Values and Responsiblity

weekly Torah reading: parashas Toldos 5782

The birthright is a responsibility that Esau chose not to accept upon himself, as is written, “I am at the point of death, so what use is my birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32, JPS 1985 Tanach). Implicitly, this statement denoted his character and temperament at a crucial moment in time. It cannot be said that Esau gave up his birthright for a bowl of lentil stew as if there were no other factors involved that led up to that moment. Surely, his lifestyle, ambition, and plans for himself, outside of the heritage of his father and grandfather, were not in alignment with the responsibilities that receiving the birthright would have required.

Thus, in a moment of stress, when put to the test, having been out in the fields for three days, without catching any game, tired and famished, he gave up what seemed less important to him at the time, stating that he was at the point of death, anyway, what benefit would the birthright be to him, if he had passed away at that moment? Yet, his words belie the truth of his heart, “what use is my birthright to me?” Perhaps, this was his perspective, regardless of being put on the spot by Jacob, who had told him that he would give Esau some lentil stew, if he sells his birthright to him. He simply did not see the value of his birthright: “He ate and drank, and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright” (Genesis 26:34, JPS).

The birthright would have entailed passing on the values of Abraham and Isaac to the next generation. Apparently, this did not concern Esau, who had been described in an earlier pasuk (verse) as “a man of the fields.” Yet, Jacob is described as an ish tam, a man who resided in tents. He was a shepherd like his father and grandfather before him. He led a stable life and had plenty of time to reflect upon the noble aspects of life, lifting himself up above the mundane.

Something to consider in today’s world, has to do with how we view our own lives, whether in an opportunistic manner, for the sake of ourselves, or in a way that reflects our concern for being proper role models for the next generation? Ultimately, we should keep in mind that how we live our lives should reflect our values. And, if we ask ourselves, what is really important in life, hopefully, we will be able to see past the immediacy of the moment. Lasting values are shaped over time and meant to be passed on to others, even if only by way of example.

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