A Limited ViewOctober 30, 2013 - 5:00 am
“‘Look, I am about to die,’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’”—Genesis 25:32
The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, which means “offspring,” is from Genesis 25:19—28:9, and the Haftorah is from Malachi 1:1–2:7.
I’ve tasted a lot of amazing soups in my life, but none of them were worth more to me than my future. Who would trade a moment of instant gratification for long-term enjoyment? And yet that is exactly what Esau did in this week’s Torah reading. He traded his birthright, an honour in this world and a conduit for much reward in the afterlife, for a bowl of soup. Why would he agree to such an unfair deal?
When Jacob first suggested the trade, Esau responded: “Look, I am about to die . . . What good is the birthright to me?” Was Esau really at death’s doorstep and forced into the inequitable deal?
The Sages explain that this was certainly not the case. What Esau meant was this: I’m going to die one day. That will be the end of me. I do not believe in an afterlife, and so what good will the birthright do for me? It will cramp my lifestyle in this world, and there is no such thing as a next world!
Esau agreed to the trade, fully believing that he got the better end of the deal.
The rabbis provide us with a beautiful analogy which illustrates the debate between the believer and the unbeliever. Incidentally, it also involves twins, both of whom are still in their mother’s womb. As the day of their birth nears, they realize that they will eventually have to exit the womb and they wonder what will happen next. Their conversation goes something like this:
The first twin says, “After our ‘death’ here, there will be a new and great world. We will see great distances, and we will hear through our ears. Why, our feet will be straightened! And our heads will be up and free. We will meet our mother!”
The other twin disagrees, saying, “Nonsense. You’re straining your imagination again. There is no foundation for this belief . . . . There is only this world. There is no world to come and certainly, there is no such thing as ‘mother!’”
Soon contractions come and the first twin is pushed out into the world. The second twin hears the baby’s cries and believes that his brother had died a horrible death. But his brother calls back, “My life has only begun!”
The Sages conclude by saying that this world is merely a womb — a portal to another world that is real, awesome, and unlike anything that we can imagine. We had better not trade it for anything, certainly not a bowl of soup!