Rash"i in Breishit 33:4 cites Sifrei, by stating:

הֲלָכָה הִיא בְּיָדוּעַ שֶׁעֵשָׂו שׂוֹנֵא לְיַעֲקֹב

It is a well-known halacha that Esav hates Ya'akov

I understand that the word "halacha" implies some course of action or mode of behavior. Does it imply that in this context? If so, what halacha / ot are derived from this? Otherwise, what is meant by the usage of "halacha" here?


4 Answers 4


Several commentators prove that it does not mean "halacha" in the regular sense of a law or a directive.

The Talmud in Berachot 31a states:

וכן לא יפטר אדם מחברו לא מתוך שיחה ולא מתוך שחוק ולא מתוך קלות ראש ולא מתוך דברים בטלים אלא מתוך דבר הלכה שכן מצינו בנביאים הראשונים שסיימו דבריהם בדברי שבח ותנחומים וכן תנא מרי בר בריה דרב הונא בריה דר' ירמיה בר אבא אל יפטר אדם מחבירו אלא מתוך דבר הלכה שמתוך כך זוכרהו כי הא דרב כהנא אלוייה לרב שימי בר אשי מפום נהרא עד בי צניתא דבבל כי מטא להתם א"ל מר ודאי דאמרי אינשי הני צניתא דבבל איתנהו מאדם הראשון ועד השתא א"ל אדכרתן מילתא דרבי יוסי ברבי חנינא דאמר ר' יוסי ברבי חנינא מאי דכתיב בארץ אשר לא עבר בה איש ולא ישב אדם שם וכי מאחר דלא עבר היאך ישב אלא לומר לך כל ארץ שגזר עליה אדם הראשון לישוב נתישבה וכל ארץ שלא גזר עליה אדם הראשון לישוב לא נתישבה

Similarly a man before taking leave of his fellow should not finish off with ordinary conversation, or joking, or frivolity, or idle talk, but with some matter of halachah. For so we find with the early prophets that they concluded their harangues with words of praise and comfort; and so Mari the grandson of R. Huna the son of R. Jeremiah b. Abba learnt: Before taking leave of his fellow a man should always finish with a matter of halachah, so that he should remember him thereby. So we find that R. Kahana escorted R. Shimi b. Ashi from Pun, to Be-Zinyatha of Babylon, and when he arrived there he said to him, Sir, do people really say that these palm trees of Babylon are from the time of Adam? — He replied: You have reminded me of the saying of R. Jose son of R. Hanina. For R. Jose son of R. Hanina said: What is meant by the verse, Through a land that no man passed through and where no man dwelt? If no one passed, how could anyone dwell? It is to teach you that any land which Adam decreed should be inhabited is inhabited, and any land which Adam decreed should not be inhabited is not inhabited.

(Soncino translation)

The problem here is that though it states that one should depart amid a matter of halacha, the example it gives is decidedly non-halachic.

R. Tzvi Hirsch Chajes in his commentary there writes:

עי' ברבינו יונה שלא גרס כאן מתוך דבר הלכה ואולי דאין נכון הראי' מר' כהנא שלא הגיד לו דבר הלכה רק דבר אגדה דכל ארץ שלא גזר אדה"ר לישוב לא נתישב אכן מצינו ג"כ הפ' עניני אגדה מכונים בלשון הלכה כמו (סנהדרין ק"ד ע"ב) נתעלמה ממנו הלכה אבר אחד יש באדם וכו' ובאמת בערוך ערך אבר השמיט גם שם תיבת הלכה וגרס נתעלמה ממנו אבר אחד יש באדם וכו' ובאמת בערוך ערך אבר השמיט גם שם תיבת הלכה וגרס נתעלמה ממנו אבר אחד יש באדם אבל ראיתי בספרי פ' בהעלותך פיסקא איש איש כי יהיה טמא לנפש הביאו רש"י בחומש פ' וישלח נקוד על וישקהו הלכה בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב ע"ש הרי דגם על עניני אגדה נופל שם הלכה

See in Rabbeinu Yonah that he does not have the text "from amid a matter of halacha”, and perhaps because it would not be a proper proof from R. Kahana who did not tell him a matter of halacha but a matter of aggadah that any land that Adam the first did not decree to settle was not settled. However, we find also that the explanation of aggadic matters are nicknamed with the wording halacha such as (Sanhedrin 104b) "the halacha that a man has a small organ was hidden from him etc." And in truth the Aruch section "Ever" left out also there the word halacha, and has the text as "[that] a man has a small limb was hidden from him". But I saw in Sifrei Parshat Beha'alotcha [in the] section "each man when he becomes impure from a body", cited by Rashi on Chumash [in] Parshat Vayishlach, "there are dots on [the word] and he kissed him [because] it is a halacha that it is known that Esau hates Jacob" see there. Behold even on matters of aggadah the name halacha is applicable.

Similarly, R. Baruch Halevi Epstein writes in Torah Temimah to Numbers 27:21 Note 35:

ורש"י פירש שאמר הקב"ה שישאל יהושע ממנו דבר הלכה וצ"ל דהלשון דבר הלכה לאו דוקא הלכה ממש באיסור והיתר וכדומה שהרי עמידה זו דאיירי כאן היא בענין שאלות באורים ותומים ורש"י עצמו כתב בעירובין מ"ה א' דשאלות איסור והיתר אין שואלין באו"ת [והטעם פשוט משום דלא בשמים היא] אלא הכונה לשאול לו דבר הלכה בעניני והנהגות העולם כמו בדבר מלחמת הארץ וחלוקתה וכדומה

ובאמת מצינו לחז"ל שקורים גם לאגדות וידיעות שונות בשם הלכה כמו בברכות ל"א א' אל יפטר אדם מחבירו אלא מתוך דבר הלכה ומביא למשל על זה ענין אגדי ובסנהדרין ק"ז א' נתעלמה ממנו הלכה אבר קטן יש באדם וכו' ורש"י פ' וישלח בפסוק וישקהו מביא ממדרש הלכה בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב וא"כ לא יפלא אם גם עניני ישראל בכלל והידיעות להם יכונו בשם הלכה

And Rashi explains that God said that Joshua would ask of him a matter of halacha. And we have to say that the wording of "a matter of halacha does not literally mean an actual law about the forbidden or permissible and the like, for this standing that we are dealing with here was with regard to questions for the Urim V'tumim, and Rashi himself wrote in Eruvin 45a that questions of the forbidden and the permissible cannot be asked to the Urim V'tumim (and the reason is obvious, because the Torah is not in heaven). Rather the intent is to ask him a matter of halacha in the matters and operations of the world, like by the matter of the war for the land and its division and the like.

And in truth we find that the Sages of blessed memory call even aggadot and various facts with the name halacha, such as in Berachot 31a [which says] "a man should not part from his fellow except amid a matter of halacha", and it cites as an example a matter of aggadah. And in Sanhedrin 107a (where it says) "the halacha that a man has a small organ etc. was hidden from him". And Rashi in Parshat Vayishlach on the verse "and he kissed him" cites from a Midrash that "it is a halacha that it is known that Esau hates Jacob". And if so, it is not astounding if even the matters of Israel in general, and the facts relating to them, are nicknamed with the name halacha.

As you can see, both of these commentators demonstrate that the term halacha need not necessarily refer to a legal matter, and they both cite your case as proof.

  • Excellent sourcing. I would call this type of halacha a "law of the universe" rather than a "rule to live by" Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 5:55
  • If I understand the sources correctly, none of them positively define the term (question 3), but affirm that it's OK for it to be used in this specific context. It does implicitly obviate question 2, but I think it would help to explicitly address question 1 and/or 3.
    – WAF
    Commented Aug 5, 2019 at 13:02

I remember hearing [I think in the name of Reb Menachem Zemba ZT"L] that הלכה in this case means, a rule without a given reason, as in הלכה למשה מסיני, not based on anything other than Hashem's will. Trying to change it won't help.

Just found it quoted in המאור שבתורה printed in 1965:

אמר הגאון הקדוש רבי מנחם זמבה זצ"ל, מהו המושג כאן "הלכה", וכי דינא קמ"ל כאן ? והסביר, הלא ר' שמעון הוא הדורש בכל התורה כולה טעמא דקרא, לפיכך אומר ר' שמעון עצמו, ששנאת עשו ליעקב היא בבחינת הלכה פסוקה, ללא כל טעם ונימוק מספיק. עכת"ד

Loose translation:

HoRav Menachem Zemba asked: Is it correct to use the term "הלכה" here? It's not teaching us any laws?! He explained: Reb Shimon is usually the one who follows the reason behind the Torah laws, yet here Reb Shimon is forced to tell us that the hatred is without any good rhyme or reason, like a indisputable Halacha.


In a response, R. Moshe Feinstein touch this in a way that explains the intention of the word halacha here:

שו"ת אגרות משה חושן משפט חלק ב סימן עז

כבר אמרתי על הלשון שהביא רש"י בפי' החומש פ' וישלח (ל"ג, ד') על קרא דוישקהו ארשב"י הלכה היא בידוע שעשו שונא ליעקב דמה שייך זה להלכה, דהוא כמו שהלכה לא משתנית כך שנאת עשו ליעקב לא משתנית דאף אלו שנוהגות באופן טוב שנאתן גדולה בעצם.

And why is the word halacha [and its meaning] here? It is because just as halacha never changes, so also Esav’s hatred of Yaakov never changes. Even in those [nations] that behave well [toward Jews], their hatred [of Jews] is actually strong.”


"וירץ עשו לקראתו ויחבקהו" “Eisav ran to meet Yaakov and embraced him.” (33:4) QUESTION: Rashi says that there is a halachah that Eisav hates Yaakov. What does Eisav’s hatred of Yaakov have to do with halachah?

ANSWER: From the fact that a non-Jew hates a Jew, a new halachah was formulated. If two Jews are eating a meal, one eating meatand the other dairy, they are not to share one table because they may exchange some of their food. However, a Jew and a non-Jew are permitted to share a table, even if one is eating meatand the other is eating dairy. The reason is that the non-Jew hates the Jew and there will not be any exchange of food between them.

(עיטורי תורה)

  • I am unfamiliar with this halacha. But, fine. However, please add some source as to how this tactile halacha is drived from this specific verse. Otherwise, this is not a fitting answer to my question.
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 20, 2019 at 18:05
  • I realize this may not answer your question adequately, but thought it was relevant to the overall inquiry. Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 0:38
  • It should probably, be made a comment, for now. I am unfamiliar with עיטורי תורה. There are thousands of sefarim around, and, it doesn't mean that an average reader can locate these in a Bet Midrash or library, or that your local rav has heard of it. So, you may want to link to an online, or excerpt / quote the relevant parts.
    – DanF
    Commented Dec 22, 2019 at 2:09

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