The Battle Within, by Tzvi Schnee
“And the children struggled together within her; and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the L-RD. And the L-RD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, And two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; And the one people shall be stronger than the other people; And the elder shall serve the younger.”
-Genesis 25:22-23, JPS 1917 Tanach
Even before their birth, Jacob and Esau contended against each other; “the children struggled together” within the womb of Rebekah; “and she said: ‘If it be so, wherefore do I live?’ And she went to inquire of the L-RD” (see above, Genesis 22:22). H’Shem (the L-RD; literally, the Name), responded to Rebekah’s inquiry as a concerned parent, and the next Matriarch of the Jewish people, “Two nations are in thy womb, and the two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels” (Genesis 22:23). These are the nations and peoples that would descend from Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s descendants would be the twelve tribes of Israel (the name given later to Jacob); and, Esau’s descendants would be the Edomites.
Although, on the literal level, the prophecy given to Rebekah refers to the enmity that would persist throughout the ages between the descendants of Jacob and Esau, on a metaphorical level, the struggle between Jacob and Esau in their mother’s womb indicates a battle between the forces of good and evil. This same struggle exists within every human being: the battle between the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer harah (evil inclination). When we become conscious of this inner conflict, we may realize that while we have the opportunity to good in any given moment, there is a part of us that resists our inclination to do what is right on the level of morality.
As the prophecy concludes, “the elder will serve the younger” (Genesis 22:23); in other words, the descendants of the wicked Esau will serve the righteous descendants of Jacob; so, we should also aspire to compel our evil inclination to be subservient to our good inclination. H’Shem has given mankind free will, so that we can choose what is right, despite the opposing inclination within us. As is written, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before thee life and death, the blessing and the curse; therefore choose life, that thou mayest live, thou and thy seed” (Deuteronomy 30:19, JPS 1917 Tanach).