What does Sur meRah mean (sources please) in the context of Al Berko's answer to Why did Ya'akov work for Lavan for so long??

Associated: Why would Yaakov need to go looking for the Lavan in "Chutz Laaretz, the land of idolatry"? Shouldn't he be avoiding him?

  • Why not just ask him what he meant by it?
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 28, 2017 at 15:24
  • 2
    This isnt the optimal system. First of all, users should post cogent answers, that are internally understandable, and not fob off questioners with the request to ask separate questions about what he means. || Furthermore, if, for example, a question quotes a passage from a rabbinic source, there would be nothing wrong with asking a separate question based on that passage. However. in this case, the question is just what a given user meant, which is hardly a significant question to Judaism.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 28, 2017 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


The Shem MiShmuel (Parashat Vayetse) writes that Yaakov was originally meant to serve God through the mode of assei tov, and Esav was supposed to serve God through the mode of sur mera:

עקב ועשו ועל דעת כך נבראו. יעקב יזכה לשלימותו ע"י עשה טוב, וכך הי' ממלא תעודתו איש תם יושב אוהלים. ועשו נברא עם תכונות רעות שהי' מושכין אותו לכל רע, והכוונה היתה שיתאמץ בכח על טבעו ויברח מן הרע ועי"ז יבוא לעומתו למדריגות גדולות מאד

Rivka realised that Esav wasn't fulfilling this mission, so she arranged for Yaakov to receive his blessing which transferred the mission serving God through sur mera. Accordingly, after the blessings, Ya'akov faced many hardships which challenged his behaviour, rather than his easier earlier life which allowed hom to more easily pursue good:

ועשו הי' נמשך אחר תכונותיו הרעות עד שנעשה רשע גמור אדם בליעל. ורבקה הרגישה זה והשתדלה שגם בחי' סור מרע תמסר ליעקב ויזכה יעקב בשתיהן. וע"כ עד אז הי' יעקב יושב בשלוה ולא היו לו שום מניעות ורדיפות שיצטרך להתאמץ עליהן ולברוח מהן, ומן אז והלאה התחיל אצלו פרק חדש שהיו לו כל ימיו מניעות ורדיפות רעות רבות וצרו (ibid).

  • Excellent! This is the type of source that I was looking for. Dec 28, 2017 at 16:26
  • I still have some questions about this, but not directly related to my question, perhaps when I have some more time later, I can open a chat about it. Dec 28, 2017 at 16:26
  • Just want to piece things together about approaching Lavan to fulfill this, about the mechanism of transferring berachas/missions, etc. Dec 28, 2017 at 16:30
  • @mevaqesh A great job, thank you, so you can help if you want. I admit, I learn ideas already digested without relying on numerous sources as all of them say the same things in different forms.
    – Al Berko
    Dec 28, 2017 at 23:29
  • @AlBerko Thank you for the compliment. You are very welcome. Although you may learn best ignoring sources, assuming that all sources say the same things, it is much better for this site if you can source your claims. This gives users a reason to believe you, forces you to relearn the material - providing a freshness to answers, and provides users with additional sources for further research.
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 28, 2017 at 23:35

The idea of splitting the job mission is fascinating on its own, and stresses the importance of different kinds of people comprising the Jewish Nation - each one fulfilling his aspect of a general mission.

Mevaqesh already answered the question (kudos) and I would like to add a point to explain the framework of that differentiation:

We learn that "תלמוד תורה כנגד כולם" (Peah 1), meaning that the effect of performing Mitzvot can be reached (presumably) just by properly studying them (I've found it in written... maybe in my chidduchim?)[1]. However on some very early point of the forefathers Abraham and Itzhok it became obvious that not all aspects can be achieved through extensive learning, and some physical deeds (aka Mitzvot) must be performed.

And that was the original intention in differentiation the workload of Tikkun of the world between Yaakov and Eisov: Yaakov learning the Torah only his whole life, not marrying at all like Ben Azzay, and Eisov performing all the physical part of the Geulah - getting married, working, raising the 12 tribes etc.

We can found some references to this, if you're familiar with some Drush terms: we know that Abraham was (associated with) Chessed and Itzhok with Gevuro (Din). As Eisov was also on the side of Din ("Ra" so to speak), Itzhok loved Eisov (and his way), which is called Sade (שדה - field), Eisov is called איש שדה and about Itzhok the TOrah says "ויצא יצחק לשוח בשדה לפנות ערב".

The way of physical "struggle" is a shorter and faster way, but it is prone to following one's lust (like מצוות להנות ניתנו, one can receive enjoyment from a mitzvah and therefore forget the divine intentions). This is what practically happened to Eisov. Yaakov, on the other hand, could not fulfill Eisov's way of work by learning Torah alone, which lead him to switch to more "physical" behaviors, like going abroad, working, marrying, raising kids etc.

[1] This can explain the famous dispute about whether the forefathers kept the Mitzvot, according to this explanations there's no difference between physical performance of a Mitzva and studying it, so they performed all the Mitzvot just by studying Torah (בחי' "ונשלמה פרים שפתנינו".).

  • Consider sourcing this...
    – mevaqesh
    Dec 29, 2017 at 5:32

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