After 20 years of marriage, Yitzchak's prayers are answered and Rivka conceives twins. The pregnancy is extremely painful. G-d reveals to Rivka that the suffering is a microcosmic prelude to the worldwide conflict that will rage between the two great nations descended from these twins, Rome and Israel. Esav is born, and then Yaakov, holding onto Esavs heel. They grow and Esav becomes a hunter, a man of the physical world, whereas Yaakov sits in the tents of Torah developing his soul. On the day of their grandfather Avrahams funeral, Yaakov is cooking lentils, the traditional mourner's meal. Esav rushes in, ravenous from a hard days hunting, and sells his birthright (and its concomitant spiritual responsibilities) for a bowl of lentils, demonstrating his unworthiness for the position of firstborn. A famine strikes Canaan and Yitzchak thinksof escaping to Egypt, but G-d tells him that because he was bound as a sacrifice, he has become holy and must remain in the Holy Land. He relocates to Gerar in the land of the Philistines, where, to protect Rivka, he has to say she is his sister. The Philistines grow jealous of Yitzchak when he becomes immensely wealthy, and Avimelech the king asks him to leave. Yitzchak re-digs three wells dug by his father, prophetically alluding to the three future Temples. Avimelech, seeing that Yitzchak is blessed by G-d, makes a treaty with him. When Yitzchak senses his end approaching, he summons Esav to give him his blessings. Rivka, acting on a prophetic command that the blessings must go to Yaakov, arranges for Yaakov to impersonate Esav and receive the blessings. When Esav in frustration reveals to his father that Yaakov has bought the birthright, Yitzchak realizes that the birthright has been bestowed correctly on Yaakov and confirms the blessings he has given Yaakov. Esav vows to kill Yaakov, so Rivka sends Yaakov to her brother Lavan where he may find a suitable wife.
The Birthright Experience
"And Eisav spurned the birthright." (25:34)
Theres a family that lives nearby me in Jeruaslem whose Shabbat hospitality is legendary. On any particular Shabbat, you can find upwards of a hundred guests crammed into their regulation-size Jerusalem apartment. The guests range from the merely curious to the certifiably eccentric. For many of the guests, this is their first taste of a Shabbat meal with an Orthodox family.
One Shabbat the indefatigable host was nearly defatigated by a student from the nearby Hebrew University. Whenever the host would try to say a dvar Torah, a Torah thought based on the weekly portion, this student would shout out "Rubbish!", "Fundamentalist propaganda!" "Chauvinistic xenophobia!" and similar expressions of encouragement. On his way out, the student passed by the eleven year-old son of the house (one of 13 children). Seeing the ring in the students nose, the son said, "Why do you wear that stupid thing in your nose?" The student shot back, "Why do wear that stupid thing on your head?" Without batting an eyelash, the son replied, "Because I always have to know that there is something above me and higher than me and greater than me. Now, why do you have that stupid thing in your nose?"
The student returned to his dorm room and wrote in his diary "that little kid knows why hes wearing a kippa, but I have no idea why I am wearing a nose ring."
In this weeks Torah portion, Eisav returns home so ravenous after his work that he sells his birthright for a bowl of lentils. In fact, he is so consumed by his desire for food that he doesnt even describe the lentils by name. He merely says to Yaakov "Pour into me, now, some of that red red" (25:30) English translators usually append a noun to the adjectives, such as "that red stuff," but in Hebrew there is no noun, there are just two adjectives one following the other. In Hebrew, a noun is called shem etzem, meaning "the name of the essence", the thing itself. An adjective is a shem toar, "a name of description." When our physical desires lead us to mistake appearance for essence, when we exchange a world of nouns for a world of adjectives, when style dominates meaning, then we have truly lost our birthright.