The Trouble With Eisav by Rabbi Mark Smilowitz

1997/5758

              "Preparing for the future" is the motivation behind much of what we do.  We spend many years in schools, exercise our bodies, build homes and put away money, all towards the goal of creating a happier, healthier future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.  We work hard now in order to enjoy life later.

              In walks Eisav, tired from the hunt.  In a flash he is willing to trade away his birthright for the passing pleasure of a bowl of lentils.  This is not a very wise decision, considering the power of the birthright.  Various commentaries explain that this power may have included monetary wealth, Divine service, or honor and authority.  Eisav defines himself in this one act as a reckless, rash, and unthinking individual, whose personal brand of "nowism" prefers the thrill of the moment over securing a desirable future. 

              Rav Aharon Lichtenstein points out that being a hunter is the perfect occupation for Eisav.  There are other ways to get food.  The farmer must break hisback during one season, then patiently wait until a later season to reap the fruits of his labor.  This type of patience is not for Eisav.  If he is hungry, he simply goes outside to kill an animal.  Instant gratification is Eisav's trademark.

              Many people ask, Why did God have to choose one son over the other?  Couldn't both Eisav and Yaakov be counted together as the inheritors of the Divine Covenant?  After all, Yaakov's twelve sons all enjoyed the covenant together.

              It seems that by his own choice of lifestyle, Eisav excludes himself from the covenant.  Is this an individual who can fulfill the promise given to Abraham, that he will be a slave to a foreign people for many years of hard labor, only to emerge 400 years later with wealth, and with God as his savior?  Is Eisav someone to entrust with the Torah, which requires meticulous mastery if it is to be handed down intact from generation to generation?  Yaakov is a much better candidate to receive the Torah because he is accustomed to delayed gratification.  He waits patiently day after day - either studying or tending to the flocks - performing chores now for benefits later.

              In fact, Eisav does receive a blessing from Yitzchak that entitles him to the land of Se'ir.  How fitting is it, though, that Eisav impatiently retires to Se'ir in his own lifetime, (see Parshat Vayishlach), while Yaakov does not receive his apportioned lands until much later on when Yehoshua leads Bnai Yisrael into Israel.  If we follow the line of history through the descendants of these two individuals, we find that their two different philosophies give rise to two nations with mutually exclusive philosophies.  Our first we encounter with Amalek, the descendants of Eisav, shows their utter disregard for the course of history.  While all of the other nations stood in awe and wonder, watching the miracles Hashem performed for Bnai Yisrael during Yetziat Mitzrayim and Kabalat Hatorah, Amalek attacked the Am, showing their complete disregard for the significance of God backing the nation.  Their grandfather's style of "nowism" bred a nation of heretics unable or unwilling to see the significance of a monumental historical event.  When generations later, Haman, a descendant of Amalek, sets out to destroy the Jewish people, he chooses the date by means of a lottery.  The symbolism of the lottery shows the sense of complete randomness of life and history which Amalek lived their lives according to.  No day is more significant than another.  Haman's lackadaisical approach is simply a manifestation of his ancestor's utter disregard for the future.

              The Jewish religion teaches that time is important, that history is significant, and that what we do now will affect our descendants later.  When we fast of Tisha B'av, we demonstrate that the destruction of the Temple two thousand years ago was not a random and meaningless event but a cry from God urging us to better our ways in the future.  When we celebrate Chanukkah and Yom Haatzmaut, we show that the renewal of Jewish sovereignty in Israel was not by chance; it represented the undying spirit of our nation and the help we received from Hashem.

              While Eisav ate, Yaakov worked.  The characteristics of responsibility and humility led Yaakov to be the inheritor of the covenant.  Let us try to emulate his model and let the nowism of Eisav be left in the past.

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