Toldos – Red in His Eyes

In this week’s Torah portion of Toldos we find the emergence of two opposite personalities, Yaakov and Esav. The first event recorded in the Torah of the two brothers (outside the womb) is the sale of the firstborn birthright. “Yaakov was cooking up a stew and Esav came from the field and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Please pour for me from this reddish red stuff for I am exhausted.’ Therefore he was called Edom [The Red One]. Yaakov said, ‘Sell your first born birthright to me today.’ Esav said, ‘I am going to die, what is the firstborn birthright to me?’ Yaakov said, ‘Swear to me today.’ He swore to him and he sold his firstborn birthright to Yaakov. And Yaakov gave to Esav bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and he got up and he left, and Esav belittled the firstborn birthright” (Bereishis 25:29-31).
The Rashbam, in his own clarification of this episode, explains that Esav was a hunter and Yaakov was the shepherd of his father’s flock. One day, when Esav came back from a hunt, he was exhausted and, quickly asking for something, repeated his words: ‘reddish red stuff,’ as is not uncommon to do when rushed. Since he was exhausted and starving it was as if he was asking to be quickly given something to eat. The reason he was known as “Edom” is because he had a red complexion and an appetite for red foods. Ultimately, due to his being famishmed, he sold his firstborn birthright. He was called Edom in dishonor, for because of a red-looking food he sold his firstborn birthright. Yaakov wanted Esav to sell the birthright immediately, so he asked Esav: ‘Immediately sell to me the monetary aspect of your portion of the birthright which father is supposed to give to you and then I will give you the food as testimony and a guarantee of the deal.’ We find this also by the agreement between Lavan and Yaakov at the end of the Torah portion of Vayetzei, where afterwards they ate together by a monument (31:46). When Esav gave the excuse that he was going to die, he said: ‘Every day I go to hunt wild animals in the forest where bears, lions and other dangerous animals are common place and I am putting my life on the line so why should I wait to accept my portion of the firstborn birthright after our father dies?’ This was the point at which Esav belittled the firstborn birthright. So Esav sold the birthright for money, and afterwards Yaakov gave Esav the food to seal the deal, as was the tradition in that day and age. The Torah points out that Esav belittled the birthright because in the end he regretted what he did, as it writes [when he finds out Yaakov received the blessings]: ‘My firstborn birthright he took.’ The Torah therefore is informing us of his stupidity; now, when he was eating, he belittles the firstborn birthright; but in the end he regretted it. (Click here, here, here, here and here for Hebrew text.)

The Chizkuni, when explaining the Rashbam’s version of the events that took place, adds that because Esav did not want people to think hewas a fool for selling his firstborn birthright, belittled it and said it was not worth much to him. But in the end he regretted having sold it. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Esav was not rebelling when he sold the birthright – it was an act of utter stupidity. Who knows how much money the double-portion-inheritance would be worth when Yitzhak passed away?  Yaakov specifically bought the monetary aspect of the birthright; definitely something Esav wanted and regretted giving. What caught Esav off guard? Was he so tired that he couldn’t think straight and therefore made such a blunder? That couldn’t be true, because he had the presence of mind to swear on the deal. It wasn’t an easy and fast transaction. Could a bowl of lentil soup really smell that good?

We see from hear how complex one’s physical desires are. For it wasn’t just the fact that it was a bowl of lentil soup; rather, it was red. If it would not have been red it would seem from the Rashbam that Esav would never have made the deal. But when he saw red, and he was attracted to red things, it entrapped him! Yes, he was tired and ravenous, but to give up all that money doesn’t make sense! This is the strength of  physical desire. It is mesmerizing and  tantalizing, and if a person does not have control over it he can enter a trance, even swearing on things which he really does not mean, and make stupid deals which he will regret.

Esav’s physical attraction to or obsession with red things was his ultimate demise. What he tried to hide with excuses was what he became known for: Edom, the one who couldn’t keep his desires in check. How important it is for one to work on self-control and never ever let physical desires run your life!

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