At the beginning of my Torah portion, Toldot, Rebecca discovers that she is about to give birth to twins. She feels them fighting inside her, and when they are born, things get even worse. Jacob and Esau could not be more different. Jacob is the student, who spends most of the time indoors. Meanwhile, Esau is the hunting type. He loves to be outdoors. Rebecca loves Jacob and Isaac loves Esau. Jacob is the younger one, but in the end he wins out, and gains the birthright and the blessing through deception. Later commentators see Esau as one of the least liked figures in Jewish history, but the Torah itself doesn’t think Esau is that bad. He’s just misunderstood.
From the first time I rode on the back of my father’s bike when I was little, I’ve always loved the outdoors. Imagine my surprise when Esau is described as a man of the outdoors. I could relate to him immediately. Not only is he outdoors, but, like me, he’s the first born and his father’s favorite.
So today I want to state the case for Esau. Loving the outdoors has helped me to grow in so many ways.
Last summer at camp, I went on a 33 mile hike. It wasn’t easy. Imagine huffing and puffing your way to the top of a mountain in Vermont, and then looking down and realizing that you still have 28 miles to go! But I did it and I felt really proud that I was one of only five from my group of 25 kids to finish, and we even broke the record, finishing the “Death March” in less than 6 hours.
Those who know me know that I love to ski and snowboard. Gliding down a trail and looking over at the other peaks is an amazing feeling. You can’t get that inside of a tent.
I’m all for studying – my favorite subject is history – but maybe it’s important to be a little like Jacob and a little like Esau. I understand how it’s important to be a studious person like Jacob. But it’s also important to be athletic like Esau – except for the hunting part.
Maybe the Torah, in making these two characters twins, is telling us that there is a little of each of them in each of us. Sometimes these two parts of us fight for control, much like Rebecca’s twins fought in the womb. There are times when I really want to play basketball outside with my brother and my dad – but I have a big math test tomorrow. So what do I decide to do?
So in this case the Jacob in me wins out.
And there are times when my parents ask me to clean my room and those are times when the Esau in me wins out and I go outside and play basketball.
In the Torah, a couple of portions from now, the two brothers unite once again, but this time, instead of wrestling, they embrace.
And so, in order to correct a big historical injustice, I thought I could say some words on behalf of Esau today. Because in the end, there’s a little of Esau in all of us.
For my mitzvah project I’ve been helping less fortunate kids at the Domas foundation by running a khaki drive. I’ve been asking people in my school to donate their used khakis that they’ve grown out of.
Author of "Embracing Auschwitz" and "Mensch•Marks: Life Lessons of a Human Rabbi - Wisdom for Untethered Times." Winner of the Rockower Award, the highest honor in Jewish journalism and 2019 Religion News Association Award for Excellence in Commentary. Musings of a rabbi, journalist, father, husband, poodle-owner, Red Sox fan and self-proclaimed mensch, taken from essays, columns, sermons and thin air. Writes regularly in the New York Jewish Week and Times of Israel.
Sunday, November 20, 2011
TBE Bar/Bat Mitzvah Commentary: Rachel Sherman on Toldot
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