A story is told about a hard working man who simply couldn’t make a living. Under pressure from his wife and kids, he went to a local fortune teller for advice. “Go to the market and spend your last dollars on the first thing you see,” advised the fortune teller. The man decided to follow this advice, as no other strategy had brought him success.
He went to the market and in the first booth he saw was a jewel dealer. “I’d like to buy a jewel, but I’ve only got $50,” said the man. “Ha! For $50, you can’t even buy a counterfeit jewel!” replied the merchant. “I beg you,” responded the man, “sell me something for $50 - anything!” The merchant thought for a moment and made an offer. “If you really insist, I’ll give you my share in the world to come for $50.” The man agreed, paid the money and walked away. He had followed the fortune teller’s advice and the merchant thought he’d earned himself a few bucks for nothing.
When the merchant told his wife about what had transpired that day, she was furious. “Even if you are no great believer, why are you so reckless as to throw away something that might have real value for something so insignificant in return? Go find that buyer and demand that he return your share in the world to come!”
When the merchant found the man and asked for his Olam Haba back, the man resisted. “I’ll sell it back for $10,000, but no less,” replied the man, realizing he had a chance to turn a fast profit. The merchant was livid that the man would try to make such a profit off of him, but the man stubbornly refused to return it for less than the sum of $10,000. After some time, they agreed to approach the Rav of their town to resolve their dispute.
The Rav sided with the poor man, and explained his decision to the merchant. “When you sold your share of Olam Haba to the man, it was truly worth nothing to you. Now that you’ve reconsidered what you have sold, you realize that its value is beyond measure! $10,000 is a bargain for your share in Olam Haba and the man has every right to sell it for that much.”
This story helps us understand the difficult incident with Yaakov and Esav in our Parsha. An exhausted Esav returns from the field one day and sells Yaakov his Bechorah in return for some lentil soup. The Pasuk comments that by selling the birthright for just a bowl of soup (25:34), “VaYivez Esav Et HaBechora,” “Esav dishonored the birthright.” Later, Esav reflects (27:36), VaYaakveni Zeh Pa’amayim,” “You have tricked me two times.” If Esav agreed to sell the Bechorah, why does he later blame Yaakov for tricking him into selling it?
The Steipler Gaon zt”l explains that, in reality, Esav knew that Yaakov did not trick him at all; he was simply in denial of the fact that he had been tricked. By recklessly putting his temporary needs in front of what he knew was of greater value, he demonstrated that he was not worthy of the great Zechut inherent in being the Bechor. He explains further that when the Pasuk stated (25:29), “ViHu Ayef,” “And he was exhausted,” it meant that he was sick and tired of observing the Torah and its Mitzvot. Chazal add that he committed five terrible sins on that day, declaring once and for all that he had given up on his family’s tradition of religious excellence.
Later, when he considered what he had sold, and realized how valuable the birthright was that he had sold for so little, he was too late to retrieve it. He had already shown his true colors and had demonstrated that Yaakov was the appropriate heir to the legacies of Avraham and Yitzchak.