We read this week in Parshas Toldos about Rivkah’s difficult pregnancy. She is informed that “shnei goyim bevitneich,” she would be giving birth to two distinct personalities, Yaakov and Eisov, who would lead two separate nations.
Yaakov was the epitome of goodness, while Eisov is always pointed to as the embodiment of evil. The pesukim describe their differences somewhat cryptically, and Chazal expound upon what took place.
The posuk portrays Eisov as an “ish yodeia tzayid, ish sodeh,” a hunter, while Yaakov is depicted as an “ish tam yosheiv ohalim,” a fine person who spent his time in the tent of Torah.
On the day that Avrohom Avinu passed away, Yaakov prepared the customary “nozid” of lentils for the mourners to partake of when returning from the cemetery. Eisov returned “oyeif,” tired, from committing sins and murder in the fields. He asked Yaakov to let him eat the red mix, “ki oyeif anochi,” because he was tired. The posuk concludes, “Al kein kara shemo Edom – Therefore, they called him Edom.”
While it is commonly understood that he was given the name Edom because of his red hair and because he preferred to partake in the red soup rather than to serve as a bechor in the Bais Hamikdosh, we must understand why the posuk interrupts the discussion of his desire for the red food to tell us that he was oyeif, tired.
Yaakov responded that he would serve Eisov the red soup if he would give him the bechorah in exchange. The posuk describes this with the words, “Vayomer Yaakov michra chayom es bechorasecha li.”
Eisov was overjoyed by the deal. He mocked the bechorah and noted that it was of no use to him, since he would die anyway.
The conversation between Yaakov and Eisov is similar to the exchange between Avrohom and his assistants as they were approaching Har Hamoriah to perform the Akeidah with Yitzchok.
Avrohom and Yitzchok saw “hamakom meirachok”; they had vision and perceived the holiness of the mountain ahead of them and its eternal meaning to the Jewish people.
The assistants only knew what was immediately in front of them. They had no vision; they didn’t see the mountain up ahead and didn’t feel anything holy about the path they were on.
Avrohom told them to stay behind with the donkeys, and for all time, Chazal compared that nation to animals, for they have no vision towards the future, seeing only the present and what is in front of them.
So too, the exchange between Yaakov and Eisov contains the ideologies that would separate the two until this very day. In their dialogue and subsequent barter, the lines that separate the nations for eternity were drawn.
To Eisov and his progeny, life is temporal and fleeting. Eisov tires himself working for momentary splashes of joy. However, when it comes to matters of lasting value, he is lethargic and uninterested, because they do not grant instant physical pleasure.
A person is referred to as an oyeif when he becomes tired from engaging in idle pursuit – or worse – he simply has no strength left to engage in matters of lasting value. A student who spends the night playing games instead of studying and sleeping is too tired the next day to study and conduct himself properly.
Thus, Eisov was named Edom, and his nation is referred to as Edom for all time, because his desire for the red soup – and the lopsided barter he agreed to in order to obtain it – express his essence: Eisov and the Edomites trade the holy and eternal for simple temporal pleasure.
The opportunity of bechorah was an investment that would offer future spiritual benefits. The inherent gifts of avodah and closeness to Hashem, serving as the nation’s representatives in the Mishkon, were in the distance. Eisov didn’t possess the energy to see that far. He saw the soup, he smelled it, and he quickly enjoyed it as he moved on to fulfill his next temptation.
To Eisov, something that cannot be immediately touched and tasted has no value. The subtle and the sublime mean nothing to him. Eisov lives only in the moment for the moment. He gets his high and then he is drained, tired and empty.
Rav Mordechai Respler, rosh yeshiva of Mesivta of Long Beach, spent a few days last week with Lev L’Achim in Eretz Yisroel, observing the organization’s amazing work from one end of the country to the other. Among the people he met there was one of Israel’s leading soccer players, who has become observant through the efforts of Lev L’Achim, making many sacrifices along the way, as can be imagined. Though he still plays professionally, he spends his mornings learning Torah.
Rav Respler asked him why he gave up so much for Torah. What drove him?
He responded that with all the fame, fortune and adulating crowds, he still felt emptiness in his heart. When you go home and all the noise is gone, you are alone and empty.
When he discovered Torah and began learning and doing mitzvos, he suddenly felt fulfilled. He is thus happily on his way to becoming a full-fledged shomer Torah umitzvos.
And so it is that reshoim bechayeihem kruyim meisim, because their lives are void and empty and they are unfulfilled.
The adjectives in the posuk are laden with meaning and significance. When the posuk states “vehu oyeif,” it means more than the fact that Eisov was tired. He lacked in spirit and in verve.
This is reinforced by the phrase used in the posuk to describe the sale: “michra kayom.” It was a sale for today, because Eisov’s vision was limited to that which fit with his need for immediate gratification.
Yaakov didn’t tire. He remained vibrant, fresh and young, with the feeling that a person has at the dawn of a new day, when he is just getting started, aflame with the sense of possibility and optimism that comes with the start of a project or endeavor. He saw far into the future. He visualized the fires of the mizbeiach, the joy of a korban being accepted, and the sanctity of the makom haMikdosh. He was able to “taste” it right then. He felt it. He saw a bigger picture than “kayom.” When he realized the value of every moment and every mitzvah and every word of Torah, he was energized.
In making that decision, he invested us, his children, with the ability to stay young – ki na’ar Yisroel ve’ohaveihu – and remain fresh. Yaakov studied for 14 years in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver without sleeping (Rashi, Bereishis 28:12, from Bereishis Rabbah).
Imagine a marathon runner nearing the finish line. He is sapped, drained, thirsty and hot. But he sees the finish line and his spirits are up. He looks ahead, more excited and energetic as his eyes behold his goal.
A nation of people who had the strength to walk into fires in Spain, death pits in Lithuania, and gas chambers in Poland, and face the less glorious mesirus nefesh of turning their backs on the world, ignoring the call of the street and the lure of the outside culture each day, draw their strength from that vision. They embody the rush of power that comes from visualizing a goal.
Thus, the posuk states, “Vekovei Hashem, those who hope to Hashem, yachalifu koach, are constantly re-energized.” Their hope and faith invest them with life, spirit and stamina.
Being a Jew means being connected and charged. That is the legacy of Yaakov Avinu. That is our legacy. That is who we are.
Rav Mordechai Zuckerman was a humble tzaddik with a glowing countenance and unassuming ways who lived in Yerushalayim not long ago. A student of Kelm, he hid his greatness and conducted himself outwardly as if he was a regular, simple person. As was the custom, he would go to the local makolet (grocery) every morning after davening to purchase bread and milk, and he would wait on line to pay just like everyone else.
Back in those days, in the morning, the bread and milk would sit outside in boxes as most people came by after they had davened. Once, as he was on line waiting to pay for his items, a fellow customer held up a bag of milk he had taken from the box on the floor and asked the makolet owner, “Zogt mir, Reb Pinya, is the milk fresh?”
With the dry wit unique to Yerushalmis, Reb Pinya responded, “It was fresh when it came here.”
Rav Zuckerman lit up. He turned to his friend who was standing on line next to him, Rav Avrohom Sh’or Yoshuv, and said, “Reb Avrohom, did you hear what he said? That is our story. We arrive in this world fresh. It is our job to do what we can to remain fresh. Men darfen bleiben frish.”
Man’s obligation in this world, summed up in a single sentence.
The message of the milk is an important one for us all, no matter our age or our physical condition. A person who is alive, who appreciates the gifts Hashem has given him, and who understands “mah chovaso ba’olamo” doesn’t tire. Every moment is an opportunity for nitzchiyus, not to be wasted or squandered.
Did you ever notice that people who play football don’t appear tired? They get knocked down and pick themselves right back up and go back to playing. There is no stopping them. They push themselves to be their very best, charged with energy, focused on scoring. Because it is important to them, they give it all they’ve got. And if they didn’t sleep well the night before, it’s fine, because they’ll sleep tonight when the game is over.
And so it is, lehavdil, with people who appreciate Torah and mitzvos. Adrenaline kicks in every time they do a mitzvah, take a step, daven and learn. They live to do mitzvos and to learn Torah and don’t let anything stop them.
Reshoim, who by definition lack this appreciation, are kruyim meisim. Even when they are alive, they are dead. They are spent, lethargic and burnt out. They have no energy to perform life’s tasks.
Many talmidei chachomim with whom we are familiar can become overwhelmed by the day’s activities and pressures, yet when they are in front of a Gemara, they become alive. They are energized and electric with anticipation and joy as they study the word of Hashem. They are the offspring of Yaakov, who didn’t sleep for the fourteen years he studied in the yeshiva of Sheim and Eiver.
The Vilna Gaon didn’t sleep more than two hours each night, yet he had strength to study Torah throughout the day and night. Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv awoke every morning at 2:30 a.m. and began another day of uninterrupted Torah study for hours on end. Other anoshim gedolim also wake early and spend their days studying Torah, alive and fully energized.
No matter what our surroundings are and no matter what challenges are thrown our way, Hashem has blessed every one of us with the ability to keep our internal fire of Torah burning, ready to burst into a glowing flame at any moment. Let us do what we can to grow that fire, day after day, week after week, and year after year, expending our energies on matters of substance and meaning.
Let us endeavor to always remain focused on a goal, ambitious and driven, young and vital, as long as we are able to on this earth. If what we are doing is worth doing, then it is worth doing it right, energetically and giving it all we’ve got.
Let us never become lazy, lethargic or tired, focusing merely on momentary impediments.
We are charged with a mission.
Let’s get going.