TIMELESS & ETERNAL
Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman
This week's Torah portion introduces us to two opposing philosophies and approaches to life, as personified and developed by Esau and Jacob.
This week's Torah portion introduces us to two opposing philosophies and approaches to life, as personified and developed by Esau and Jacob. "A man of the field" (Genesis 25:27) is the Torah's first description of a maturing Esau; open and external, Esau enjoys nothing more than the excitement of a good hunt. On the other hand, Jacob is described as a "wholesome man, abiding in tents" (ibid.). At home in the tents of study, Jacob seeks the internal and the essence of things.
The Midrash relates that the mind-boggling sale of the birthright occurred on the day that the world was mourning the death of their grandfather Abraham. Jacob is preparing the customary mourner's meal of lentils, while Esau is out hunting on this day, the day of the funeral of his grandfather. Esau returns home and is hungry, and all he sees is a bowl of food. What these lentils represent means nothing to him. They comprise only an unnamed brew, and he entreats Jacob to "pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff." The Torah's response to Esau's request is, "Therefore his name was called Edom (red)" (ibid. 25:30). Why should this one entreaty for some "red stuff" result in Esau and his descendants being called Edom?
Esau was faced with a test: the birthright, future and destiny of a G-dly people vs. the stomach and immediate gratification. No contest, Esau declares, as the red food flows down his throat. And the Torah testifies, "Esau despised his birthright" (ibid. 25:34). This decision symbolizes and defines Esau,representative of the non-Torah viewpoint of the world - immediate gratification at all costs, live for the present instead of the future, give the physical absolute precedence over the spiritual, constantly pamper the body at the expense of using that same energy and time to enhance the soul. Esau is Edom, confirming his status as someone who exchanges eternal values for the transitory present. Only Jacob has the foresight to forego the present moment and inherit the future, the timeless and the eternal.
For the past two thousand years, since the destruction of the second Temple in Jerusalem, we have found ourselves in the galut Edom, the exile of Edom. What does the United States on the eve of the 21st century have to do with Edom? Because it is specifically this philosophy of Edom that remains so prevalent in all aspects of society. A case in point is the advertising media, whose most prevalent color is none other than red, because red attracts your eye and catches your attention, focusing your mind on the external and the transient. It screams at us not to think about inner meanings or future consequences, only the here and now.
The Midrash continues that Esau brought in a group of friends to mock Jacob who was willing to sell a good, solid meal for some future spiritual birthright. That's Edom - they employ ridicule and jokes in order to distract their mind from the gnawing dissatisfaction of an empty existence. But once the merriment is over, Esau's soul is dissatisfied and hungry once again, and therefore the next verse reads, "And there was a famine in the land" (ibid. 26:1). Esau is hungry again and he is on the hunt, which leads to a further resentment and jealousy of his brother's peace of mind with G-d and himself, and so it continues in our exile of Edom. They have neither the patience nor the desire to delve into the heart of anything beyond the surface, and are only interested in the immediate, the superficial, the external - instant gratification.
All this causes only further dissatisfaction and hunger, leading them to jump from one distraction to another - TV, movies, sports - anything not to have to stop and think: Who am I? Where am I? What's going to be my future? Edom is forever resentful of the snug, comfortable Torah Jew with his family values, at peace with Man and G-d. Edom hates the person who transcends the here and now, who renounces status, wealth, and nobility, and accepts instead persecution and exile not to forego his faith. That is total defiance of the present moment. We transcend the here and now.
Even our everyday mitzvot teach us to forego the moment. Before we eat we must ask ourselves, is this kosher? What is the proper blessing? There is a sanctification of the moment because we are a G-dly people, and the blessing reminds us that something is beyond us, that there is a Creator and we are His subjects. Even as we feed our stomachs, we transcend the immediate moment for a glimpse of eternity.
How does one achieve joy, pleasure, and satisfaction? Jacob teaches us that there is much joy, tranquillity, serenity, pleasure, and delight in this world - but if your only standards of judgment are your nerve endings, then you will end up more animal than human. If you insist on the now you may never have a tomorrow. All the pleasures become heartache and shame, a realization of a wasted life.
The anguish one feels in the dead of the night, after the party is over and the guests have disappeared and the dirty empty glasses of life stand on the banquet table and the cracked and broken shards of a tragic wasted existence lie upswept upon the floor - that is the ultimate result of Edom's philosophy. Jacob argues that the joy of this world is observing G-d's holy days, of watching children grow into G-d fearing learned Jews, who are aware of themselves and their heritage, who care about Torah and their synagogue, who are sure and secure in the knowledge of who they are and where they come from, aware of their responsibilities to their faith and people, living according to the sacred ideals, living a tranquil and serene life.
Based on thoughts from The Biblical Echo, by Rabbi Emanuel Feldman.
Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman writes from Atlanta.
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