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Parshas Vayechi (5770)

The Strange Burial of Esau's Head

Most Jews who have toured the Land of Israel and have visited the Me'oras Ha'Machpeilah (the Double Cave) in Hebron know that inside that tomb are buried The World's Most Famous Couples - Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, and Jacob and Leah. But what you probably didn’t know is that there is one other famous biblical personality (or should I say, part of him) buried in the Me'oras Ha'Machpeilah as well – Jacob’s twin brother and nemesis, the wicked Esau.

In what is probably one of the strangest stories I have ever read, the Talmud in Sotah 13a describes the funeral procession of Jacob (which is recorded in this week's Torah portion) as he is being escorted from Egypt to Israel to be buried in the Double Cave. Along comes Esau who attempts to block his brother from being buried there, claiming that, as the firstborn, it is he who has the right to be buried in their ancestral burial place. In order to prove to Esau that Jacob purchased the birthright from him, thereby gaining the privilege of burial in the cave, the sons send their fastest brother, Naphtali, all the way back to Egypt to procure the necessary documents.

Meanwhile, one of Jacob's grandchildren by the name of Chushim, who was hard of hearing, inquired of his brothers as to the unusual delay in the funeral procession. When he was told that Esau was behind the delay, he immediately took an axe and chopped off his great-uncle Esau's head (kids, don’t try this at home!), which then promptly rolled into the Double Cave, to be buried together with Jacob's body.

Now I'm sure that there is some deeper, mystical layer of meaning to this extremely strange story, but on the surface, I think it tells us an important message about how we should live our lives.

You see, even though Jacob and Esau were polar opposites - Jacob was extremely righteous and saintly, and Esau was a despicable lowlife - they actually attended the same exact Yeshiva and Day Schools and had the same wonderful parents at home, Isaac and Rebecca. So why did they turn out so radically different?

The answer is, of course, that it is simply not enough to attend Torah classes and listen to lofty sermons where our brains absorb all that wisdom and moral values. That just means that our head is really spiritual and religious! But that's not good enough. The trick is to take all that knowledge and to bring it down to the rest of the body – in other words, to live our lives according to the principles and teachings that we have been taught. Esau's “head” was very righteous, so it merited to be buried in the Me'oras Ha'Machpeilah. But he took all that knowledge and inspiration, and did absolutely nothing with it. In fact, he lived just the opposite of what he knew to be true.

So the next time we attend a Torah class or hear an inspiring lecture, let's make sure that we don’t waste a precious opportunity for spiritual growth by keeping all that wisdom and insight stuck in our heads. We need to get our bodies involved by concretizing those ideas into something tangible that can positively change how we act and ultimately enhance the way we lead our lives. This way, we will be way a-“head” of the game!

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