Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Toldot
To dedicate this lesson

No Rest for the Righteous


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Cheshvan 29 5780
Our Sedra contains the famous episode of the B’chora – the selling of Esav’s birthright to Yakov – one of the most puzzling & perplexing subjects in the Torah. Questions abound:

- Can one really sell a birthright? After all, it is a davar she-lo ba l’olam, an intangible thing that does not yet exist (for father Yitzchak is still very much alive). - Is Yakov – known as the "Ish Tam," the man of truth, temimut & wholesomeness - being upright when he trades a bowl of lentil soup for the b’chora? - What real value does the B'chora actually have, & why does Esav, the first--born, want to give it up in the first place?

Not to worry, the Torah throws some important clues our way to sort all this out.

When Esav rushes in from a hard day of hunting in the field, he is….what’s that you say, hungry?! Good try, but guess again! Nowhere does the pasuk call him hungry; but twice it DOES say that he is "ayef," tired! Ok, but what is he tired from? Or better yet, what, exactly, is he tired OF?

The Gemara (Bava Batra 16b) says that on this one day (which was the shiva for grandfather Avraham), Esav committed 5 heinous crimes: he raped an engaged girl, he committed murder, he denied both Hashem & Techiyat HaMetim, & he spurned the b’chora. (Whew, that’s a full day's work right there!) Yet the only sin mentioned in the Torah is "Va-Yivez et ha-B’chora," he scorned the birthright. Why?!

Clearly, the young Esav (he was just 13) is in rebellious mode. He knows that the 1st-born (prior to the sin of the Golden Calf) were expected to be the spiritual leaders of Am Yisrael, the standard-bearers who served as moral models. But Esav wanted no part of this; he was a man of materialism, not spirit. He was tired of shouldering the expectations & restrictions laid upon him, & he simply wanted out. As for the soup? Well, that was just gravy; the really tasty morsel was his liberation from leadership.

Pointedly, Yakov says to Esav, "Michra KA-yom et b’choratcha li," sell your birthright like today to me, rather than "HA-yom, today." Yakov was setting up a scenario, k’iylu, not a strict legal arrangement; he was testing Esav to see if he wanted to take on the reins of leadership.

And that, I suggest, is why the story of the b’chora is told in two separate chapters, instead of all at once. In between, we see that Esav grows up &, at age 40, marries a Hittite woman. Since women are always the catalyst for proper behavior in men, once Esav marries someone whom the Torah calls "morat ruach," spiritually rebellious, it’s clear that Esav cannot & will not take on the mantle of manhigut. And so, immediately after his marriage, we have Part II of the saga, as Yitzchak bestows the b’chora bracha on Yakov.

Friends: It’s tough being G-d’s first-born, it's tremendously challenging to be eternal Lights unto the Nations. Sometimes we, too, get tired; we want to shrug it all off & be just like everyone else. But, no can do, for such is our mission & our mandate. Jewish life is not a bowl of cherries - or lentils.
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