Values and Responsiblity

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.

Human Nature

“And the children struggled within her.”

– Genesis 25:22, JPS 1917 Tanach

“And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.”

– Genesis 25:27, JPS 1917 Tanach

Jacob received his name, from the root word eikev meaning “heel,” because when born he was grasping onto Esau’s heel. “Jacob’s holding on to the heel of Esau may symbolize that values which Esau would stamp his foot on would be the very ones Jacob would cherish” (Akeidat Yitzchak). The comment points toward the differences that appeared in the personalities of Jacob and Esau as they grew up. Esau was an ambitious hunter who spent all of his time in the field, while Jacob is described as an ish tam (wholesome man), who quietly devoted himself to raising sheep, and reflecting upon the nature of G-d.

The two were somewhat diamatrically opposed to each other. Thus their relationship can be seen as representative of the two opposing spirits of man: the yetzer tov (good inclination), and the yetzer hara (evil inclination). These two inclinations battle against each other within the soul of every human being. Yet, not everyone may be aware of the prolific conflict that occurs, especially if leeway is constantly being given to the less moral impulses of one’s character. Only when opposing baser instincts, does an individual begin to feel the tension between doing what is right, or giving in to inferior behaviors.

Yet, to consistently take the path of least resistance, permitting inertia to influence the soul to the point of sluggishness, and simply “going with the flow,” without considering where the course of one’s path will lead, is to remain subject to what is otherwise referred to as “the animal soul,” the part of ourselves that favors our natural inclinations. Rather, true “spirituality,” in accord with the quest for perfection, and the human endeavor to excel, must be focused on uplifting our souls, above the realm of commonality with animals. We breathe, eat, and sleep; yet, our purpose of existence goes beyond the mundane; true happiness can only be derived from pursuing a “higher goal” in our lives.

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