And he (Essau) said (Aloud to his father Isaac): “Isn’t his name appropriately called Yaakov, because he tricked me these two times. First he took my birthright. Now he took my blessing. (Breishis 27:36)
Essau makes a strong accusation against his brother Jacob which is never openly answered in the text. Are we quietly in agreement on his point? Is it time again for us to bow our heads in shame and apologize for the crude way our father Jacob acquired the birthright from his brother Essau, by taking advantage of him in his moment of weakness? Can we excuse his actions by claiming he only did so because he recognized Esau’s inherent lack of fitness for the Divine service? That always sounds like a “whitewash”. How can we defend the indefensible to skeptical ears?
For millennium we are on trial for the honest reporting of events from the earliest days of our family history. Now, just relying on what’s written there in the verses I would like to try in a lawyerly way to present a case that it was Essau who fumbled his place in Jewish History and not Jacob who callously stripped him of it.
1) The defense would like to call Essau to the stand as a witness. “Essau, do you recall your comments when asked to sell your birthright? Were you maybe too tired and hungry to open your mouth? Is that why with your last ounce of strength you asked that the food your brother Jacob was carefully preparing be poured down your throat? Remember your words?” “Behold, I am going to die, what good is this birthright to me?” Would you like to defend this statement claiming that it was not so much expressing a disdain for the birthright as it was desperation for some food at that time. Could be! Let’s see!
2) Who amongst the reading audience would sell their Jewish Heritage for a lunch? I know! What are they serving? Seriously! How many millions of Jews over thousands of years of history were willing to give their lives rather than alter a single custom, as the law requires, that is when our religious mettle is being tested?
It is known that the Nazis used to capture the Jewish leaders when conquering a city and execute them first to demoralize the rest of the community. It is told that in this one town it was rumored that the mayor was a Jew from a great grandparent. For three generations no one had practiced Judaism. To test the veracity of the matter the Nazis took him to the synagogue and placed a Sefer Torah in his arms and asked him at gun point to throw the scroll on the ground and trample it. He declared, “I want to thank you for returning me to my people and my G-d!” They killed him on the spot. For what value did Essau cash his heritage?
3) The verse says, “And Jacob gave to Essau bread (It wasn’t on the menu) and cooked beans (That’s what he asked for) and he ate and he drank (not part of the meal plan either), and he got up and Essau despised the birthright.” (Breishis 25:34) Why over here does it say that “Essau despised the birthright”? Why is that declaration anchored to this place in the narrative? If the whole claim against Jacob is that he took advantage of his starving brother to snatch the blessing, his complaint should have been filed at the time he finished eating. The verse testifies that he ate and drank and got up and left without a murmur of protest. That’s when he most clearly expressed disdain for the birthright.
Clearly, he was not tricked as he later claimed. They made a deal like any other business deal based upon a fundamental disagreement about the value of a thing. Jacob opted for eternity while Essau ordered soup. Remarkably, even when the bowl was empty so was he. Essau walked away with only heartburn while Jacob continued to stir within a burning heart.
Text Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org