Does a Guest Own His Food?

Vayomer Yaakov michrah kayom es bechorascha li (Bereishis 25:31)

In his sefer of legal responsa called Shu”t Maharit (1:150), Harav Yosef Trani (1538-1639) discusses an incident in which a male guest decided during the meal that he wanted to marry the minor daughter of another man there. The guest took an apple from the table and presented it to the girl’s father as a form of kiddushin (betrothal), which can be accomplished by giving any object worth more than one perutah (approximately 1-5 cents) to the father of a girl who is not yet bas mitzvah.

The question was then raised whether his actions had any legal validity, as one of the halachic requirements to effect kiddushin is that the man must own the item that he gives over for this purpose. In this case, although a guest has permission to eat the food he is given, it is unclear whether he actually owns it or if the food still belongs to the host, an issue that would determine the status of the betrothal.

In Parashas Toldos, Esav came in from the field tired and famished, and he asked Yaakov to share his food with him. Yaakov responded that he was willing to sell him the food in exchange for Esav’s birthright, a proposal to which Esav acquiesced. However, Harav Yisroel Reisman points out that the Torah describes Yaakov (25:27) as a wholesome man who dwelled in the tents of Torah study. Yaakov did not work and had no possessions or source of income.

Presumably, he received the food that he ate from his father, yet we see that Yaakov viewed the permission he had to eat the food as bestowing upon him ownership of it, to the extent that he was able to engage in financial transactions involving the food. This seems to prove that a guest does not only receive the right to eat the food he is given, but full ownership of it to do with as he likes, including selling it or using it to betroth a woman.

However, the Chasam Sofer writes that this encounter between Yaakov and Esav specifically took place on the day of Avraham’s death. Rashi writes (25:30) that Yaakov was cooking red lentils because it was customary for mourners to eat lentils after returning from burying the deceased. The first meal that a mourner eats after the burial is called the seudas havra’ah (meal of condolence). At this meal, the mourners may not eat their own food (Yoreh De’ah 378:1) and must eat food that is provided to them by relatives or friends.

To fulfill this legal requirement, it was necessary for Yaakov to own the food he was preparing to serve his father, so Yitzchak was makneh (transferred ownership of) the food (or the money used to purchase it) — to Yaakov.

As such, this encounter between Yaakov and Esav specifically took place under unusual conditions that prohibited Yitzchak from owning the food and required him to arrange for it to wholly belong to Yaakov. Thus, there is no proof from this incident in which the “guest” (Yaakov) was intentionally given full ownership of the food, to the case discussed by the Maharit, where the guest may have only had permission to eat.

This episode also shows us how Hashem organized circumstances to enable Yaakov, who spent his entire day engrossed in Torah study and had no source of income, to acquire the birthright from Esav at the precise moment when — possibly for the first time in his life — he owned something, a possession that Esav desperately wanted and was willing to trade his birthright to obtain.

Q: What is the significance of the fact that this week’s parashah is named Toldos, and why is it specifically read at this time of the year?

A: Harav Moshe Wolfson, shlita, explains that this week’s parashah is called Toldos because it is the only parashah in the Torah in which all three of the Avos are living simultaneously, albeit for a mere three verses (25:26-28). Shlomo Hamelech teaches (Koheles 4:12) that a three-ply rope is not easily severed. The Gemara in Bava Metzia (85a) teaches that if a man, his son and his grandson are all Torah scholars, the Torah will never cease from their offspring. The simultaneous coexistence of our three forefathers formed such a strong foundation for the Jewish nation that they guaranteed a future for their toldos —descendants.

It is no coincidence that this parashah is read in the beginning of the month of Kislev, as it represents our guarantee of victory over the attempt of the Greeks to make us forget the Torah. In fact, the verse immediately following the three verses in which all of the Avos are alive begins (25:29), Vayazed Yaakov nazid — Yaakov cooked a stew. The first letters of each word spell Yavan — Greece — to hint that although Avraham had died, the indestructible three-ply string had already been established to protect his descendants from the Greeks.

Q: The Arizal teaches that Shimshon was a combination of the souls of Yefes and Esav. In what way did Shimshon rectify their sins and errors?

A: The Arizal explains that because Esav didn’t bring wine to his father as Yaakov did, Shimshon was a nazir who was forbidden to drink wine. The reason that Shimshon killed a lion was to take revenge against the lion for scratching his “father” Noach when they were in the Ark. Because Esav caused his father Yitzchak to become blind through the smoke of the idols worshipped by his wicked wives, the eyes of Shimshon were gouged out and he was made blind. Additionally, because Esav was hairy from birth, the special strength of Shimshon was also dependent on his hair not being cut.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.