It is in this week’s parasha that we find the famous transaction between Esav and Yaakov and the acquisition of the bechora (birthright):
And Esav said: ‘Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?’
And Jacob said: ‘Swear to me first’; and he swore unto him; and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
And Jacob gave Esav bread and a pot of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. And Esav despised his birthright. (Breishit 26:34)
What is the significance of this strange end to the transaction: And Esav despised (ויבז) his birthright? Rashi explains here that the Torah is depicting the severity of Esav’s evil.Rashi is puzzling. What is so evil about making light of the bechora? And to make matters more confusing the Midrash in Tanchuma states that on this very same day Esav committed the five most heinous crimes (including murder!). If the Torah does in fact want to show us just how evil Esav is then why only record the incident of selling the birthright?! What is really the big deal about Esav giving up on the birthright?
In trying to understand the word “ויבז”, many meforshim lead us to believe that this “contempt” or “desecration” of the bechorah came from a lack of understanding of its significance and therefore Esav sold it to his brother. The challenge with this understanding is that only one perek later in our parasha we find the following:
And Esav hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him. And Esau said in his heart: ‘Let the days of mourning for my father be at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.’
(Breishit 27: 41)
Esav’s reaction to Yaakov receiving “his” bracha as the newly elected bechor (firstborn) is quite strong. Esav is filled with hatred and a desire to kill his own twin brother, all of this stemming from the fact that he most certainly recognizes the value and the power that this bracha holds. Esav deeply believed that Hashem had given his father, Yitzchak, the power to give these brachot and that they really would impact his future. And yet, he gave it up for a bowl of lentils. Why?
From this we learn a very important yesod in our Avodat Hashem. While Esav had a clear and deep understanding, he could not control his desires, in that short moment, for a nice bowl of lentils. Despite his clarity of mind, there was a disconnect between his intellect and his heart.
Rav Avrohom Schorr in his sefer, HaLekach V’Halibuv (תשס״ב), explains that this is human nature. It is common that we can intellectually differentiate between what is right and what is wrong; and yet when it comes down to our actions we err in our decisions time and again because we get caught up in our desires. The only way to protect ourselves from making this mistake over and over again is with Torah. Torah has the power to influence our body to shift the right desires into focus.
Wisdom is not meant to remain only in our minds. The Chiddushei Harim asks: why do we call our wise men “talmidei chachamim” (loosely translated as those who study wisdom) as opposed to “chachamim” (wise men)? He explains that those who learn Torah are “students of wisdom” – meaning, as a student of wisdom it is incumbent upon us to allow all the wisdom that we are taking in to actually impact us. Torah, when learned properly, has the power to really affect us in our hearts.
A story is told that a student came to the Kotzker Rebbe and said “I finished learning all of Shas!” and the Rebbe responded: “And what did Shas teach you?” Torah is most valuable when we let it seep from our minds into our hearts. When we live Torah, we have really learned Torah.
Despite all the great knowledge that he had, Esav never let it seep towards his soul. Brought up in the same household as Yaakov, learning all of the same things, from the same great role models and yet – ויבז עשו את הבכורה – Esav despised the bechora. He commited murder. Intellectually he knew it was wrong. His mind was sharp and filled with Torah ideals. And yet, it remained in his mind only. And when it came to what his body wanted and what “felt right” he was able to turn off the little voice in his head that knew better. Chazal say that at the end of Esav’s life his head was cut off and rolled into Me’arat HaMachpela. The only part of Esav’s body that merited to be buried with our forefathers is his head…but not his body.
At the very end of the parasha we are told that Esav goes against his father’s will and marries the daughters of Yishmael. It is from this particular pasuk that Rashi learns out that Yaakov spent fourteen years learning in the Beit Midrash of Eiver before going to Lavan’s house. It seems like a strange juxtaposition of events. Couldn’t the Torah hint to us that Yaakov learned for fourteen years in a more fitting pasuk?
Applying the same principle we learned above, we can make sense of this Rashi. Yaakov witnesses his brother, Esav, who had endless respect for Yitzchak and grew up in a God fearing home, go ahead and marry against his father’s wishes. He looks at his brother who clearly knew better and recognizes that he is just as much in danger of making bad decisions if he does not take the time now to protect himself. It is exactly now that Yaakov goes to learn Torah for fourteen years before he steps foot into Lavan’s house, to protect himself from any potential challenges that may come his way.
It is this week’s parasha that comes to teach us that intellect is not enough if we don’t connect our heads to our hearts. If we don’t take the time to process our learning and truly apply Torah we are in danger of giving up our greatest gifts for a plain old pot of lentils. It is our responsibility and our privilege to let the Torah teach our bodies how to live.