Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Toldot
To dedicate this lesson

Going The Distance


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Our Sedra records the birth of twin brothers Esav & Yakov. By all accounts, Esav is a "bad seed" who ultimately becomes estranged from the Jewish family & gives rise to Edom, a nation eternally antagonistic to Israel.

We often think of Esav as a foreigner, a complete stranger to Am Yisrael. But that’s not so; he has the very same holy genes as Yakov, his brother, & Avraham & Sara, his grandparents. So what happened to him? What caused him to fall so far from the royal family tree?

In our parsha, Esav comes into the shiva tent where grandfather Avraham is being mourned. There, Yakov is cooking, & "trades" a bowl of lentil soup for the birthright. Now, most of us have this image of Esav being famished, & ravenously demanding the stew. But – look carefully at the text – nowhere does it say that Esav was hungry! What it does say is "V’Hu Ayef – he was tired!"

Huh?? If he’s tired, then let him go & lie down!

Clearly, Esav is expressing the fact that he is tired of being looked upon as the first-born, the rightful heir to the leadership of the Jewish nation. That title comes with certain very serious rights - and very serious responsibilities: Such as scholarship, integrity, honesty & selfless devotion to the community, rather than to himself. Not exactly the kind of qualities usually ascribed to hunters.

No doubt the family had clearly expressed its expectations that Esav would be a moral role model, & he was simply tired of all that
pressure. And so he opted out, & Yakov.took over.

The "Esav Syndrome," alas, has not disappeared. It is not easy today to maintain one’s Jewishness, when much of the world looks down upon Jews, or denigrates organized religion in general, calling it "archaic," "dogmatic" or "chauvinistic."

It’s also not very easy being supportive of Israel these days, either. Lots of pressure coming at us from every corner to condemn Israel as the aggressor, to see it as the victimizer rather than the victim, to boycott & abandon her.

And so people – many of them good people, who probably wanted to stay strong – get exhausted. They are tired of always being on the defensive, tired of being in the minority & swimming against the tide. And so, like Esav, they give up fighting the good fight & choose the path of least resistance; they opt for capitulation rather than courage.

But, Baruch Hashem, we have our antidotes to Esav. They are the Yakovs of the nation, who do not give up, who face adversity after adversity, who keep getting knocked down but always get up again. They are determined never to get tired, never to give up or give in, but to go the distance until the final bell - of Moshiach.
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