Yaakov and Esav – Selling the Birthright – What Went Wrong? – Hard Day at Work

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Yaakov and Esav - Selling the Birthright - What Went Wrong? - Hard Day at WorkRecently, I had a very difficult, stressful tiring day at work, so much so that I wasn’t being myself and even made some loved ones cry. This was on a Friday, and the stress carried into Shabbos and even Sunday. I will not get into the details, but again, I was not myself. I very quickly regretted my actions and have since tried to amend my ways. In the process, I was thinking of the Biblical episode in Toldos where Esav “returned from the field and was tired.”

I then thought, am I any different from Esav? I came “from the field,” i.e. a day of work, tired, and realized that I wasn’t myself. Esav similarly wasn’t himself, and felt that after the day he had he would surely die on the spot. That was when he asked his brother Yaakov to bring him “the red stuff,” the lentil soup (since he was dying of hunger/thirst).

It was then that Yaakov told Esav to sell him his birthright. As the risk of heresy, it seems to me that on a surface-level reading of the text, Yaakov was likely thinking, “Hmmm, this is where I can make a profit! Let’s get the birthright.” Nobody says that our Avos were 100% perfect, and in fact much later on, Yaakov loses 33 years of his life due to some words he said to Pharaoh complaining how hard his life was. In any case, Esav replies that he’s about to die, so what is his birthright worth to him? Therefore they perform a valid business transaction (VaYimkor Es Bechoraso L’Yaakov), though it was while Esav was under duress it seems.

Now, there are commentaries that criticize Esav for squandering his birthright right then and there, since he sold it for a bunch of beans. I personally don’t get that. If someone is in the middle of the desert and dying, a simple cup of water is worth more than all the gold and birthrights in the world right then and there. Therefore, if Esav was dying, that simple pot of lentil soup was worth more than anything to him right then and there, especially when he was so tired that he called the lentil soup “pant! The red stuff! Wheeze!”

Interestingly, the sale doesn’t call it a ripoff right then and there. It mentions it a couple of verses later, after it mentions what Esav did after the transaction. It says that “he ate, drank, got up, and left, and Esav (then) squandered his birthright.” I think that the Torah says this in detail to prove a point. Where was the element of blessing Hashem mentioned? Even though the prayers weren’t standardized until 1,000 years later, the element of paying homage to Gd has been a universal concept. Avraham in his tent brought in many believers, in part by making them thank the One Who created everything, even the food, new clothing, and shelter in Avrahams’ home. In fact, some Pagans thank their idols in ways that would put us Jews to shame! Esav therefore wasn’t even acting like a Pagan, let alone a Gd-fearing person!

This is where the “squandering” I believe took place. Esav acted in the manner of an animal, just doing his business and leaving without saying thank you. Do you want to say Ribbis (usury) might be implied in saying “thank you?” Thanking Hashem doesn’t constitute Ribbis no matter the size of the transaction! In fact, had he told Hashem “thank you” after his “soul was restored” after eating/drinking, he might actually have had a solid accusation against Yaakov regarding the nature of the transaction in light of a life and death situation. But that opportunity was squandered the moment he left the tent, when he didn’t even acknowledge Gd’s greatness in providing the life-sustaining food.

It therefore seems that it’s all right to have bad days and overreact. After all, we’re all human and have limitations, nothing wrong. To strive for perfection is to allow room for imperfection. It’s how we act after everything blows over that shows our true colors.

Just one side point. There’s a Midrash that states that Esav the hunter inherited the special clothes that Adam HaRishon wore in Gan Eden and this attracted the animals to him. If the animals were continuously attracted to Esav, why did he arrive tired? Was it because there were too many animals to hunt or too few (and therefore more running around)?