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Parshas Toldos (5773)

Anybody Wanna Buy a Birthright?

Everyone knows the famous story recorded in this week’s Torah portion of Esau selling the birthright to his younger brother Jacob for some lentil soup. But what is lesser known is the exact nature of this birthright that Esau sold to Jacob. The commentaries explain that the birthright involved the right to serve G-d in His Sanctuary full time. In other words, to be able to lead a spiritually fulfilling and meaningful life, as opposed to a life in which the focus is solely on materialism and hedonistic pleasure-seeking.

Now I can understand that Esau wasn't interested in the spiritual "thang". He just wanted to live la vida loca. After all, why bother with unimportant, irrelevant issues such as the meaning of life and whether or not there is a Higher Being Who has a plan and a destiny for our lives, when you can just spend your days running after all the possible pleasures and thrills you can find until you die?!

But, still, to give away the whole birthright for a little soup? He could have at least bargained with Jacob for a brand new Lamborghini or a trip to Aruba!

To answer this question, we first need to know a basic truth that the Torah teaches us about ourselves. As opposed to angels, who are referred to as ohm-dim, meaning that they are static and that the level that they start on in life is the level in which they remain, human beings, who are graced with a living soul, never remain at one spiritual level. We are either growing spiritually, or we are deteriorating - we are never static. [A wise person once said that, according to the Jewish outlook, life is like a down escalator – if you don’t try to go up, you will automatically be going down.]

This means that there only two types of people in this world - those who want to grow and those want to remain where they are, which, of course, means that they will ultimately decline spiritually.

The Sheim Mi’Shmuel explains that these two types of personalities are represented by the most famous twins in history - Jacob and Esau. The name Esau comes from the Hebrew word asui, which means fully formed and complete. Esau came out with a full head (and body) of hair, and was mature at birth beyond his infant years. Jacob’s name is related to the Hebrew word eikev, which means heel. Their names reflected their essence (as names will always do, according to the Kabbalah). Esau saw himself as a complete and finished product with no need or interest in growth. Jacob, on the other hand, perceived himself to be at the heel, or bottom, as far as his spiritual growth and maturation was concerned. He felt that he had a long way to go and that there was so much to learn.

If we feel like we need to grow Jewishly and spiritually, never being complacent about where we are presently, then we are a Jacob personality. Whenever an opportunity such as a Torah class presents itself for us to learn more about the bigger questions of life, we'll grab it - much the same way Jacob seized the opportunity to purchase the birthright and all the spirituality contained within it. But if, G-d forbid, we are static as far as our Judaism is concerned, and we don't feel a need to grow in any way, then we are taking Esau's lead.

Sometimes we're presented with a great opportunity to explore what it means to be Jewish - like an exciting seminar about love, dating and marriage from a Torah perspective, or a dynamic speaker talking about the spiritual roots of anti-Semitism - but we pass it up to watch the ballgame. Or we have a chance to expose ourselves and our kids to a fun and exciting Jewish program at the local synagogue, but we pass it up to play a round of golf. This behavior emulates the character and personality of Jacob's twin - the type that feels like he knows whatever he needs to know about his religion and heritage, and that there's no real value or gain to be had from attending another Torah class. So why not trade it all for some lentil soup - if it tastes good.

To grow or not to grow.... that is the Jewish question. And it is a question we can't afford to leave unanswered.

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