Parashat Toledot, tells the story of Ya’akov and Eisav, and begins with Eisav, out of hunger, selling Ya’akov the Bechorah rights for a bowl of soup. After the sale and consumption of the broth, the Torah states (BeReishit 25:34), “VaYivez Eisav Et HaBechorah,” “Thus, Eisav spurned the birthright.” Rashi (ad. loc. s.v. VaYivez Eisav) explains that Eisav’s statement, mocking the Bechorah and exemplifying rejoice at having sold it, is truly evident of his wickedness. Rav Leib Chasman further explains that this not only reveals the wickedness of Eisav, but also promulgates an understanding for human personality. When people act foolishly, they will often attempt to justify their actions and convince themselves that they acted rationally, because nobody likes to believe that their actions were unjustified, mistaken, or foolish.
Eisav’s scorning of the Bechorah is a paragon of this phenomenon, as he gives into his need for food and does not foresee that giving away the Bechorah is a foolish idea; only after he finishes eating his lentils does he realize what a foolish thing he has done. However, it is too late at that point to rescind his actions, so Eisav tries to convince himself that he did not need the Bechorah in the first place – he mocks the privilege, and tells himself that trading it for lentils was worthwhile.
There is an old Fable of Aesop with a very similar message to what Rashi teaches: There was once a fox who desired a certain bunch of grapes that grew on a very high vine. The fox tried to get them, but when he realized that he was unable to do so, he simply walked away and mused, “Those grapes are probably sour anyways.” The fox, like Eisav, was unable to acknowledge his shortcomings, and therefore tried justifying himself by saying that the item he missed out on was not important.
A person who will always attempt to justify his actions rather that admitting that certain actions were foolish will never learn from his mistakes, and will never grow as an individual – personal development without recognition of one’s mistakes is impossible. One who convinces himself that all of his foolish acts were wise is not only pompous, but is a fool.
However, a truly wise person will not act in this manner. When he makes a foolish mistake, he will admit to his errors, attempt to better himself, and will not try to justify his actions. A person like this will not only be able to correct his mistakes, but will ultimately be able to grow as a human being. A wise person will understand that it is acceptable to fail sometimes because failing is a part of life, even for the greatest Tzaddikim. May we all learn from this Rashi not that we should never fail, but that it is proper to admit to our failures, to learn from them, and then, ultimately, to grow as individuals.