Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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1 Kislev 5760 - November 10, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Opinion & Comment
Turning One's Back on the Family Heritage

by L. Jungerman

When the Alter of Kelm studied the parshios of Chumosh Shemos, he raised a very interesting question: In general, when a certain personality is presented for a high ranking position, the public is given a resume of his background, where he came from, and what he has already accomplished in that particular area to make him a suitable candidate. If it is a strategic military post, his vital statistics are even more important: what in his past record makes him eligible, and why he is considered the best choice.

With regard to Moshe Rabbenu as the future leader of the Jewish people, a leader whose impact will go down in history forever more, what, asks Chochmo Umussor, are his credentials, his record? What talents and capabilities were inherent and evident in him to make him develop into a leader?

The answer is most remarkable! Whoever notes the descriptions in parshas Shemos, will discover that all the Torah presents from the entire period in Moshe's life prior to his being chosen as the people's spokesman is one single characteristic: "Commiseration with the lot of his people." He showed compassion and caring. The Torah tells us that Moshe grew up and went forth to his brothers and he noted their suffering. And he saw an Egyptian striking [a Jew] and he killed him and buried him. Later on, we are told that he saw two Jews fighting and accosted the first one, saying, "Why did you strike your friend."

This comes to teach us, says the Alter of Kelm, that it was this specific attribute, his caring and compassion, that made him especially suitable for the all-time role of master-leader, or shepherd, of the Jewish people. This is why only this trait was mentioned. It was the best credential.


In the same measure, one can raise this question regarding the qualitative difference that showed itself between the twin brothers. What they had in common should have been cause for close similarity; they were products of the same `school' and ostensibly shared an identical heredity, that of Yitzchok and Rivka. They were nurtured in the same environment. Still, the difference between them was polar, completely antithetical. Two opposites in essence and destiny. Two diametrically opposed entities that repelled one another, never to meet, never to coexist on one plane. Seesaw-like, "when one rises, the other falls."

Where is the root for Eisov's total distancing himself from his parents and what they stood for? Does the Torah reveal to us anything from his early childhood to give us a clue to his divergence? The fact of his being ruddy and hirsute was an indication for the future, but certainly not a cause. The five major sins which Eisov committed on that day were also already a result, an expression of his sinfulness. But where did this wild root originate?

The answer is explicit. The single given factor enumerated by the Torah illuminating Eisov's character is his own statement, "Why do I need the birthright?" "And Eisov abused the birthright." Rabbenu Nissim teaches us, in Droshos Horn, how comprehensive these sentences are, how they reflect a severance, a turning of one's back upon his family's traditions.

The Ran explains that the birthright symbolizes reverence towards one's father. The importance of the firstborn and the special attitude shown towards him stem from the fact that he epitomizes the thrust of continuity, the chain of generations. Blatant abuse and contempt of this role is the expression of the abuse he feels towards his father's traditions.

The Ran writes as follows in the second essay: When Eisov returned from his hunt, exhausted, and ate to revive himself from the pottage of lentils that Yaakov had prepared to comfort the mourners [after Avrohom's funeral], Eisov's eyes did not even tear at the death, nor did his heart weep to see his father's mourning. He barged in uncaringly, unfeelingly, thus trampling upon his father's sensitivities. All that preoccupied him was his wicked deeds in the fields.

When his affairs brought him back home and he found Yaakov busy with activities to console his mourning father, he did not turn his attention to a minimal act of condolence and sympathy, but self-served with a guzzler's egotistic, "Give me food!"

When Yaakov saw this abuse of his father and grandfather, he was zealous for their honor and sought to defend it by claiming the birthright for himself. A younger son is obligated to respect his oldest brother because the father's name is carried on through him. He bears the family honor. But if Eisov despised this responsibility, how could Yaakov continue to respect him?

Therefore, Yaakov said to Eisov:

Since I show a supreme respect towards my ancestors, and today, I am superior to you in this aspect, I ask that you rightfully sell your birthright to me, for it is not seemly that you go about smelling from the fields and the hunt, while I follow in my father's footsteps, and when the urge strikes you, you will blithely speak up and claim that you are upholding the family name more than me.

Rabbenu Nissim concludes that Eisov did, in fact, accede to the justice of Yaakov's words. Yaakov succeeded in getting to the crux of the difference between them both: Eisov's rejecting his family's name and honor and Yaakov's serving and defending it.

Eisov examined his own deed and came to the conclusion: "I am about to die, anyway, so wherefore have I any need for the birthright?" Let the good ones eternally pursue the good ways of their ancestors, as Chazal say, "A man should never abandon the craft of his fathers." All this is so that he can carry on their name. It is only natural, therefore, that if someone turns his back on his ancestral direction in life and pursues an entirely different one, he would thus be effacing their name and memory for all time!

Therefore did he say: "Lo, I am about to die." I have chosen not to follow the path of my fathers, whose glory lay in their staying at home [in the tent of Torah], but chose, instead, to be a hunter, to stalk prey and seek the lairs of lions. Wherefore do I need this birthright? How shall it serve me? And why should I care whether my ancestor's name is borne by me if I do it no credit and reject whatever they stand for?"

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