We saw in part one that the promise of the Jewish people’s survival throughout history was made to Avraham Avinu at the akeidah. It was then that his intense mesiras nefesh for the love of HaShem translated into his descendants’ acquiring the spiritual DNA to withstand all enticements and threats throughout history. This was the promise of “and your offspring will inherit the gates of their enemies,” as explained by Ramban. And this is the ultimate purpose of the creation of this world — that HaShem be known and recognized, praised and worshipped. And this in fact was what was added to this bris with Avraham after the bris made with him at the bris milah, i.e. that the very raison d’être of the world’s creation would be fulfilled through Avraham’s descendants, due to their essential and inherent righteousness.
As Ramban in Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:32) so clearly puts it: “[Even when the enemies of Yisrael are punished, the enemies] neither comprehend nor discern… for they are outgrowths of evil roots and therefore they produce only ‘bitter fruit.’ The idea here is that Yisrael, in contrast, acknowledge their Creator, and when they do sin they confess their sins and repent in their hour of trouble, saying, ‘Why is all this befalling us?’ The enemy, however, will just continue with its idolatry, forever denying the existence of HaShem. Yisrael’s root, though, is good; even if it cut down it will renew itself and produce good fruit.”
In times of travail, this essence is revealed; Yisrael turns to and acknowledges HaShem, and repents. This is our legacy from Avraham Avinu, this unshakeable, everlasting bond with HaShem, in sharp contrast to the nations of the world.
The final redemption, our salvation from the subjugation we suffer at the hands of the nations of the world, is really HaShem’s “victory,” so to speak, in the war against Him, for their battles against the Jewish people is in reality a battle against Hakadosh Baruch Hu.
Ramban (Devarim, 32:41) says, “[And the song says that] ultimately HaShem will bring vengeance upon His enemies, and upon those who hate Him. The reason they are called this is that our enemies commit all their evils against us out of their hatred for HaShem… for they hate Yisrael for no other reason other than Yisrael would not accept their gods… but instead worshipped HaShem and observed His commandments… and gave up their lives, as the passuk says, ‘Because of Your sake we are killed all the time’ (Psalms 44:23). And since this is so, it is out of their hatred for HaShem that they commit all these evils against us in all the generations, and thus they are aptly described as His enemies, and those who hate Him. ”
The purpose of creation is the revelation of HaShem in this world. The Jews stand for that — inherently. This is the promise to Avraham. This is the war of our enemies against us; and Avraham was promised, “And your offspring will inherit the gates of its enemies,” i.e. the purpose of the world’s creation will come to fruition. Through your descendants.
In Sefer Devarim (30:7), the Jews are described as having two types of enemies: oyvim (which we will translate as enemies) and sonim (which we will translate as foes). These are explained by the commentaries to be Esav and Yishmael. These are the two primary enemies Klal Yisrael has; the other nations are merely offshoots of these elementary ones.
Rabbeinu Bachya (Devarim 30:7) explains, “The Torah refers to Yishmael as oyev and Esav as sonei because an oyev is much harsher in his hatred that the sonei. The sonei will (at times) temper his hatred. The oyev remains with full-blown hatred and hostility, forever.” (Rabbeinu Bachya then goes on to discuss the etymology of the two words.) Our main galus is in the hands of Esav, our sonei; Yishmael is our oyev, a fiercer, more relentless enemy. This is why sources say that at the “end of times,” Esav-nations will join us in serving HaShem while Yishmael will be totally destroyed.
Ramban writes (Devarim 2:4), The passuk refers to Esav as “your brother” for he is indeed a full-fledged brother, and was circumcised as a son, just as Yaakov was (while Yishmael’s milah was as a member of Avraham’s household), thus he is called a brother. While Esav is our sonei, that is not the same as someone who has eivah (severe enmity) and is an oyev, such as Yishmael, who most definitely is not our brother, and hates us even more passionately.
(Interestingly, Ramban in Bereishis 16:6 attributes the overpowering hatred of Yishmael towards us as a result of Sarah’s oppression of Hagar, which Ramban describes as wrongful, and the fruit of that is his descendants’ suffering at the hands of the descendants of Yishmael.)
The Gra brings a Medrash that Esav has in its root the word asiyah (doing), while Yishmael has shmiah (hearing). [And Klal Yisrael “snatched” away these middos which transformed into… na’aseh v’nishma!] But Esav, having the root of asiyah, has a more external hatred of Bnei Yisrael, while Yishmael, shmiah, understanding, inner contemplation, is even more deep-seated and permanent.
Many commentaries make the point mentioned above, that there are really only two primary enemies of the Jewish people, of HaShem — Esav and Yishmael, the sonei and the oyev. And so the passuk, speaking of the final redemption, speaks of redemption from “your oyvim and your sonim.”
And so we can now understand why the pesukim we are dealing with speak of “conquering the gates of the oyvim/sonim.” At the akeidah, Avraham was promised the eternity of Klal Yisrael and its ultimate triumph against their oyvim, for at the akeidah, the only counter-force in the world was Yishmael; Esav had yet to exist. In fact, one could claim that the akeidah was that final “separation” between Yitzchak and Yishmael. (Indeed, to this day, the Arabs’ story of the akeidah puts Yishmael in place of Yitzchak!)
In giving a bracha to Rivka, though, who was to be the mother of Esav (and who was the one who maneuvered to keep him out of the “Avraham household”), the bracha was given to triumph over the sonim (Esav, now a potential force to be reckoned with) as well.