with much better yichus (lineage).

He holds a grudge forever, and his spite and hatred is as intense many decades later as it was on the first day he was ‘slighted’, when Yaacov ‘stole’ the blessing Esav so happily sold to him for a pot of lentil soup.

He’s two-faced and sneaky. While he’s off being ‘Mr. Charming’ to his dad, he’s simultaneously plotting how to kill his dad’s other son, and his only sibling, Yaacov. Or look what happened a couple of parshas later, when Yaacov and Esav finally meet again after 20-something years: in front of the crowd of people, he’s all hugs and smiles and forgiveness.

Why? Because Yaacov has sent him hundreds of animals to feed his enormous ego, and is publicly flattering him and saying all the ‘nice’ things to him – in front of everyone else – that makes him sound so wonderful, and powerful, and important.

Why is Yaacov doing all of that?

Because he knows that your only chance of getting away from an encounter with Esav intact is if you do exactly what he wants, make him look good, and treat him as though he were a ‘god’.

As soon as that public encounter is over, Yaacov knows he has to keep Esav away from his family permanently. Because underneath all the smiles and ‘perfect family reunion’ appearance, he simply wants to kill them. All of them. Even the children.

Esav’s crowning mitzvah, his key spiritual achievement in life, is commandment number 5: Thou shalt respect your father or mother. Esav is so serious about this commandment, at least in terms of his dad, who hasn’t yet seen through his charade, that he’s even willing to hold off killing his own twin brother until his dad dies.

We all know this stuff, don’t we? Why’s it relevant to us, to now, to the problems that so many of us face today?

A few days’ ago, I came across a site called Light’s House, which talks about the main mental disorders, (all rooted in a lack of emuna, or belief in G-d), that are the underpinnings of what the site calls ‘Toxic People’.

Let’s be clear that we aren’t talking about people who have faults, and who make a lot of mistakes. Every human being on the planet has faults and makes mistakes, it’s part of the human condition, and it’s why we so badly need G-d and emuna and Torah (and Rav Arush), to help us catch them and to try and straighten ourselves out.

But Toxic People are so spiritually damaged, so mentally disordered, so harmful and hurtful to the people around them, it’s dangerous to be in their company for any length of time – especially if they are a close relative.

One of the mental disorders that particularly caught my eye was something called Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Narcissus was a character in Aesop’s fables, a bunch of greek ‘morality’ tales, where the protagonist believed himself to be so beautiful, so perfect, so wonderful, he spent his whole life gazing adoringly at himself in a pond, until he got turned into a flower.

Here’s a little bit of what the site explains about Narcissists:

They refuse responsibility: whatever bad things they do (and they do plenty) – it’s never their fault. You can never, ever get them to admit culpability, or to give you a genuine apology.

They lie:They lie to make themselves look good, or to avoid consequences, or to manipulate people, or to influence people.

They look down on you: They know everything about everything and you’re an imbecilic idiot – but they’ll try and hide their true feelings about you and your ‘ridiculous beliefs’ because they want to keep you thinking they actually like you, so you keep running after them to keep them happy.

They’re two-faced:Appearances are everything, so to the outside world – like when Esav and Yaacov are having their staged reconciliation – they’ll play the part of the doting, forgiving, kind-hearted relative perfectly. But really? They still want to kill you, and everyone and every thing you care about (that’s not them).

They’re vindictive:If you dare to question them about their behaviour, or don’t give them what they want, or try to ask for an honest, mutual, accountable relationship – you’ll be public enemy number one. They will go to great lengths to make you pay for crossing them.

They project psychologically: Whatever bad things they are doing to you- they’ll tell you that you’re doing it to them.

They smear people who oppose them:They will try to pinpoint your insecurities, and target you for destruction. They’ll visit your mum and tell horrible lies about you; they’ll phone distant relatives, or friends, and try to poison them against you. They’ll try to wheedle their way into your kids’ affections – so they can tear them away from you, their parents, with wholesale lies and slander.

In short, people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder are pretty horrible people. In the secular world, the only solution they have for dealing with these self-proclaimed ‘perfect’ people is to cut them out of your life completely.

In the bible, Rivka comes to the same conclusion. She realizes there is a serious problem with one of her children, which is why she sends Yaacov off to a distant country to get away from his toxic (narcissist) sibling. Yaacov also recognizes there is a massive problem with his brother, which is why he has an enormous emuna wobble the night before he has to have his enforced family reunion. He spends the whole night literally fighting with the evil inclination – a duel to the death.

Do you know what that narcissistic, Western, evil inclination, Esav’s angel, is telling him? It’s telling him, righteous Yaacov, that he is really the bad one. If he hadn’t stolen the blessing from Yitzhak, everything would be fine. He’d have great relations with all his family members. It’s his fault that things are the way they are. And that’s why G-d punished him, by making him leave Israel and by having a very difficult couple of decades in exile, in Lavan’s house.

Look how holy Esav is! While you ran off to a different country, Esav has been slavishly devoted to his elderly parents! Esav is so selfless! Esav is so kind and generous! All you’ve been doing for 20 years is wasting your life tending someone’s else’s sheep, having so many kids you can’t possibly look after them all properly, and ‘talking to G-d’. How could you be out of touch with your own family for so many years!?!? You’re not religious at all, you’re evil and vindictive! You’re just using your beliefs to ruin and control your children, and to get them to do what you want – I mean, you’ve shoved your own daughter, Dina, in a box! You’re not shielding her from harm- you’re suffocating her to death!

And so on and so forth.

Like all good lies, there’s a grain of truth. Like all good liars, Esav / the evil inclination knows exactly how to focus on Yaacov’s weak spot: his strong will to do what G-d wants, and his profound worry that he isn’t doing what G-d wants.

It’s probably not too far-fetched to say that the whole thing that happened with the rape of Dina occurred because the evil inclination’s accusations stung Yaacov in to giving her ‘more freedom’. But I digress.

The point here, is that even our holy, righteous forefather, Yaacov, knew how dangerous two-faced, lying, manipulative, anti-G-d relatives like Esav were; he knew how hard it was to fight and counter Esav – much harder than the obviously ‘bad’ Ishmael – because they dress up the worst evil in the world as ‘good’.

Today, the world is engulfed by mental disorders of all types. Things like bipolar condition and depression are purely and simply a lack of emuna: start to believe more in G-d, and very quickly, these conditions will ameliorate and ultimately disappear.

Other disorders are harder to crack – but you can still do it, with a lot of emuna and a lot of help from G-d.

But Narcissism? The overwhelming feeling that ‘I am G-d, I am perfect, and I can do no wrong?’ I really don’t know. If a person can never accept that they ever do anything wrong, and that they are perfect, and that other people only exist to please and serve them – how can a person like that ever make teshuva, and come back to Hashem? You’d need a miracle at least as big as splitting the Red Sea.

Esav was a narcissist.

Esav’s favourite mitzvah was kibud av v’em, or honouring parents.

I know so many people, people who are trying to get closer to G-d, who keep getting tripped up on commandment number 5: Thou shalt honor your father and mother.  If deep down, the parents truly care about their children, sooner or later, they’ll accept them for who they are and what is really making them happy, regardless of whether they themselves agree or understand or do it.

But the parents who are still fighting G-d and religion after years and years? The parents who are still making you feel bad for trying to please G-d (instead of just trying to please them…)? The parents who are still blaming all the difficulties in the family on the fact that you ‘got frum’?  The parents who are constantly making snide, sideways comments about not needing to keep commandments to be ‘good people’; or about giving your kids ‘more freedom’; or about being ‘brainwashed’?

The parents and siblings who constantly harp on about your (minor) infractions of commandment number 5 – while they themselves are off viciously slandering people; wreaking vengeance; eating traif and marrying out?

Those people are Esav. Those people are evil. Those people are out to kill you, your marriage, your soul and your kids. And if you haven’t got a massive load of emuna and a big bunch of holy tzadikim watching your back, they really could do it.

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