“Behold I am going to die, so why do I need the birthright?” (Beresheet 25:30)
The sale of the “firstborn rights” by Esav to Yaakov is one of the most significant transactions in history. Not only did Yaakov purchase the rights to the double portion in his father’s estate; more importantly, he acquired the rights to do the holy service in the Temple.
One of the glaring questions about this transaction is the reaction of Esav to Yaakov’s offer to buy the option for his descendants to be the holy attendants in G-d’s house. You might expect that with so much at stake and with Yaakov’s ridiculously low offer of a bowl of lentil soup, that Esav would laugh off Yaakov’s first offer and begin a long negotiation for the valuable asset, which he owned. Esav instead replies, “I am going to die. What use to me is a birthright that gives me spiritual benefit?”
Our Sages teach that Esav was extremely tired from a day of mischief. His misdeeds included five of the most serious transgressions a man can do, including murder. He also was a little depressed because the soup that Yaakov was preparing was lentil soup, the soup prepared for mourners, as it was the day that the twins’ holy grandfather, Avraham Avinu, died. “If even the great tzaddik, my grandfather, is dead, then certainly I will also go the way of all flesh,” thought Esav to himself.
The thought of death was unbearable. Esav’s reaction was Live for today. Enjoy what you can while you still can. The pleasures of this world must be grabbed before life comes to an end. It gave him a sense of hopelessness and despair so strong that he was willing to sell his spiritual eternity for a bowl of “now.”
In Pirkei Avot our Sages teach that a person should repent one day before one dies. Obviously, no one knows when that day will arrive. The intent of our wise teachers is that a person should reflect on one’s actions and repent daily. A sense of sobriety is required for spiritual success. But that seriousness has a limit. One must be careful not to allow reflection and sobriety to become depression and despair.
In today’s climate, everyone is a little nervous and some are actually very frightened about the prospects of terrorism, violence, chemical and biological warfare, and the unknown. These possibilities, unfortunately, have become part of our daily lives. What is important, however, is not what can happen and what steps we take to prevent them from happening. What is crucial is that we take the positive rather than the negative road going forward. One must use the fear and the air of uncertainty and say, “One must repent one day before one dies.” There is a big difference between the person who, when confronted with danger and fear, says, “I need a drink,” and the person who feels the same way but reaches for his or her Tehillim and begins to pray for Divine assistance. Hashem constantly tests the faith of his people and the times we live in are certainly testing the fabric of everyone’s belief in the just, kind nature of our Maker. Let’s all consolidate our strength, work together on our emunah and show Hashem just how much trust and faith we have in His true, just conduct of our world.