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by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek


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Parashas Toldos (65)

The sedra tells of the birth and development of Isaac's sons, Jacob & Esau and two pivotal events in their lives. 1) Esau selling the Birthright to Jacob for a bowl of porridge. 2) Jacob fooling Isaac and taking Esau's blessing and the ensuing hatred.

We look at a Rashi on the selling of the Birthright.

Genesis 35:24

"And Jacob gave Esau bread and porridge of lentil and he ate, he drank, he rose up and went. And Esau despised the Birthright."


And Esau despised Rashi: The verse testifies to his (Esau) evilness in that he despised the service of G-d.

What would you ask on this simple comment? Your Question:


A Question: Rashi seems to tell us the obvious. We see how Esau traded in the Birthright (which meant the service in the Temple in the future- which originally was to be the privilege of the firstborn) for a bowl of porridge. This was clearly evidence the Esau despised the Birthright. What has Rashi added to our understanding with his comment? Your Answer:


An Answer: Precisely! It is obvious, so why must the Torah add the words that Esau despised the Birthright? The phrase is superfluous since the whole story reeks with his low opinion of the value of the Birthright.

This is what Rashi is referring to - why the need for the added phrase.

How does his comment deal with this? Your Answer:


An Answer: Rashi points out that the verse stresses Esau's belittling attitude towards the significance of the Birthright. Esau himself had said "I am going to die - so what good is the future privilege?" But actually we might have thought that Esau was forced to sell the Birthright, not because he despised it but because it was "Pikuach Nefesh" He was in a life-threatening situation - he was dying of hunger - and had no choice. So Rashi tells us not to be fooled by Esau's statement of despair. He really sold it because it was valueless in his eyes. This, Rashi says, is the reason the Torah adds the phrase of Esau's despising the Birthright.

Can you find support for Rashi's comment, that Esau sold it not under duress but because he really despised it? Your Answer:


An Answer: The Torah tells us in machine-gun style "He ate, he drank, he got and he went " rat tat tat.

If Esau sold the Birthright purely out of duress, we would expect some expression of regret from him once he had sated his appetite. This is totally lacking. "He went" without a word from him.

So Rashi says this is the evidence of his true motivation - the Birthright had absolutely no value for him for he despised it.


We would add another insight here. Granted Esau saw no religious or other value in the Birthright. It was worthless in his eyes. But "despise"! Why the extreme expression of "despise"?

I would say that psychologically Esau needed this defense mechanism to so completely abandon the heritage of his forefathers. He was hungry. He was even, we could say, a glutton. But this wasn't enough even for Esau's weak conscience. Remember he was raised in Isaac's home and also Abraham was alive during his youth. He needed even more justification to throw away such a heritage than just hunger. So psychologically he had to belittle the Birthright even more - even to despise it - in order to quiet his conscience and allow him to slurp the porridge to his heart's content.

For those interested, we find a similar psychological message in Megillas Esther (3:6) where it says "It was despicable in his (Haman's) eyes to lay a hand on Mordecai alone." We see the same phrase - and the same psychological need on Haman's part to justify killing one Jew for his inflated ego. For more insights see the new "What's Bothering Rashi ?" on Megillas Esther.

Avigdor Bonchek

Shabbat Shalom

"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The Rashi Institute is preparing a new, original volume of What's Bothering Rashi? We are in need of sponsors for this project. For those interested please write us and we will supply the details.

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