by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And he ate, and he drank, and he arose and he left; and Esav denigrated
the right of the first-born." [25:34]
As we noted last year, the Medrash explains that the right of the
first-born meant the right to lead in the service of G-d. Before the
children of Aaron and the entire tribe of Levi were designated, the service
was led by the first-born. This is what Esav sold away.
The Avnei Azel describes the "path of Esav" from this incident. Esav
demonstrates that he doesn't value holy and spiritual matters - he sells
them short. He is far more interested in eating and drinking and satisfying
his every physical desire. Yaakov isn't so preoccupied with the physical,
nor is he interested in honor, so he goes after the right to lead the
service only because his efforts and work are towards spiritual matters,
and he sees that these will be neglected by Esav. But when Yaakov goes to
claim the mantle, it is then that Esav gets angry and starts screaming that
Yaakov has tricked him - "twice he has held me back!"
Asks the Avnei Azel, "Esav! have you forgetten so fast?" Esav himself
tossed off and denigrated the leadership as a result of his own spiritual
laziness and physical desires, and Yaakov acquired it through his own hard
work and effort, and by giving up the pleasures of food and drink which
overcame Esav. This was no trickery.
How do we measure by this standard? Do we recognize our need for spiritual
guidance from those who have spent their lives in Jewish studies... or do
we try to assume the mantle ourselves? As Pirkei Avos, the Sayings of the
Fathers, teaches us, everyone must find a Rabbi, a teacher. To be anything
less than a leading scholar, and claim nonetheless to be able to lead (even
to lead ourselves!) - this is characteristic of Esav.
Even as a Jewish community, we must be careful to focus upon our true
spiritual priorities, rather than attempting to redefine Jewish life on our
terms. The mantle of leadership must be given to spiritual leaders.
In our day, we have a host of social clubs and activist groups within the
Jewish community. All of them have their place and their purpose. When they
work as part of Jewish life, they are a great asset - but when they claim
to be the heart of the Jewish people, when they claim to offer a path to
Jewish continuity, they are very much mistaken. And it's not merely wrong,
What message do we project when a dance club is called a "Jewish continuity
program?" What do we say to children if we place remembrance of the
Holocaust as our "highest Jewish priority?" Are we instilling Jewish
pride? Or is this grabbing the mantle from true spiritual leadership, like
Esav trying to take over from Yaakov? True Jewish spirituality isn't part
of our Jewish future; it is our Jewish future.