Saturday, November 2, 2013

Parashat Toledot: What's It Worth To You? A Modern Midrash

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished”... Jacob said, “First sell me your birthright.”
And Esau thought to himself: “my birthright? Why my birthright? What is my birthright? What’s so special about it?” 

And Adonai spoke to Esau and said, “I am the Eternal, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

And Esau replied: “well, that sounds wonderful! Why would I want to give that up?” 

And God said, “I the Eternal call you to righteousness, and take you by the hand, and keep you. I will make you a covenant people, a light to the nations.” 

And Esau said, “Righteousness? You mean strength, right? By the sword I shall live.”

God said further: “This is the covenant I make: I will place my Torah in your midst, and write it upon your heart. Hate evil and love what is good, let justice well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”
Esau replied: “well, isn’t evil kind of a relative concept? And what is Justice, after all? Sounds like a whole bunch of rules to me. “

God then said, “you shall not oppress your neighbors nor rob them. You shall not stand idle while your neighbor bleeds. Rather, you shall beat your swords into ploughshares, seek peace and pursue it.” 

Esau touched the hilt of his sword, his brow wrinkling. 

And God said, “You shall be my witness, and my servant whom I have chosen. Know me, therefore, and put your trust in me.” 

Esau’s brow furrowed. “I will serve no one, man or God.” He said. “Peace is weakness, and justice an illusion. The only blessing comes from power. The only evil is lack of strength, lack of wealth. I have seen my father pursue peace; he has had nothing but strife and conflict, he appears weak to the others around him. They cast him out for not following their ways. If my brother wants this burden of light to the nations, of witness to God, to be forever obligated, so be it. It’s not worth it to me.” 

And Esau spoke to Jacob, saying, “of what use is my birthright to me?” Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.
We are Israel, O God. “Witnesses of your love; messengers of Your Truth.” We know what it means to be Israel: to fulfill Your sacred obligations, to teach those around us, to be a blessing, to carry and share your Torah. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

*God's quotes are based on an arrangement of Scriptural verses from Gates of Prayer, including Isaiah 43:6; Jeremiah 31:33; Isaiah 45:20-21, Amos 5:15, 24; Lev. 19:13, 16; Isa. 60:18, 54:13, 40:10, as well as the Torah portion itself.