Shabbat Evening Service
From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
“Va-yeet-rohtz-etzu”. Easy for you to say. It’s alliterative. It’s the Hebrew word in this week’s Torah portion that describes how the twins, Jacob and Esau, spent their time in utero. Translations tell us they “struggled with each other” or “they pushed against one another”. While struggling or pushing against one another, their mother Rebekah asked, “Why do I exist?” (Genesis 26:22). God said to her:
Two nations are in your womb,
Two separate peoples shall issue from your body;
One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the other shall serve the younger.
Esau emerged first. He was hairy and ruddy (thus Eisav). Torah describes him as “ish sadeh”; he grew up to be a man of the field who preferred the hunt. Jacob emerged second, smooth-skinned and barely holding onto the heel of his brother (thus Ya’akov). Torah describes him as “ish tam, yosheiv o-halim”; he grew up to be a mild man who preferred to stay at home. The brothers were of the same womb yet their destinies could not have been more different.
From the time they were womb-mates, Esau favored physical power and used it, while Jacob preferred the spirit (Torah) and cherished it. Though Torah hadn’t been given yet, the rabbis reasoned that if Jacob were home then he was surely studying Torah (the rabbis didn’t read Torah chronologically). Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil soup. He valued the soup and his physical needs greater than he did the birthright. Jacob, though younger, was destined to be the leader of his people who made an eternal covenant with God. Esau’s destiny was in another direction; he amassed his own fortune and made his own way. Jacob was uniquely qualified to possess the birthright and lead his people, our people, to their destiny, too.
Birthrights are an ancient determinant of one’s future. Today, we create our own destiny by the choices we make freely about what we study, where we live, and how we make a living. Or do we? Sometimes, it seems that it’s still destiny that strongly compels us to study certain subjects, to live where we do, and to make a living in our chosen professions and roles. For some, the “still, small voice” within us hasn’t really faded since Biblical times. It can be a powerful motivator that isn’t silenced until we respond to it. And, when we do, we discover where we need to be and what we need to be doing. Being in the right place at the right time can provide shalom: peace, wholeness and completeness.
I’m grateful that Torah highlights the dilemma between Jacob and Esau. It untangles the expectation that though the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, it might not be the best way or the only way to get from point A to point B. Jacob’s compelling need to acquire what he needed to get where he was going is our inheritance, too. Were it any other way, we would open the Holy Ark and find there a bowl of lentil soup. Grateful for the hand that guides us and for the urgency of time that compels us to seize opportunities, we would be wise to choose our way when our “head and heart agree.” Then wisdom and passion combine to serve and satisfy our deepest needs and greatest hopes for our future.