Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Willing To Sell Your Birthright
Pour some of that red, red stuff down my throat. (Bereishis 25:30)
The following is from "Trust Me!", citing Beis Ha-Levi Al Ha-Torah.
Parshas Toldos begins with the births of Ya'akov and Eisav. Although they were twins, the brothers were dissimilar from the very outset. They inhabited two distinct worlds, and had different outlooks, desires, and aspirations.
Their differences only grew more accentuated as they grew older. Eisav became a hunter, a man of the outdoors, while Ya'akov developed into an honest and forthright person who dwelled in the tents of Torah study.
The Torah tells us that one day, when Ya'akov was preparing a certain dish (lentil stew), Eisav came in famished from the field, and demanded of his brother, "Pour some of that red, red stuff down my throat" (Bereishis 25:30).
The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63:11) gives us a fuller picture of what transpired. Eisav questioned Ya'akov about the significance of the dish he was preparing. Ya'akov replied that Avraham, their aged and revered grandfather, had passed away. (Lentil stew is a special dish served to a mourner - in this case, their father Yitzchak.) Eisav exclaimed, "Even Avraham was struck down by Divine judgment?! Then there is neither reward nor resurrection."
The Beis Ha-Levi is puzzled by this Midrash. Why should Avraham's death have shaken Eisav so much? Surely he couldn't have thought that his grandfather would live forever! In fact, in the famous prophecy of the bris bein ha-besarim, Hashem had explicitly told Avraham that he would leave this world in tranquility.
The Beis Ha-Levi explains that Avraham was told that his children would be enslaved, but only after his death. Therefore, Eisav was quite frightened when he heard that Avraham had died, for perhaps the enslavement would commence immediately. It was known that Avraham's lineage would only continue through one of Yitzchak's sons, and that the enslavement and subsequent receiving of the Torah would be the legacy of the son who followed his forefather's ways. Eisav regarded this knowledge as an "escape clause" that would provide him with a ticket to safety. "I don't want any part of this. There is no reward or resurrection, no judgment or judge!" He was prepared to deny the very existence of Hashem in order to save himself from enslavement.
Eisav's perverse line of reasoning sounds eerily familiar in an age when so many people have opted out of a Torah lifestyle. Indeed, the Beis Ha-Levi comments that this is the same justification used by all atheists. Their philosophical denial is merely a rationalization to gloss over and disguise their unspoken fears and anxieties.
Ya'akov's response was, "Sell to me on this [fateful] day your birthright as the firstborn" (Bereishis 25:31). In other words: you don't have to take the drastic step of denying Hashem's existence in order to save yourself from enslavement. I am more than willing to go through the necessary preparations in order to ultimately merit the Torah!
Angry at God
(The following is adapted from Illness and Crisis - Coping the Jewish Way, by R. Tsvi G. Schur (NCSY, 1987). R. Schur is a hospital chaplain. In this work he discusses several types of people and their reactions to crisis.)
The last category is that of the self-proclaimed atheist, one who completely denies the existence of God. The truly atheistic patient is extremely rare. I remember my late grandfather, R. Abraham Schur, telling me of an incident in which he met a professed atheist. During a casual discussion with my grandfather, the man responded, "Oh, my God!" to a particular remark. My grandfather pointed out that his words seemed inconsistent with his atheistic worldview, to which the person retorted that they were merely a figure of speech. Despite the man's assertion, my grandfather had no doubt that his exclamation was an unconscious slip, proving that even a so-called atheist has a spark of belief within his subconscious mind.
I have also found what I refer to as the hysterical atheist. This type of person has suffered tremendously, and as a result he denies God out of anger and bitterness. I particularly recall a visit to one such patient. Pouring out her woes, she told me that she had become an atheist and could no longer believe in God. After sympathetically listening to her anguished lament, I said to her, "I hear what you're saying, but I want to ask you a question. By not believing, has your pain been eased and your distress relieved?" A profound silence ensued as the patient contemplated these revealing words. She then burst into tears, and admitted that perhaps she was just angry. The moral is: If we turn away and say, "I don't need You, God," we haven't gained anything, because in the long run our only true comfort comes from the Creator.
The question we must keep in mind is this: Is it more comforting to believe there is no God and therefore everything is pointless - or that there is a God in control Who cares for our welfare, only we are too limited to comprehend His designs? As confused and angry as we may be, it is imperative to realize that we cannot manipulate God according to our desires - He isn't our puppet. The woman in the above story was not truly an atheist; she was angry with God and channeled her anger into denial of His existence - ignoring Him, so to speak. But there is a more effective way to deal with this type of anger, and that is to short-circuit it from the outset by adopting a realistic view of our relationship with Him. Refusal to do so harms only us. If we say, "God, because you did this to me, I will never worship again," or "I will never give to charity again," and the like, it does not hurt Him; it makes us weaker. The Almighty has no need to justify His actions before man. It is we who suffer when attempting to bring God down to our level of understanding. We must realize that man and God occupy different dimensions. And while it is true that we are bidden to emulate God's attributes - which might lead us to think that we do, in fact, share some common ground - we cannot think for one moment that our intelligence and knowledge are equal to His.
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
© Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim.
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop ? Lakewood).
If you would like to correspond with Rabbi Parkoff please contact him:
firstname.lastname@example.org or 732-325-1257
Yeshiva Shaare Chaim
Rechov Sorotzkin 3
Shema Yisrael Torah Network