November 4, 2021 11:09 am at 11:09 am #2024799abukspanParticipant
Classics and Beyond Toldos – Our Birthright: Tolna Rebbe & How Rejection of Birthright is Denial of Hashem And Techias Hameisim
ויאמר עשו הנה אנכי הולך למות ולמה זה לי בכרה
And Eisav said, “Look, I am going to die, so what use to me is a birthright?” (Bereishis 25:32).
On the basis of this pasuk, the Gemara (Bava Basra 16b) informs us that Eisav was “kafar be’ikar,” he denied the tenets of our faith. Eisav’s rhetorical question, “Lamah zeh li bechorah” corresponds to another use of the word “zeh”: “Zeh Keili ve’anveihu — This is my G-d and I will beautify Him” (Shemos 15:2), which Bnei Yisrael declared after experiencing the miracle of Krias Yam Suf. By stating, “Lamah zeh,” Eisav was, in effect, rejecting “Zeh Keili,” belief in Hashem.
How do we understand the connection between Eisav’s attitude toward the bechorah and the miracle of the Yam Suf?
The Tolna Rebbe (Toldos 5779) brings the Midrash (Mechilta) on the words “Zeh Keili ve’anveihu,” which is cited by Rashi. Hashem revealed Himself in all His glory at the Yam Suf, so much so that Bnei Yisrael were able to point at Him with their fingers. Thus, even a simple maidservant at the Yam Suf saw what great Prophets, such as Yechezkel and Yeshayahu, did not merit seeing. Despite the fact that there were still idolaters among them at the time, and that they had been mired in the forty-ninth level of impurity while in Egypt a short while ago, they were nonetheless able to raise themselves to the point where they were considered worthy of a prophetic vision. “Zeh Keili” proves that Klal Yisrael has the ability to resurrect itself, to rise to the highest heights from even the deepest depths.
Herein lies the essence of Eisav’s denial. The Gemara cited above recounts that on the day Eisav sold the birthright, he committed five terrible sins, including murder, idolatry, and adultery. The Tolna Rebbe suggests that in response to Yaakov’s request for the bechorah, Eisav reflected on his chances of fulfilling the responsibilities of the firstborn, which would include attending to the sacrifices and the avodah in the Beis HaMikdash, and immediately concluded, “Lamah zeh li bechorah — It’s not for me. I am way too far gone!” After the crimes he had just committed, he was sure that there was no chance of him ever becoming worthy of tending to such hallowed responsibilities. Eisav refused to acknowledge the message of “Zeh Keili,” that Hashem grants us the ability to draw close to Him and to rise to great heights through the strength of teshuvah, no matter how low we have sunk.
We must never say, “Lamah zeh li bechorah,” that we are unworthy of serving Hashem because of our shortcomings. Chazal remind us that we are all able to work toward improving and elevating ourselves, regardless of our past.
Rav Yakov Frand suggested using a vort from the Kotzker Rebbe to connect to this. When he saw the soup that Yaakov was preparing, Eisav demanded (25:30), “Haliteini na min ha’adom ha’adom hazeh — Pour into me now, some of that very red stuff.”
Rashi explains that Eisav said that Yaakov should pour the food into his mouth, similar to how one would feed a camel. According to the Kotzker Rebbe, Eisav truly regarded himself as no more than an animal. A rational one perhaps, but certainly not a man. The Torah noted the words used by Eisav to convey his innermost belief, “I am no more than a beheimah.”
Someone with this mindset is truly beyond hope. A human can find redemption and grow into a remarkable man. An animal is what it is, with no possibility for spiritual growth and no hope for redemption. By considering himself an animal, by saying, “Haliteini na,” Eisav put growth and redemption beyond his grasp.
Perhaps we can suggest a variation on the association between Eisav’s words and Bnei Yisral’s words at the sea. Eisav began his rejection by stating, “Hinei anochi holeich la’mus — Look, I am going to die.” The Ibn Ezra and Rashbam explain that since he was a hunter, routinely exposed to wild game, he expected to die young. According to Rashi, Eisav asked Yaakov what the avodah of the bechorah entails. Yaakov told him that the avodah includes many strict guidelines and restrictions, and that violating them can be punishable by death. Eisav therefore thought that the honor and privilege of the bechorah were outweighed by the risks involved, so he willingly sold it to Yaakov.
In either case, Eisav expressed a noticeably gloomy and fatalistic outlook on life. Contemplating the hazards lurking in the future, he took the attitude of “Well, I’m going to die anyway.” He gave up hope of ever finding any meaning and value in his life, since in any event he would likely die young.
This attitude is in stark contrast to the attitude displayed by Klal Yisrael at the Yam Suf. Here they were, trapped between the Egyptian army and the sea, their state of affairs desperate. From their perspective, there was no imaginable way to extricate themselves from their predicament, yet they trusted in Hashem. And after the miracle, they were able to look back and declare, “Zeh Keili,” with the understanding that Hashem can help under all circumstances, and that He had been with them all along. As Jews, we will always have reason to sing and be joyful, even during difficult, challenging and uncertain times. There are occasions when we may want to say, “Hinei anochi holeich la’mus,” that our lives are difficult and tense, and there is not much we can do about it and not much to look forward to. Yet at these times, we can train our attention on the declaration of “Zeh Keili,” to reaffirm our belief in Hashem’s ability to free us from even from the most harrowing of circumstances.
This dovetails with a fascinating reading of a Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 63:14). The Midrash tells us that Eisav rejected not only the birthright, but also the belief in techiyas hameisim, the future resurrection of the dead, a basic belief of Jewish faith. What prompted Chazal to see in his rejection of the bechorah a concomitant rejection of techiyas hameisim?
Rav Shraga Pollak (Sefer Tishbi 13a) offers a novel understanding of this Midrash. On a symbolic level, the concept of techiyas hameisim may suggest not simply the physical resurrection of the dead, but perhaps also the strength we all have to “resurrect” ourselves, to reinvigorate ourselves even after having reached the point of spiritual “death.” We all possess this ability, but it is contingent on our belief in our capacity to change, grow, and actualize our potential. Eisav’s rejection was not merely a rejection of the bechorah, but a rejection of his G-d-given abilities. The birthright, similar to any ability or privilege man is given, offers an opportunity for personal growth and success. But one must first acknowledge its value and use it properly.
When Eisav rejected the bechorah, he was denying a blessing with which he had been endowed and the opportunity it afforded. In essence, he was denying his full potential. Looking at his prospects, all he saw was “Hinei anochi holeich la’mus — Look, I am going to die.” In his fatalistic outlook, he failed to recognize the ability to make his life both meaningful and worthwhile, that by utilizing the blessings he had been given he could achieve greatness and have a positive impact on the world. Such denial is tantamount to a denial of techiyas hameisim, the belief in our ability to rise, to change, and to grow.
No matter our circumstances, we are blessed with the ability to both survive and overcome, to resurrect and be reborn. By accepting and embracing our bechorah, our G-d-given privileges and endowments, we open up a vast world of opportunity.November 4, 2021 11:44 am at 11:44 am #2024893Reb EliezerParticipant
The Targum Yonasan says that Eisov denied the after-life. However, the question is why did Yaakov Avinu say after Eisov asked for lentils to sell his birthright? The Maasei Hashem says an interesting pshat. Yaakov Avinu knew what was told to his mother, Rivkah that rav yaavod tzair, the elder will serve the younger. So, Yaakov Avinu said, if you want me to serve you, I must be the elder, so you must sell me your birthright.November 6, 2021 7:56 pm at 7:56 pm #2025392Shimon NodelParticipant
Cute! But that’s like saying how do you know Yaakov wore a yarmulke? ויצא יעקב so of course he wore a yarmulke
[I’m somewhere where it isn’t shkia yet]November 8, 2021 5:56 am at 5:56 am #2025834Always_Ask_QuestionsParticipant
In defense of Esav: he came with a load of fresh meat and was envious of a plate of lentil soup. That means he knew Gemorah from Beitza about not eating raw meat and agreed w/ Rabbi Akiva hat derech eertz is min Hatorah. And he kept it (in Eretz Isroel?).
In praise of Yaakov – he knew how to cook (both lentils and later meat), despite being a learning boy in a well-to-do family. Probably cleaned his tent also.
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