23 Nov PEOPLE ONLY CONTEMPLATE LIFE WHEN DYING
People Only Contemplate Life Under The Shadow Of Death
In this week’s parsha we learn about the famous story of the sale of the birthright. A ravenously hungry Eisav saw his brother Yaakov preparing lentil soup. Yaakov negotiated a trade of soup for the rights of the first born in the family. Eisav agreed to the deal and Yaakov bought the bechorah [birth right of the eldest son].
Our Sages tell us that Yaakov was cooking lentil soup because on that day, the patriarch Avraham had died. Yitzchak was observing the mourning practices for his father, and the custom was that lentil soup was served to the mourner. That is why Yaakov was cooking this particular food.
Does it not seem strange and inappropriate that at this particular moment in history, the question of the birthright should emerge? Even if Yaakov really wanted this right, could he not have chosen another opportunity to enter into negotiations with Eisav?
Imagine – this was a house of morning. The grandfather, Avraham, had just died. Yitzchak was sitting Shiva. Yaakov was preparing the meal for the mourner. Eisav entered. What was on Yaakov’s mind at this time? “Sell me the birth right.” Why did Yaakov raise the issue of who will be considered the Bechor, now, at this juncture?
The Beis Av suggests the following interpretation: Our Sages teach us that we serve lentils to a mourner because of the symbolism of their shape. Lentils are round. Life is a wheel that is forever turning around in the world. The round lentils symbolize the cyclical nature of the cycle of birth and death that is the way of all flesh. Mourning is a virtually inescapable condition that everyone must face sooner or later. Hopefully, it will be a child for a parent – after the parent has lived a long and fulfilling life. People often first begin to think about life precisely at a time of mourning and death. That is when people think of death’s inevitability. It is then that people think of their own mortality. Often, people only really contemplate life under the shadow of death.
This incident is teaching us that the way a righteous person views life and the way a wicked person views life are diametrically opposed. Yaakov looked at life as “What do I have to accomplish? What are my responsibilities?” The status of Bechor determined more than who would receive a double inheritance. The status of bechor included responsibilities. Who would be the spiritual heir in the world? Who would do the Service of Hashem in the world? When Yaakov contemplated death and thereby contemplated life, he was goaded on to seek the spiritual responsibility that comes with family leadership.
On the other hand, when a wicked person contemplates life, his attitude is “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we may die. Yes. Death is inevitable. What does that tell me to do? Enjoy the good life while I can! Indulge now, before it is too late.” Specifically now when Eisav was thinking about the death of his grandfather and the Shiva of his father, he first began to think – “I do not want the responsibility of being the firstborn. I do not want to ‘waste’ my life in servitude to Hashem. I want to enjoy life, now. I want freedom from the responsibility of being the firstborn.”
Therefore it was at this precise moment that the sale was consummated. This was when the status of the first born came into focus. Yaakov decided that he must acquire the bechorah now. Eisav decided that he must be rid of it now.