Energy or Exhaustion - Eisav Shows His True Colours
Jewish teachings explain that the name of a particular Torah portion gives
us a special insight into that portion. The name of this weeks parsha,
Toldos, is derived from its opening words: "And these are the generations
(toldos) of Yitzchak (25:19)." Yet an earlier parsha, Noach, which begins
with a similar verse, "These are the generations of Noach," is known as
parshas Noach, not as parshas Toldos! What is the essential difference
between these two portions, as reflected in the Torah's choice of names?
Parshas Toldos tells of the Yaakov's cunning seizure of the birthright from
The lads grew up, and Eisav became a man who knew trapping; a man
of the field. But Yaakov was a virtuous man, who dwelled in tents. Isaac
loved Eisav... but Rivkah loved Yaakov. [One day] Yaakov was cooking a
stew when Eisav came in from the field, exhausted. Eisav said to Yaakov,
"Swallow me some of that red stuff, for I am exhausted." Yaakov said,
"Sell today your birthright to me." Eisav said, "I'm about to die [of
exhaustion] - of what use is the birthright to me?!"... And he sold his
birthright to Yaakov. [25:27-33]
From the context, and particularly from Yaakov's words, "Sell me your
birthright today!" it appears that what transpires here was not
premeditated: something has just occurred that motivates Yaakov to
seize the birthright. What was it about Eisav's return from the field, and
his discussion with Yaakov, that emboldened him to daringly make a
move for the birthright?
One time, at a Chassidic gathering, chassidim were sitting and drinking
mead (a sweet honey wine that was very popular). A Chassid named Reb
Moshe told the following story:
"Many years ago," he began, "while visiting Vienna, I sent my servant to
a nearby Jewish inn to buy a bottle of mead. When he came back I
discovered that it was the most delicious mead I had ever tasted. In fact,
it was so good that I immediately sent him back to buy some more. I
gave him enough money for ten bottles, figuring that my family and I
would enjoy it for a long time to come.
"But my servant came back empty-handed. I took out a few more coins
from my pocket, but he shook his head. "It isn't the money," he told me.
"There just isn't any more to be had."
"I decided to go see for myself. When I entered the inn, I saw a large
crowd of people who had apparently just finished eating a festive meal.
I approached the innkeeper and asked him to sell me some of his
delicious honey wine.
"'I'm sorry, but there isn't even a drop left of that particular type,' he
said. 'Well, when do you expect to get more?' I persisted. 'Quite frankly,
never!' The innkeeper then told me the following story:
"Many years previously he had been a mohel, a ritual circumciser. As a
mohel, he had given himself one cardinal rule: he would never refuse a
request perform make a bris milah (circumcision), no matter how difficult
"One year on the day before Yom Kippur, a Jewish farmer knocked on his
door and asked him to circumcise his eight-day-old son. The farmer lived
quite a distance away, and it was Erev Yom Kippur. Still, the mohel agreed
to perform the bris.
"The farmer was too poor to have hired a carriage for the mohel; neither
was the mohel himself a man of means. There was no choice but to walk the
whole distance. The farmer started out in the direction of his house, but
he was walking so quickly that the mohel soon lagged behind. Eventually
the farmer disappeared behind a bend in the road. Hours later the mohel
arrived in town and asked some neighbours where the family with the new
baby lived. When he walked into the house, he found the mother lying in
bed with the infant. The father, however, was nowhere to be seen. For some
reason he hadn't thought it important to attend his own son's bris.
"The mohel now faced a serious problem: Who would serve as sandek
to hold the baby during the ritual procedure? Time was of the essence:
It was the eighth day of the infant's life, and he needed to be entered
into the covenant of Abraham immediately. But without a sandek it
would be very dangerous. Indeed, the mohel had never attempted such
a thing before.
"The mohel walked outside hoping to find someone on the street he
could ask. For a long time he waited, but the street was deserted.
Suddenly, he spotted an old beggar coming around the corner. 'I'm in a
big hurry, 'the man replied impatiently when the mohel asked for his
assistance. 'Today is Erev Yom Kippur, and I can make a whole ruble going
door to door if I get to the city in time."
"By then desperate, the mohel promised to pay him a ruble if he would
only serve as sandek. The beggar agreed, and the bris milah was
conducted without incident. The mohel then left for the long walk back
"After praying Mincha (the afternoon service) the mohel went home for
the final meal before the fast (se'udah ha-mafsekes). He was astonished
to find the beggar waiting on his doorstep. He quickly paid him the ruble
he had promised, but the beggar also demanded a drink of mead. The
mohel was very rushed and in no mood for entertaining. Nevertheless,
but he invited him inside and poured the drink. But even that wasn't
enough for the strange old man: He insisted that the mohel join him in
his le-chaim, and that they wish each other a good and sweet new year.
With no choice, the mohel complied.
"'Tell me, is there any more of this mead left in the barrel?' the annoying
stranger persisted. 'Very little,' the mohel answered, 'only a few more
drops.' 'There will always be mead in this barrel,' the beggar pronounced
cryptically, 'until the last blessing is recited at your youngest son's
wedding celebration.' The beggar then pointed to the mohel's youngest
son sleeping in his cradle.
"The blessing was fulfilled in its entirety," the innkeeper concluded his
tale. "Perhaps that old man was Eliyahu Ha-navi (Elijah the Prophet) - who
knows? With my seemingly endless supply of mead I opened this inn, and
completely forgot about the rest of his prediction. That is, until today,
when the barrel suddenly fell and broke into pieces as we were reciting
the Grace after Meals at my youngest son's wedding. And that is why I
tell you that there will never be any more of this particular batch of
mead..." [Adapted from Le'Chaim!]
The mohel performed a mitzvah with every last drop of his strength. He
was rewarded that the last drops from of his mead barrel flowed
endlessly with Hashem's blessings. This is characteristic of the righteous,
who serve Hashem with every drop of strength they can muster. Instead
of becoming exhausted, they are rewarded with a wellspring of vitality
and energy, as the prophet Isaiah says (Yeshaya/Isaiah 29:31):
He gives strength to the weary, and grants abundant might to the
powerless. Youths may weary and tire, and young men may falter, but
those who look toward Hashem will have renewed strength; they will
grow wings like eagles. They will run and not grow tired; they will walk
and not weary.
Despite Eisav's affinity for the field, and Yaakov's dedication to Torah
study, Yitzchak favoured Eisav. Some explain that Yitzchak was not put
off by Eisav's penchant for the physical. To the contrary, one of the
tenets of chassidus is that it is far greater to elevate the
material/physical by harnessing it for one's service of Hashem than it is
to simply abstain from the pleasures of this world altogether. Most
people, of course, must first go through many years of measured abstention
and restraint before they aspire to elevate (one can not elevate that to
which one is attached), but who was to say that Eisav was not just such a
Perhaps Yaakov too had his misgivings. True, he was more likely to have
doubted the sincerity of his brother's overtures than his father, but
still, how was one to know for sure that beneath that hairy red facade lay
not a pure neshama so exalted that it was impossible for any other mortal
Eisav returns from the field ayeif - exhausted. This is the same term used
in the above passage, "Youths may weary," and in the Torah's description
of the Jews before they were attacked by Amalek, "You were faint and
exhausted - and you did not fear G-d. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 25:18)"
This was the confirmation Yaakov had been looking for. Were Eisav the
hidden tzaddik his father imagined, he would have returned from his
"holy work" invigorated and energized. Not the kind of person to say,
"Swallow me some of that food - I'm about to die!"
The birthright, through which the service of Hashem would be
conferred, would not be done justice by those who throw themselves
down on the couch after a long day at the Temple, guzzling a bottle of
wine and scarfing down a pot of stew. "Today," Yaakov said, "I have seen
your true colours. Sell me your birthright!"
The portion of Toldos, mefarshim explain, emphasizes the concept of
descendants. Toldos, related to the Hebrew word for birth (ho-lada),
implies both physical offspring and spiritual heirs. When we do a mitzvah,
we create new "generations" - new spiritual children.
The generations we create, however, must be "the generations of
Yitzchak" and not "the generations of Noach." The name Noach is
related to the word n'yacha, meaning rest. Yitzchak is related to laughter.
Yitzchak is thus a symbol of the joyful person, one who is filled with
laughter and delight. The name Toldos teaches us that our mitzvos, when
performed with the proper intentions, should bring joy and enthusiasm
into our lives, not exhaustion. If they aren't, perhaps we should be
putting more into them.
Have a good Shabbos.
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of Pessel bas R' Bunim Dohan, by her son. May her
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Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann and Torah.org