Feed (But Don’t Embarrass) Me! by Gavriel Metzger


Parashat Toldot chronicles the development of the strained relationship between twin brothers, Yaakov and Eisav, the bearers of Yitzchak and Avraham’s legacy.  The brothers had their fair share of conflicts over their lifetimes, in and out of the womb, but the most celebrated was the dispute regarding the coveted birthright.  Eisav, a hunter by trade, was granted the title of firstborn because he emerged first, but Yaakov strongly desired to supplant his brother as Yitzchak’s main heir.  According to the Midrash, the argument was brought to the fore during the rather unfortunate time period following Avraham’s death, when the entire family was in mourning.  The Torah records how Yaakov was cooking lentil soup, a traditional mourner’s repast, when Eisav arrived from a long day’s hunt, famished and starving for sustenance.  However, Eisav’s request for food from Yaakov seems particularly strange, as he asked Yaakov, “Haliteini Na Min HaAdom HaAdom HaZeh Ki Ayeif Anochi,” “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff, for I am exhausted” (Bereishit 25:30).  Why did Eisav ask nondescriptly for “red stuff” when the type of food was readily apparent, and why did he ask Yaakov to pour the food into his mouth instead of just taking a spoonful himself?

The Beit HaLevi wisely expounds that Eisav was not in fact participating in his family’s mourning.  He instead chose to disappear into the vast fields in search of a hunt in order to avoid such melancholy duties.  When he returned after his long excursion into the wilderness craving the lentil soup, Eisav feared the harsh berating that he would receive for caring more to sate his appetite than about giving his deceased grandfather the respect he deserved.  Eisav therefore opted to attempt to portray himself as being oblivious to the situation, hoping to lead his family into thinking that he was not disrespecting his grandfather, but instead was simply uninformed.  As a result, Eisav worded his request to Yaakov in a particularly roundabout fashion in order to eliminate any indication that he knew what was going on.  By wisely referring to the soup as mere “red stuff,” Eisav made others believe that he did not know that it was lentil soup; if he did know, he surely should have known that lentil soup is a dish generally reserved for mourners!  Furthermore, had Eisav taken the soup with a spoon, he would have been expected to realize it was lentil soup, which would have set him up for tremendous embarrassment before Yaakov.  Thus, Eisav wanted the “stuff” poured into his mouth so that he could maintain the guise that he did not know what the mixture was or what it represented.  His comment that he was extremely tired strengthened the need for the food to be poured into his mouth, because he claimed to be too weak even to lift a spoon.

Eisav reached into the deepest recesses of his brain in order to circumvent the system and to continue shirking his responsibility to honor Avraham after his death.  Eisav explored every possible angle of insinuation, crafting his words ever so carefully so as not to rouse the slightest of doubts among his family members.  Similarly, many times we find even the simplest of Mitzvot, such as putting on Tzitzit or washing for HaMotzi, to be too taxing to fulfill, and accordingly conjure up myriad excuses in order to avoid those tasks, while the formulation of such excuses takes triple the effort of actually doing what we are supposed to do.  May we instead merit the ability to emulate our Avot and fill our lives with the fulfillment of Mitzvot rather than cluttering our routines with reasons to avoid them.

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