Yaakov said, ‘Sell — as this day — your birthright to me.’ (Beresheet 25:31)
After 20 years of prayer, beseeching Hashem to grant her a child, Rivkah was expecting. Joy was soon replaced with deep concern when the pain of carrying a child caused Rivkah great distress. It was not merely the pain of a child kicking to be born, but more so the fact that the child seemed to have a split personality. When our Matriarch would pass a bet medrash where Hashem’s word was being studied, the child kicked, indicating a righteous offspring for which she had prayed. However, when she was near a house of idol worship, the internal turmoil was also aroused, indicating a wicked child. Distressed, she turned to the wise men of the generation for a diagnosis.
“And Hashem said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated’” (25:23). The prophet had revealed to her that there were two children growing inside her and that they would represent two conflicting ideologies. One would seek spirituality and the world to come while the other would chase the pleasures of this world and immediate gratification of desire. As small children, the stark difference between the two was not apparent. Only after they reached their teenage years did Yaakov become the dedicated student of Shem and Ever while Esav developed into a desire-driven pursuer of physical pleasure.
On the day that Avraham passed away, Yaakov prepared a lentil soup which was a food signifying mourning. Esav, as would be expected, did not mourn but rather went out to pursue fulfillment of his basest passions and came home exhausted from a day of sinning. Esav said to Yaakov, “Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.” Yaakov replied, “Sell, as this day, your birthright to me.” Yaakov agreed to the sale so long as Esav would swear “as this day” to uphold the transaction. And so he did!
Sforno points out that the word “Kayom — as this day” reveals the motives of both parties to the historic deal. Esav was so exhausted that he could not even identify the lentil soup. He could only see the “red stuff.” Yaakov could not envision one so involved and dedicated to his worldly pursuits serving as a Kohen in Hashem’s service. If a person can expend all his energy to the extent where he comes home so tired and hungry, he must be a person who only lives for today. He is so preoccupied with his this-worldly efforts that he can’t even identify soup!
The service to Hashem is based on a world view that sees the temporary, low-value physical existence as necessary but vain. The true worth of any item or deed is how it relates to the eternal life in the spiritual realm. The “bechor” (firstborn) inherited the right to direct all his activities to the priceless spiritual pursuits of service to Hashem. This is what Yaakov meant. “If ‘today’ is so important to you, then you are not suitable to serve as Kohen.”
A bright young man was struggling to find a better job. He was good at what he did — and honest and reliable as well. When the big opportunity finally materialized, he couldn’t decide what to do.
A successful firm was preparing to open a new division. They needed someone to take over the duties of a chief operating officer. The compensation and benefits package was all one could ask for. But the firm demanded that the young man go to night school to further his education and earn a master’s degree in business. The only way he could do that was to stop his regular Torah learning schedule. What should he do?
The young man consulted with his father. “Let’s ask the Rav,” his dad suggested. “We’ll do whatever he says and I’m sure it will bring success.”
“Young man, this is the question of the ages,” the Rav said. “Since the days of Yaakov and Esav, people have confronted this choice. Each has made a choice that results in a life-changing moment. You too have to make your choice.”
“I knew he would say that,” the young man said as they left to return home. “I know most people would suggest that I stop for two years and get the degree and then go back to my schedule. Dad, you and I know that will not happen once I leave the learning to pursue profit.”
He turned down the offer.
The lesson is that one should take note of one’s priorities. If making a living overrides time spent with family, if acquiring things is more important than doing mitzvot — then one is leaning to the side of Esav.
If one feels the pull in that direction, one should turn away and say, “I am a child of Yaakov!” We are all Bnei Yisrael. Ours is the future — not merely today.