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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Toldot

Parashat Toldot

Eating it While it’s Still Red

Rabbi Yossef Carmel29 Cheshvan 5765
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Before selling his birthright, Eisav came from the field tired and requested from his brother, Yaakov, to give him to eat. Chazal (Bava Batra 16b) derive that on that day, Eisav committed five serious sins. These were adultery, murder, denying Hashem, denying resurrection of the dead, and despising the birthright. They also tell us that on that day, Avraham Avinu died and that the food that Yaakov was preparing (lentils) was symbolic of the mourning process. Eisav’s request is peculiar in a few ways. He said: "Na (usually translated as "please") pour into me from that very red food" (Bereishit 25:29). Why would Eisav, who was at a spiritual low (even for him) say "please"? It’s also strange that Eisav should make a point of stressing the red color of the food (a fact for which he was given the nickname "Edom").

It is possible that one question answers the other. Although the word "na" can mean, "please," it also has other meanings. We are commanded (Shemot 12:9) not to eat the Korban Pesach in a state of "na." That means that one must roast the Pesach until it is ready and not eat it underdone. The Targum often translates na as "k’an," meaning, "now." Those two translations are related, as someone who eats food that is not yet fully cooked is eating it now, often because he lacks the patience to wait until it is complete. This is particularly noticeable if the food in question is lentils. They start out red, but by the end of the cooking process they have more of a yellow color. Eisav was saying that he was not willing to wait until the lentils were done, but wanted them now, when they were not properly cooked, and were therefore red.

There are times when we too use na to express the urgency of our request. The famous prayer that we say in Hallel, "Ana Hashem hoshi’ah na" (Tehillim 118:25) is indeed a request for salvation now. But it is tempered by a second use of na (actually "ana") to mean, "please." So too was Moshe’s request to heal his sister ("Kel na r’fah na la"- Bamidbar 12:13) both urgent but tempered by a second use of na. It was Eisav’s use of speech, with the demand for instant action standing alone and stressed over and over again, which was indicative of his personality. He wanted instant gratification and was not willing to invest in things where the reward would be received further down the road. It is telling that one of the things he sinned in was in denying the resurrection of the dead. A person like Eisav was not interested in a reward that is so far in the future. Yaakov knew better. Eisav’s coarse language and eating habits were indicative of a general shortsightedness.

As descendants of Yaakov and those who believe in the resurrection of the dead, we have the foresight to wait for the future. Hopefully that finds expression in the politeness of our speech as well.

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