by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parashas Toldos (71)Genesis 25: 30
And Esau said to Jacob: Please give me to swallow from this red, red stuff for I am faint; therefore his name was called Edom (red).
From this red, red stuff: Rashi: Red lentils; on that day because Abraham had died so that he should not see Esau, his son's son, go to bad ways. For this would not be "good old age" that G-d had promised him. It is for this reason that G-d shortened his life by five years. For Isaac lived 180 years and he only 175. And Jacob cooked lentils as a first meal for a mourner. Why lentils? Because they are similar to a wheel (round) for mourning is a wheel that revolves around the world.
What would you ask on this comment?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
A Question: What led Rashi to this comment? There does not seem to be any hint in the verse itself?
An Answer: There are two ways to understand this. One is asking: Why did Jacob prepare lentils? We assume that lentils is not an ordinary meal, so there must have been some special reason for the lentils. Another basic question is: Why does the Torah tell this information - that he was cooking lentils? This would seem to be an inconsequential piece of information. Certainly Jacob could have cooked Quaker oats or farina or a tuna kisch, or whatever; it would have made no difference to the story. So why must the Torah make a point of telling us this - nothing is mentioned in the Torah for naught. For these reasons ( or one of them) Rashi sought a reason for the lentils - The answer: It was the mourning meal for Abraham's death.
There is another question that can be asked on Rashi's statement that Abraham died 'early' so he would not see Esau go astray. There is another Midrash which says that Esau lost his faith in G-d when saw his righteous grandfather, Abraham, die. This was his holocaust. It broke his faith.
Now if the death of Abraham was the defining moment for Esau and it was this that led him astray, then our Rashi-comment is difficult. Rashi says that some time between Abraham's 175th year and what would have been his 180th year, Esau went astray. And it was for this reason that Abraham died early at he age of 175, so he wouldn't witness Esau's fall. But according to the second Midrash Esau only went off the derech because Abraham died; had he died at age 80 then only then would Esau have gone off and Abraham could have lived a full life of 180 years as his son Isaac did.
In truth, we can never really ask a question from one Midrash on another because there are many Midrashim which contradict other Midrashim. Midrash is not p'shat; p'shat should not contradict itself, but Midrash may.
Nevertheless let us try to gain an insight from this problem.
UNDERSTANDING THE MIDRASHIM
An answer given provides a psychological insight into human workings.
In fact Esau was going off the way when Abraham was nearing age 175, but he could not yet justify this brake from the hallowed family tradition of belief in G-d. But when Abraham died he found a "legitimate" justification for leaving the faith - "There cannot be a G-d in heaven if my sainted grandfather, Abraham, can die like all other men." So both Midrashim are true - Esau was beginning to go astray before Abraham actually died, so G-d ended his life so he wouldn't see his grandson's moral decline. It is also true that Abraham's death served as Esau's justification in his mind for leaving the faith. But had Abraham not died then Esau would have found some other injustice in our far-from-perfect world and this would have been his excuse for his deteriorating behavior.
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
A personal experience I had several years ago illustrates this human inclination. Years ago when our family was young we took a short trip to the grape growing district in Northern Israel. As we watched a farmer tend his vineyard he approached us. Seeing our kipot he said "I envy you." Why? I asked. "Because I have no faith, I envy those who do." But you too can be a believer, I said. "No. I can't, ever since the holocaust I can not believe in G-d or religion." Several days later we saw him again and I got into a long friendly conversation with him about my background and about his background. I learnt that as young teenager he had stopped doing mitzvoth. This was several years before the war and the Holocaust! So it turns out that even before the war he had abandoned religion. But in his mind it was the Holocaust that caused his apostasy. He turned cause and effect around to justify his actions. Just like Esau, his uncle!
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is produced by the Institute for the Study of Rashi and Early Commentaries. The five volume set of "What's Bothering Rashi?" is available at all Judaica bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
For information on subscriptions, archives, and