Vayeishev - What Matters!
by Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green
"Yaakov settled in the land of his father's sojournings in the land of
Canaan." (Genesis 37:1)
Rashi, the medieval Torah commentator, enlightens us to something which we
would have easily skimmed over in a more cursory reading of this week's
parsha. The last chapter of the previous parsha is a lineage of Eisov,
Yaakov's wayward twin brother. It gives a concise, but thorough family tree
of Eisov, his wives, and his descendants, as well as an account of his
battles and his conquests. The Torah then returns to the events in Yaakov's
life in greater detail and explanation. Here is Rashi's observation and
explanation of this quick summary of Eisov's legacy.
"After the Scripture has written for you the circumstances of Eisov
settling, and his offspring, in a concise manner, as they were not
treasured by G-d or held in (sufficient) esteem to mandate explaining in
detail how they settled, or giving an account of their battles,...(the
Scriptures) explain for you (in detail) the settlings of Yaakov in a
lengthy manner." (Rashi 37:1).
If we look through Eisov's chronicles, we will find that they look very
similar to many subsequent civilizations. There were conquests, and then a
meshing of the dominating society with the dominated society. There were
cities, and kings, and important players. There were undoubtedly notable
accomplishments in various fields. The civilization which Eisov fathered
was a society in its fullest sense. Yet the Torah passes over the whole
topic as if eager to get on with more important matters. Rashi (ibid.)
compares it to someone who loses a pearl in the sand. He takes a sifter,
and sifts through the sand looking for the pearl. Eisov and his descendants
are the sand, and Yaakov is the pearl.
Why does Eisov merit so little importance in G-d's book? Eisov answers the
question himself. (Genesis 25:32) "Behold I'm going (destined) to die, why
do I need a birthright?" Eisov's total emphasis is on the present; instant
gratification with no thought of repercussions for the future, even to the
extent of committing terrible crimes. The decadent Roman society of two
thousand years ago is said to be the descendants of Eisov. The writers of
that society portray the pursuit of pleasure as the goal and ennobling
force of life. This was such, to the extent that there were those who would
eat their fill, and then cause themselves to vomit so they could make room
for more. In other words, they totally and exclusively emphasized
materialism and physicality.
On the other hand we see when Yaakov, upon awaking from his vision, when
G-d promised that He would protect him and provide for his needs, he reacts
with his own promise. (Genesis 28:22) "This stone which I have made into an
altar will be a house of G-d, and everything that You give me I will tithe
for You." The message: materialism and physicality is meant to be uplifted
and purposeful - a means to an end. This gives value to every physical act
and endeavor, that it is used for an ultimately spiritual purpose. A
society built for Eisov's ends has no great value to G-d. It is base and
mundane. Yaakov's family and the events of his life, however, are very dear
to G-d, and deserving of study in lengthy detail.
This Rashi is very revealing. It tells us what we would find in G-d's
history books, so to speak. It tells us the places which would be important
on G-d's maps. What are the things in our own lives which would fit this
standard of notoriety? How can we uplift our own lives in such a manner
that they could be so dear to G-d?
Text Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Dovid Green and
Project Genesis, Inc.