Torah Reading for Week of November 25-December 1, 2012
“The Proof is in the ….. Stew”
By Dov Gottesfeld, Fifth Year Rabbinic Student
The Torah portion “Vayishlach” provides quite a few crucial occurrences that became unsettling moments in the history of the Jewish people. The examples abound. Among them, the name change of Jacob to Israel; the brutal killing of all the male inhabitants by Dina’s brothers, Shimon and Levy; the death of Rachel after giving birth to Benjamin; and how Reuben, Jacob’s eldest son, lost his birthright.
However, what caught my attention was a simple, ordinary act that Jacob initiated, which shed light not only on his relationship with his brother Esau and his parents, Isaac and Rebecca, but also on his way of thinking as a leader. That way of thinking has been plaguing humans from ancient times to the present.
When the messengers that Jacob had sent to his brother Esau returned with the bad news: “Esau was coming to meet him, and there are four hundred men with him” (Gen 32:7), “Jacob selected from what was at hand these presents for his brother Esau…” (Gen 32:14). “For he reasoned, ‘If I propitiate him with presents in advance, and then face him, perhaps he will show me favor’.” (Gen 32:21) Jacob hoped that the giving of gifts would cause Esau to get instant gratification which, in turn, would make things turn in Jacob’s favor. He had done the same twenty years earlier when he cheated his brother Esau out of his birthright by selling him a bowl of red lentil stew and a slice of bread.
Had Jacob already forgotten how upset he was at Lavan, his father-in-law, who tricked him– by giving him his daughter Leah instead of Rachel, whom Jacob thought he had married that evening? Why did Lavan succeed? Because he acted upon Jacob’s manly desire to have a woman at his side in order to get instant gratification. That is why Jacob did not bother to check the identity of the girl wearing the wedding dress, whom Lavan ushered into his dark tent. In order to get Rachel, Jacob was forced to work seven more years for his father-in-law.
Esau was no different than Jacob; he did not look into, and beyond, the pot of red lentil stew that Jacob offered him in return for his birthright. Instant gratification made them both victims of their needs and desires.
There are many more stories throughout the bible in which people from all walks of life and social status succumbed to their desires. They willingly sold — either truthfully or deceivingly — not only their dear possessions, but also their honors and respect “For naught but provender”.
Unfortunately, humanity, has yet to learn its lesson. People still sell their precious possessions, family life, honor, social and professional positions, status and integrity for instant gratifications, whether through drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, bribery, etc. Sadly, there are also an abundance of people who are ready and willing to exploit and abuse them for their own gratifications. The world keeps revolving. We eat ourselves, drug ourselves and starve ourselves… to death, for that short period of instant gratification that will vanish in no time, only to return with greater intensity, again and again and again.
To delay and, hopefully, avoid that destructive need and get what one truly and honestly needs out of life – not what s/he wants – one must look closer into that steamy bowl of stew and, in doing so, find the proof.