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From my sefer Trust Me!

And Eisav said to Ya'akov, "Pour some of that red, red stuff down my throat, for I am exhausted." Therefore his name is called "Edom" [a word that resembles adom - "red"]. And Ya'akov said, "Sell me, as this day, your birthright." (Bereishis 25:30-31)

Adapted from Lev Eliyahu by R. Eliyahu Lopian as cited by the Yalkut Lekach Tov, vol. 1, p. 136.

When Eisav demanded that Ya'akov give him the pot of lentil soup that he was preparing for his father, Ya'akov responded, "Sell me, as this day [????], your birthright" (Bereishis 25:30-31).

Eisav was the older of the two brothers, and as such, he was due to inherit the spiritual gifts that were passed down from Avraham to Yitzchak. It was these rights that Ya'akov asked Eisav to sell him "chayom" ("as this day").

The Seforno is concerned about the connection between the soup that was red and the appellation subsequently applied to Eisav. Was he called "Edom" - "the red one" - just because he ate some red stew? Morover, the term "as this day" is quite unusual. Why did the Torah employ this peculiar phrase? The Seforno gives one answer that addresses both these questions, and in doing so, provides us with a timeless message.

When Ya'akov saw how preoccupied his older brother was with mundane pursuits (to the extent that he could only identify a pot of soup by its color) he knew that Eisav had no need for the bechorah (the status of the firstborn).

If a person gets totally immersed in work and becomes so famished that - unlike any normal human being - he can only identify a pot of food by calling it "red stuff," it shows that all he cares about is "today." He is so preoccupied with his activities that he can't even recognize a bowl of soup! And if he is so thoroughly involved in the work of "today," he has no need or interest in serving the Almighty, which is the primary duty of the firstborn.

This, then, is what Ya'akov meant: "If 'today' (chayom) is so important to you, then you have no right to the bechorah. You are unable to serve Hashem in the way He has in mind."

With this explanation, the Seforno reveals the key to understanding - and thereby hopefully avoiding - a mistake that all too many people make. Mankind was cursed with the need to seek a livelihood. Often, however, when a person enters the workplace, his mind becomes gripped by a terrible distortion. Instead of seeing his occupation as a curse, he views it as a blessing, and focuses all of his energies on "making a living." He becomes so engrossed with his business endeavors that he has no time to think about life's real purpose, and whenever anyone tries to broach the subject, he immediately replies, "I have no choice, my work won't let me." This is in stark contrast to his attitude toward spiritual pursuits. Suddenly he becomes tremendously strong in his faith and exerts no effort whatsoever, piously proclaiming, "Hashem will help" - whether the subject is his children's education or his "sympathetic" refusal to give to a charitable cause. Such a person keeps on descending spiritually, until he eventually sinks into a lifestyle that is antithetical to the Torah, thinking all the time he is a perfect tzaddik.

R. Yissocher Frand, in one of his lectures ("Project Genesis"), applied R. Eliyahu Lopian's idea to modern society. There is a basic dichotomy between the spiritual and the temporal. A person can get so involved in his career that nothing else matters besides "Today." When becoming "a partner in the firm" becomes the top priority, or when being successful in one's profession is all that matters, one only has "Today." Family loses its importance, spirituality loses its significance, and the connections with everything that is of lasting value are severed. A life of "Today" precludes a life of holiness. Eisav was the ultimate "career person," the ultimate "workaholic." He came back from his work so consumed and obsessed that he could not even recognize a bowl of soup. Ya'akov recognized that Eisav had no connection to the realm of spirituality and no need for the bechorah.

Gut Shabbos!

Rabbi Eliezer Parkoff
4 Panim Meirot, Jerusalem 94423 Israel
Tel: 732-325-1257
Rabbi Parkoff is author of "Chizuk!" and "Trust Me!" (Feldheim Publishers), and "Mission Possible!" (Israel Book Shop Lakewood).
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