Food For the Soul
Beans and Birthrights
In the Parsha Toldot (Genesis 25:19–28:9) we read of the birth of twins to Isaac and Rebecca. Jacob and Esau are very different. Jacob is the “dweller of tents,” a diligent Torah scholar, while Esau is a “skilled hunter” and a man of violence.
We also read how one day, when Esau returns from the hunt, exhausted and starving, he finds Jacob cooking a pot of lentils. Esau wants the beans; Jacob offers to give him the pottage in return for Esau’s birthright. As the first-born twin, Esau would have been the one chosen to minister in G‑d’s temple. Esau accepts the offer and the deal is done.
Fast-forward some 275 years. We’re in the Book of Exodus now (4:22), and G‑d is sending Moses to Pharaoh to redeem His people. He describes them as b’ni bechori yisrael — “My son, My first born, Israel.” Rashi, quoting the Midrash, comments: “Here the Holy One Blessed is He affixed His seal to the sale of the birthright which Jacob purchased from Esau.”
Here? It took G‑d so long to put His stamp of approval on a deal that was entered into hundreds of years earlier? Why only now?
The late Israeli Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi M.Z. Neriyah, offered this explanation: You can sell your birthright for beans, but you can’t buy a birthright for beans. To throw away one’s holy heritage is easy, but to claim it takes years of effort and much hard work.
Being Jewish is indeed the birthright of every Jew. But it’s not enough that G‑d chose us, we must choose G‑d. We need to earn our birthright by living as Jews. It’s not good enough that our parents and grandparents were good Jews, that my Zayde was a rabbi or a schochet and my Bobba made the world’s best blintzes. What are we doing to earn our stripes? Indeed, you can sell your birthright for beans. But you can’t buy a birthright for beans.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman
Separation of Challah
When the Jewish people first entered and settled the land of Israel, one of the many gifts they were commanded to give to the Kohanim, the priestly tribe who served in the Holy Temple, was “challah” — a portion of dough separated from their kneading bowl every time they baked bread.
The Separation of Challah is one of the 613 mitzvot (divine commandments) that constitute the body and soul of Jewish life. Replete with spiritual meaning, it is one of the three primary mitzvot of the Jewish woman and has a far-reaching effect on the mind and heart of the one who fulfills it, on her household, and on the very character of her home. For more than a hundred generations, Jewish women throughout the world have fulfilled this beautiful and life-transforming mitzvah. For further information, visit Chabad.org
Mind Over Matter
Heart and mind
For Judaism to survive, argues Isaac, you need passion, commitment and emotional strength. You need an Esau to carry, safeguard and implement your message. Rebecca disagrees. Esau has awesome potential, indeed. But he needs Jacob as his compass. Left to his own devices, Esau may use the blessings to further his base desires rather than to perpetuate his grandfather’s legacy. Rebecca therefore convinces a reluctant Jacob to steal the blessings designed for Esau. She understands Esau’s potent quality. But she realizes that Esau’s chaotic power needs direction. It needs Jacob.
Today the trend is to “follow your heart,” to lead a lifestyle that is driven by desire. Chassidic thought says otherwise. Sure, the heart’s passion and drive are powerful forces that can propel you to great heights, but without the mind’s guidance, your passion may propel you to a place you don’t want to be.
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman
Eikev (because) Abraham listened to My voice. . .” (Toldot 26:5)
The word eikev also means “heel.” The implication is that Abraham listened with his total being. The word of G‑d penetrated even the lowest and most material part of his body. When the service of G‑d penetrates a person’s totality, even his “heel,” one can be assured that he will have the fortitude to overcome whatever challenges lay before him.
Indeed, in relation to our predecessors, we are the “heel.” This may cause one to wonder why it is precisely our generation that shall merit the coming of Moshiach. However, it is precisely our service of G‑d, the very end in the process of preparing the world, that will complete the necessary steps to bring about the redemption.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Why did G-d create evil?
Helpless and betrayed, my brother and I stood alone in the pre-dawn hours. We were just children; he was a teenager and I was perhaps ten. We had set out on an exciting journey: we would take the train to the plane and the plane to our home where, after a full year of school, we would see our family again. We should have taken a taxi, we should have known better, but we were children, trusting and naïve.
We set out to the train station and it didn’t take him long to find us; we were easy prey. One threat and thirty seconds later we were stripped of cash, enthusiasm and confidence. I didn’t care for the money; I was too young for that. Only one thing bothered me. Why? What kind of evil drives a human being to steal? And from children at that! Our hopes dashed and our hearts in our throats, we learned a bitter lesson that day; life is not as innocent as children care to believe.
Why did G‑d create evil and what purpose does it serve? I could not have answered this question on that day, but today, with the benefit of hindsight and decades of study, I offer the following insights.
Our sages taught that G‑d created the world out of sheer benevolence. He wanted to bestow goodness upon humanity. Because He is perfect He wanted to bestow perfect goodness. In other words, G‑d wanted to bestow Himself.
He could have made a perfect world with people who emulate their Creator perfectly. But such people would have been a poor emulation of G‑d. They would not have been inherently good; their goodness would have been bestowed from Above. It would have been a borrowed perfection.
Thus G‑d created a world in which goodness and evil are equal options, and He created humanity with the freedom to choose. Our penchant for goodness is not greater than our proclivity for evil; we are evenly balanced. If we want to embrace goodness we must make a choice, and choices reflect who we are. We are not forced into goodness by powers beyond ourselves. We are moved by our choice, by an inner conviction that goodness is right. This inner resolve reflects the goodness within our souls and comes as close as humanity can possibly come to being inherently good.
G‑d did not create evil so that we could indulge it, but so that we could avoid it. If evil did not exist, choosing against it would not be possible, and perfection would slip from our grasp. That evil is a viable option makes it possible for us to choose against it and affirm our inherent goodness.
Our sages taught that G‑d desired a dwelling place in the lower realm. In spiritual terms, that which perceives itself as closer to G‑d is higher, that which sees itself further from G‑d is lower. The lowest realm is where G‑d is completely unknown and unseen. Where G‑d is absent, as it were, evil exists. Yet it was here, in the midst of a world filled with (potential) evil that G‑d wants us to build a dwelling place for Him.
G‑d thus created evil. Not so that humanity would choose it, but so that humanity could choose it. Could, but hopefully wouldn’t. Inevitably some would fail and choose evil; a lower realm makes immoral behavior possible. But G‑d also knew that not everyone would gravitate to evil. Most of humanity would be upright; they would choose ethics, morality, holiness and G‑dliness. In this way the lower realm would be transformed into a dwelling place for G‑d.2
We now understand why Rebecca gave birth to twin brothers, one righteous the other evil. From the womb they were pitted against each other; their children locked in perpetual battle. Esau represents evil and Jacob represents holiness. Without Esau this world is not a lower realm. Without Jacob this world cannot become an abode for G‑d. The two are evenly matched, made to struggle against each other. But in the end, Jacob will prevail and Esau will humbly seek entry into the Divine dwelling place: “The older will serve the younger.”
The day will come when humanity will transform this lower realm into a sacred dwelling place for G‑d. On that day children will walk about without fear. No longer will children will have to shed their innocence. No longer will they fear the thief, for on that day even the thief will change his ways. On that day humanity will be inspired by the sparkle and shine of G‑d’s holy home. Evil will be eradicated and the Moshiach will finally arrive.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow