This week the Torah tells us of the great dichotomy of character between Yaakov and his older brother Esav. Yaakov sat and studied while Esav hunted. Though it is difficult to understand the roots of this great divide, their parents’ reaction to this diversity is even more confusing. The Torah tells us that “Yitzchak loved Esav for there was game in his mouth, and Rivka loved Yaakov.” (Genesis 25:28)
The variance in their opinions manifested itself in the fight over the blessings. Yitzchak intended that Esav receive his blessings for worldly goods, intending to save the spiritual ones for Yaakov. Rivka pushed her son Yaakov to attain the blessings for the worldly goods, too.
What was the fundamental difference between Yitzchak’s and Rivka’s view of their children? Why was there such a diverse notion as to who should inherit the wealth of this world? How is it possible that Yitzchak, who epitomized the very essence of spirituality, favored Esav, a man steeped in worldly desires?
Vice President Al Gore tells a story about outgoing Senator Bill Bradley. Senator Bradley once attended a dinner at which he was a guest speaker. The waiter set down a side dish of potatoes, and placed a pat of butter upon them. The Senator asked for an extra portion of butter.
“I’m sorry sir,” the very unyielding server replied tersely, “one pat per guest.”
With a combined expression of shock, scorn, and disbelief, Senator Bradley looked up at the formal steward. “Excuse me,” he said. “Do you know who I am? I am New Jersey Senator Bill Bradley.” The Senator cleared his throat. “I am a Rhodes scholar and a former NBA star. I currently serve on the International Trade and Long-Term Growth Committee, and the Debt and Deficit Reduction Committee, and I am in charge of Taxation and IRS Oversight. And I’d like another pat of butter on my potatoes.” The waiter looked down at the Senator.
The waiter looked down at the Senator.
“Do you know who I am?” he asked.
“I am the one in charge of the butter.”
Yitzchok understood the great contrariety between his children. However, he felt that Esav, the hunter-child, understood the mundane world much better. So it was only fitting that Esav be gifted with the blessings of a mundane world. Esav would then supplement Yaakov’s needs, and a true symbiosis would emerge. Rivka, on the other hand, was pragmatic. She felt that putting Esav in charge of the material world would lead to selfish hoarding that would hardly give Yaakov a portion.
She understood that while Yaakov’s sustenance was basically from spirituality, he still needed a little butter to survive. And she could not rely on Esav controlling the butter: she knew the personality all too well. There would be no parity or sharing. Esav would take it all.
Everybody has a job, whether it be spiritual or menial, and each job must be executed with a sense of responsibility and mission. The argument between Rivka and Yitzchak was complex, but it was simple too. Esav may be more astute in churning the butter; however, will he make sure to give Yaakov his fair share? Rivka knew that the world would be a better place if we all shared our respective portions. But she wouldn’t count on it.
Dedicated by Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Luxenburg in memory of Jesse Aronson
Text Copyright © 1996 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.