by Rebbetzin Malkah
It looks something like this: Esav pulls up to Yaacov's tent exhausted. With reckless ambition, he orders a bowl of lentil stew super-sized, pays with his birthright, and drives off gastronomically satisfied. And there you have it: the first drive-through in history. Sound familiar? While we have Esav to thank for this modern-day invention, more importantly his example is an admonition in preserving our own birthrights : our generations and our destinies. For in casting off his birthright so frivolously, he forfeited not only generational blessing and achievement, but also the chance to merit the world to come. If we can recognize the gravity of preserving and emboldening our present and future toldot (generations) by the very manner in which we feed our lives, not only will our very lives and destinies be impacted, but we will move the Malchut Shamayim (Kingdom of Heaven) ever closer.
No Assembly Required and Nothing Assembled
What more could be more satisfying? Someone always waits inside a fast-food building expressly for the purpose of taking your order and giving you exactly what you want. Give a shout into the microphone and you can even add a drink. No effort, no strings attached. Such a deal? Or no?
As Esav comes in from the field, the Torah quotes this very similar scenario:
This quote not only illuminates Esav's physical weariness, but also the absence of spiritual stamina needed to work with his brother. He can only imagine how good the bowl of stew will taste after his day of ravenous behavior. In short, he expects to be satisfied by his brother, Yaacov. Lentil stew is a traditional dish made during the time of mourning. The Sages teach that Yaacov made the stew for the shivah ceremony of his recently deceased grandfather, Avraham. Not only has Esav not put forth any effort in public mourning over the passing of his grandfather - a link in the generations of blessing - he also casts off any spiritual efforts in his relationships with the living. He is a dead man merely filling his gut, perceiving only the physical ache of his stomach and his low blood-sugar. As a hunter, he is a man connected with the nefesh - the animal soul - and has lost touch with his neshama. He lowers his spiritual standards by having food poured into him like some empty gas tank.
While fast food poses not only obvious health risks and nutritional concerns, it has a greater impact on our well-being beyond the caloric and fat concerns. Many times it is purchased out of desperation and hurriedness. This behavior threatens not only communal eating, but diminishes our gratitude in eating and fueling our performance of mitzvot. When food is consumed under these conditions, we lower our spiritual ambitions. Sometimes we just satisfy hunger and forget our greater connectedness in eating with others and honoring Hashem. In many ways, we are no different at that point than an animal consuming daily food.
This is precisely where Esav finds himself: in spiritual unconsciousness and famished. Because of his raucous deeds, he has neglected his bodily needs of food and rest. It is only when he finds his physical strength waning - the only sense of life that he understands - that he even considers attending to his personal needs and leaching off of his brother's strength and service. Pre-occupied and selfish, he takes advantage of those around him and leaves nothing for posterity.
What is so prevalent in this portion is how different Yaacov and Esav, the twins, are in soul and body. While Esav spurns the spiritual and elevates the physical, Yaacov tends to the spiritual and the physical in the same stroke. Yaacov manifests compassion by making the lentil stew for the mourners as a physical and a spiritual act. He accomplishes tending to this world and the world to come through his ability to perform mitzvot with fullness and consistency, not haphazardness. Yaacov is eventually worthy of the birthright Esav spurns because he is able to link the physical with the spiritual and prepare something for the future. He takes what he has in his refrigerator - his soul storehouse - and prepares a meal that is divine.
To Be or Not to Be
The most important theme which this parasha brings out is generational faithfulness. It emphasizes the value of Esav's birthright and the concept of generational blessing. How could Esav so easily sell off his birthright for a bowl of stew and what did it mean to him to carry the birthright?
For Esav, the connection to this promise was flimsy if simply non-existent. What's more, it wasn't worth the effort to hold onto it - it was merely lunch barter. Interestingly enough, and not coincidentally, immediately following this transaction of stew for birthright, the parasha continues "And there was a famine in the land...." The Midrash Rabbah alludes that Esav's disgraceful behavior regarding his birthright was so much so that it actually brought on a famine throughout the land. He consumed all and drove away without even leaving a tip.
An Empty Fridge
The drive-through robs us of the opportunity to prepare a meal and consume it at a table, incite conversation and have something "left over" for the next day. If we cater to that lifestyle often enough, there is nothing in the refrigerator and no desire to prepare true nourishment. In this same vein, if we use a drive-through mentality in matters of legacy, perpetuating observance and faithfulness toward Hashem and Torah, we have nothing left over for the future. Empty fridges, empty futures.
A birthright, almost like a treasured family recipe, ultimately retains the characteristics, intent and memory of the past generations. It also carries a new flavor that awakens the soul of the recipient and perpetuates the blessing. If we fail to cleave to it and carry it onto the next generation, we eventually lose the keys to our past and the purpose of future in Hashem's economy. This is the eventual quandary of any generation: to maintain the legacy of the past with fresh vigor, or to abandon it forever. As a generation contemplates the value of the previous generation's ways in striving for the Malchut Shamayim, it is important to recognize the sacrifices and the wisdom that went into the process of formulating the conclusions and the mantra of a previous generation.
In our own generation, it is vital to ponder the true meaning of what a birthright holds. Do we seek that which is easily and immediately satisfying in the world here and now, or do we persist in ways of righteousness to slowly build up a kingdom beyond our sight? Is it to blindly accept tradition and ideas and follow past ways without diversion, without difference? Are we allowed to infuse fresh perspective and adapt the blessing to our days and carry it with us? Where is the meat in our fridge? Where is does our substance lie?
Get Back in the Kitchen
The elements of commitment, long-suffering, faithfulness and endurance are essential in our relationships between one another and our Divine Creator. In order for us to succeed as a people, these elements need to be present in every mitzvah we do. As soon as we slough off that which has kept us on a path of righteousness and brought us to today, we walk on shaky ground - ground without blessing. When the temptation of carefree, easy living creeps into our consciousness and begins to manifest itself in our actions, we have already begun to cast off a life of blessing. We own the drive-through mentality. And as we saw with Esav, that leads nowhere except to famine.
Mashiach Yeshua touches on this point as he is speaking to his talmidim:
Within each of us is a divine craving for something more, something far reaching beyond the scope of ourselves. Generations before us have felt this and heeded the call. If we hope to be a part of something other-centered and apart from the here and now, we need to roll up our sleeves, get back in the kitchen and start cooking. We need to knead bread - we need to struggle with the Torah. We need to challenge our palate and fill it with new flavors and old flavors - try a new mitzvah or change a bad habit. We need to take our cravings for the world and transform them so they support the World to Come. We need to raise a glass of wine at a prepared table and nurture the body with tradition, joy and zest for the Olam Haba. Our spiritual sides are craving that nourishment - not the quick fix of an on-demand society. That base level of simplicity only weakens our soul muscles and leaves us exhausted.
The generation of today has that choice, just as Esav did so long ago. At this critical juncture, there is no reversing destiny once the "birthright" has been cast off. Because in the end, all we are left with as we pass through the drive-through and ravage our food is this: an empty paper bag.
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