Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshat Toldot 5758
November 29, 1997
Many times in the Torah, the simple explanation of a verse only
scratches its surface. A deeper meaning lies below.
In Parshas Toldos, Eisav sells his firstborn rights to his younger brother Yaakov, saying, "Behold I am going to die, so what does a birthright do for me?" He saw the birthright as so inconsequential that he sold it for a bowl of beans.
From the beginning, Eisav had his doubts whether his birthright would be an aid or a hindrance to him. Would it extend his life or end it prematurely? Rashi tells us that Yaakov told him of the punishments and deaths that are dependent upon the birthright. Eisav replied, "If I am going to die because of it why would I desire it?"
But why was Eisav fearful of an early death? He was, as the Torah says, "a man of the field," who lived by the sword. The Talmud tells us that on the day Eisav came home weary and tired, he committed five transgressions: he cohabited with an engaged woman; he killed a human being; he denied the existence of G-d; he denied the tenet of the revival of the dead; and he spurned his birthright.
These actions describe a person who lived a dangerous life with little fear of death. To Eisav, the mere fact that the birthright came with serious obligations and severe punishments should have been of no consequence.
Thus, there must be a deeper meaning behind Eisav's decision to turn his back on his birthright. The Daas Zekaynim Mebaalei Tosafos tells us Eisav returned home weary that day because he had killed none other than the mighty hunter, Nimrod.
Eisav wanted to hunt in Nimrod's fields and was told to leave immediately. This was unacceptable to him and he sought his father, Yitzchak's, advice. Yitzchak told his eldest son that as long as Nimrod lived and wore clothing proclaiming his dominance over all others, Eisav would never be able to overcome him. So Eisav killed him.
What was Eisav's real motive for murdering Nimrod? Not wealth, but power and prestige. For the very same reason, Eisav sold his birthright. Rav Nosson Margolies explains that the Torah's emphasis on Eisav's feelings of being doomed to die accounts for why he sold his birthright. For should he die, the birthright would pass to his children. But Eisav did not care for what he would leave future generations; his only concern was for the here and now"so what does a birthright do for me?"
Eisav surmised that the birthright was not worth anything because it contained no promise of, or even hope for, lasting power. He neededhe thrived uponpower. He needed to know that he was in a position to exercise control over all those who came into contact with him.
To Eisav the birthright had to have both rank and influence. Since it possessed neither, it was, sadly, worthless in his eyes.
As children of Yaakov, we, the Bnai Yisrael, are the rightful heirs of the birthright. We understand its value and the influence it gives us in this world. The power and privilege of the bechorah lies in its responsibilities, in its sense of duty and destiny.
Our mission, to serve our Creator through the performance of mitzvos and adherence to His Torah, is here and now. But its powerful effect goes far, far into the future.
Rabbi Evan Shore
Rabbi Shore is the rabbi of Young Israel Shaarei Torah in Syracuse, New York.
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