“Now Jacob cooked a pottage, and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint’; he was therefore named Edom.” (Genesis 25:29-30)
Esav returned from a long day of hunting and found his brother Yaakov preparing lentils. He was overwhelmed by hunger and agreed to sell his birthright for a bowl of “pottage.” This episode is apparently so important and pivotal that it solidified Esav’s identity. “Al keyn kara shemo Edom (he Esav was therefore named Edom)” and therefore, his offspring become known as Edom (red) as well. How are we to understand this? Why is Esav’s identity forged by this episode? What is the significance of these lentils?
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 63:13) explains that mourners would customarily consume lentils as part of their meal during the mourning period. Rashi elaborates and explains that the roundness of the lentil represents the cycle of life, of which death is a part. Avraham had passed away. Yaakov was preparing the mourner’s meal of lentils for his father, Yitzchak. The Midrash relates that when Esav came home and saw Yaakov cooking lentils, he asked Yaakov, “’What is the meaning of this food (i.e. why are you cooking this particular item)?’ He (Yaakov) responded, ‘The Elder (Avraham) has died.’ He (Esav) responded, ‘If strict justice has been visited upon the Elder, there is no justice, there is no judge’.”
It appears from this Midrash that Esav was outraged over Avraham’s death. Esav felt that Avraham’s righteousness and dedication to God should have allowed him to escape this final decree.
The Beis HaLevi (Rav Yosef Dov HaLevi Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) finds this Midrash difficult. Did Esav expect that his grandfather would live forever? Avraham was 175 years old and had led a good, meaningful and full life. How are we to understand Esav’s indignation over Avraham’s death?
The Beis HaLevi explains that Avraham had passed down many important ideas and ideals to his family. He shared with them his vision for spreading monotheism, love of God and respect for the other. He explained that God’s blessing would accompany them throughout life and their small family would blossom into a great and magnificent nation. But it would not be all blessing, bliss and happiness. Avraham shared with them the difficulties and turbulent times that his children and descendants would have to face and endure. He explained that God had told him how his descendants would be “strangers in a strange land and they will be worked and afflicted for four hundred years.” Avraham knew (and shared with his children) that the years ahead would be filled with much grief and challenge. Esav understood that as the first born, he stood to inherit the Abrahamitic mantle. With this mantle would come all the blessings, but he and his descendants would have to shoulder all the challenges as well. Esav did not want this burden, Esav did not want this responsibility, Esav did not want this destiny. But he couldn’t just say, “I’m not interested” as that would look cowardly and show a lack of commitment. Instead, he used Avraham’s death as a pretext to claim that there is no order or justice in this universe and therefore, he wanted no part of this tradition. Esav was willing to part with his birthright for a bowl of lentils, not out of a love for lentils or because he was famished. He was willing to give up his destiny for a bowl of lentils because he was looking for an out; he was looking for some way to escape responsibility. The death of Avraham and the bowl of lentils gave him his excuse to throw off the yoke of destiny and free himself of Abrahamitic responsibility.
Esav is known as Edom, after the redness of the lentils for which he sold his destiny. This was his fundamental flaw – he created a fictional reality that would allow him to escape responsibility.
It is normal to be overwhelmed and sometimes even frightened when taking on new responsibilities. There are times when we know what we want to do, we know what we want to be, but when we see all the work and effort it entails, when we see the potential for failure, we want to run the other way. All too often, we run from our destiny, we avoid taking responsibility and in order to justify these decisions we create alternate realities for ourselves. We tell ourselves that certain accomplishments are beyond reach, because this exempts us from trying. We tell ourselves that we cannot change, because then we feel no pressure to become more. We convince ourselves that the aspirations, goals and dreams we once held so dear aren’t really that beautiful and noble. We give up beautiful life opportunities for mere bowls of lentils. Many of us consume the lentils of life excuses at regular intervals. The lentils may fill your stomach, but they leave your soul empty and wanting.
We have an awesome responsibility as individuals and as a people to accomplish great things. Our futures are a combination of beautiful blessings and incredible challenges. If we retreat because of the challenges, we will never experience the blessing. We must remember that we are the descendants of Yaakov. We embrace the holiness, destiny and opportunities that others so quickly discard.
“And Isaac loved Esav because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob (Bereishis 25:28).”
Families are complex and the families of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs were no exception. Children don’t always follow in the footsteps of their parents and often make different choices and cultivate a distinct life path. With all of this, the job of a parent is to love and appreciate their child for who the child is and not for whom the parents want them to be. And so, the Torah tells us that Yitzchak loved Esav. But why? What was “loveable” about Esav? We must assume that Yitzchak and Rivka each loved both of their children, yet, each had a unique relationship with a particular child. Rivka’s connection with Yaakov is understandable. Yaakov was holy and genuine, he was the clear heir to the Abrahamitic legacy. He was a source of wonderful and ongoing nachas. But what was the nature of the connection between Yitzchak and Esav? It would appear they were worlds apart, yet, Yitzchak has this incredible love for his first-born son. What does this mean? What is the message?
Of all our Patriarchs we know the least about Yitzchak. While we are told of the Akeyda (binding of Yitzchak) and Yitzchak’s willingness to offer himself upon the altar of God, this event is really looked at through the lens of Avraham’s selfless dedication to God. What do we know about Yitzchak? He dug wells.
And Isaac went away from there, and he encamped in the valley of Gerar and dwelt there. And Isaac again dug the wells of water which they had dug in the days of his father, Abraham, and the Philistines had stopped them up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them names like the names that his father had given them. And Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and they found there a well of living waters. And the shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water is ours”; so he named the well Esek, because they had contended with him. And they dug another well, and they quarreled about it also; so he named it Sitnah. And he moved away from there, and he dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rehoboth, and he said, “For now the Lord has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land (Genesis 26:17-22).”
Why does the Torah need to focus on Yitzchak’s well-digging activities? The Lubavitcher Rebbe provides an incredible insight. To benefit from the beautiful and sustaining, subterranean waters you must be willing to dig. You must take out your shovel, bend your back and take away shovelful of dirt after shovelful of dirt until you find the refreshing, translucent waters. This is a metaphor for the self. We each possess the beautiful wellspring of holiness and spiritual beauty. However, often this holiness is obscured by layers of “dirt.” There is dirt from the bad decisions we make, there is dirt from negative life-experiences, there is the dirt of failure and set-backs. All this dirt sits on top of my well and covers my inner waters. We must find the courage to dig, to haul away the earth though changing and adjusting certain behaviors and habits. This was the great strength of Isaac, he was the well-digger. He was the one who was able to dig through the layers of dirt and find the beautiful waters of holiness in himself and in others. When the world looked at Esav they saw one thing – dirt. Yitzchak saw the dirt which covered his son, but he also saw the beautiful waters of holiness which were surging beneath the layer upon layer of thick dirt. He loved his son, because he was able to see the waters and not just the dirt.
We must become well-diggers and utilize this skill in all our life-relationships. We need to love our children for who they are and not for who we want them to be. Even if our children get covered in dirt, we must appreciate that the waters still run deep and are ever-present. We must strive to see the good in others and recognize that even when people hurt us, there is still good within that individual. We must try to focus on the water and not the dirt. We must look for the water within ourselves. We cannot define ourselves by the dirt of our indiscretions or misdeeds. We must remember that no matter how much dirt we have piled on ourselves, the inner waters never dry up, they are always present, waiting to be discovered.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur
“And Isaac loved Esav because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob (Bereishis 25:28).”
The commentaries struggle to understand the meaning of this verse. It appears as if the Torah is telling us that Yitzchak and Rivka played favorites. But could this really be? As parents, we learn to appreciate the differences within our children. We celebrate their strengths, help them to address their weaknesses, and create a special and unique bond with each individual child. No two children are alike; each child is a world unto him/herself and it is the sacred task of parents to understand, love and connect with each child. If these lessons are understood and obvious to us (not that we necessarily implement them all the time) they must have known to Yitzchak and Rivka as well. If so, how are we to understand their behavior?
Rashi explains: “What does it mean “ki tzayid b’fiv, because his game was in his mouth?” Esav knew how to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth. He would and ask him, “Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought that he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments (Tanchuma, Toeldoth 8).” Esav displayed a false piety and tricked his father, when in fact he was evil and morally bankrupt. Esav hunted his father and trapped him with his words, leading Yitzchak to believe that Esav was genuinely committed to creating and forging a relationship with God.
The Lutzker Rov, Rav Zalman Sorotzin (1881-1966) in his commentary on the Chumash titled, Oznayim LaTorah offers further explanation: “Yitzchak was an Olah Temimah, an unblemished offering and he did not see or experience deceit or underhandedness in his familial home. As such when Esav asked him questions about tithing salt and straw, Yitzchak believed these questions to be an expression of Esav’s piety. Rivka however, experienced and witnessed deceitful behavior. She saw the chicanery and trickery of her father and brother; she could discern between genuine piety and a falsified façade.”
Yitzchak Avinu saw the good in others and in the world, for that was the type of home in which he was raised. Avraham and Sarah were people of chessed, kindness and selflessness. They saw the good in everyone. Such was the chinuch (education) of Yitzchak and so, when Esav asked these questions, Yitzchak took them at face value, assuming that Esav was really trying. Rivka grew up in a dramatically different environment where lies and deceit were par for the course. Rivka saw through the questions of Esav, she realized they lacked genuine depth – as such she was not convinced of Esav’s piety.
The Torah is not telling us a story of favorites. Yitzchak loved both his sons and Rivka loved both her sons. There are no favorites. Yitzchak loved Esav because he thought he was like Yaakov, Rivka loved Yaakov for his piety but recognized that her son Esav was not righteous. The lesson to be learned is twofold. Firstly, the Torah is teaching us about the impact of our childhood experiences on our adult perceptions. Who we are is often colored by the type of home in which we were raised. Yitzchak became who he was because of the home of Avraham and Sarah. Rivka became who she was because she grew up in the home of Bisuel and Lavan. This works beautifully if we have received the right kind of familial education. We strive to reinforce these lessons within ourselves and within the families we hope to build. But sometimes, we receive erroneous instruction from our family and upbringing and at times, must unlearn ingrained lessons.
But there is one more lesson. This episode teaches us about the need for proper parenting. Children see, hear, and are impacted by everything which occurs in the home. How parents speak to each other, how we handle stress, what we talk about at the Shabbos table and how we come home from work are all things which leave an indelible impression on our beautiful children. Even when we “finish” parenting, our children will be reliving and replaying the events experienced and lessons learned within our homes. Yitzchak keeps the beautiful purity of his parents with him and Rivka can’t get rid of the childhood images of deceit and animosity from her heart and soul. This is the power of the home.