Bowl of lentil stew

Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari Enkin

This week’s Torah portion is Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9). The reading opens up with the birth of perhaps the two most infamous twins in history: Jacob, the third and final founding Patriarch of the Jewish people, and Esav, his up-to-no-good brother. Not much is known about their childhood, as the Torah simply fast forwards with: “…and the children grew up and Esav became a skilled hunter, a man of the field and Jacob was a simple man who dwelled in tents.” Our sages interpret the “simple man” to mean that Jacob was studious and would spend time studying the holy books and the “tents” were the academies of higher Torah learning.

One episode in the twins’ turbulent relationship is related: “…and Jacob was cooking food as Esav returned from the field exhausted.” I’m so tired. Give me some of that red stew!” Esav demanded.” I’ll give you some of my stew”, Jacob conceded. “As long as you sell me your rights as the first born among us”. Esav, who was no pious individual and certainly did not feel a calling to the rabbinate, did not hesitate to sell his birthright for a bowl of stew. And so it was. Esav got a free lunch, and Jacob was now the “firstborn.”

Our sages explain that Esav thought that the birthright and all its accompanying benefits were one big joke. In fact, the Medrash teaches us that Esav and his friends had a jolly ‘ol time making fun of the birthright and bragging on how a bowl of stew was worth more than any spiritual benefits the birthright had to offer! Real “low-lives” to put it lightly.

Fast forward many years. Isaac is going blind and his end is drawing near. He realizes that now is the time to bestow the first-born blessings upon Esav. Rebecca, Isaac’s wife (and Jacob’s mother) learns of Isaac’s intention to bestow the blessing. As such, she informs Jacob to claim the blessings that he rightfully purchased so many years ago. She tells Jacob to disguise himself as Esav and get the blessing before Esav return from his current hunting expedition.

The plan goes off without a hitch. Jacob receives the blessings. But when Esav found out what had happened, he went bananas. “And Esav cried a very bitter cry. But bless me too father!” Esav now realizes, in his older and more mature age, that selling the birthright for a bowl of stew may not have been the best business investment imaginable.

The message: Esav was quick to poke fun and the birthright, but we see later on how wrong he really was. Now he is now begging for his own blessing. The bowl of stew represents the material world and material pursuits, while the blessing represents the spiritual dimension and spiritual pursuits. Unfortunately, many of us often make the Esavian mistake of pursuing material benefits and pleasures at the expense of spiritual ones. We must carefully way our choices to ensure that we balance our priorities and weigh the outcomes of our decisions. Sometimes, just sometimes, doing so is worth giving up a free lunch.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

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By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel