Rabbi Label Lam
A Burning Heart
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