> Weekly Torah Portion > Intermediate > What's Bothering Rashi?

Esau Despised the Birthright

Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9 )

by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek

The parsha tells of the birth and development of Isaac's sons, Jacob & Esau, and two pivotal events in their lives: (a) Esau selling the birthright to Jacob for a bowl of porridge, and (b) Jacob fooling Isaac and taking Esau's blessing and the ensuing hatred between them.

Let's look at a Rashi on the selling of the birthright.

Genesis 25:24

"And Jacob gave Esau bread and porridge of lentils and he ate, he drank, he rose up and went. And Esau despised the birthright."



And Esau despised - RASHI: The verse testifies to his (Esau's) evil, in that he despised the service of God.

What would you ask on this simple comment?

Your Question:



A Question: Rashi seems to tell us the obvious. We see how Esau traded in the birthright (which meant the service in the Temple in the future ? which originally was to be the privilege of the firstborn) for a bowl of porridge. It was clearly evidence that Esau despised the birthright. What has Rashi added to our understanding with his comment?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Precisely! It is obvious, so why must the Torah add the words that Esau despised the birthright? The phrase is superfluous since the whole story reeks with his low opinion of the value of the birthright.

This is what Rashi is referring to ? why the need for the added phrase? How does his comment deal with this?

Your Answer:



An Answer: Rashi points out that the verse stresses Esau's belittling attitude towards the significance of the birthright. Esau himself had said, "I am going to die ? so what good is the future privilege?" But actually we might have thought that Esau was forced to sell the birthright, not because he despised it but because it was "pikuach nefesh." He was in a life-threatening situation - he was dying of hunger - and had no choice.

So Rashi tells us not to be fooled by Esau's statement of despair. He really sold it because it was valueless in his eyes. This, Rashi says, is the reason the Torah adds the phrase of Esau's despising the birthright.

Can you find support for Rashi's comment, that Esau sold it, not under duress but because he really despised it?

Your Answer:



An Answer: The Torah tells us in machine-gun style, "He ate, he drank, he rose and he went" rat tat tat.

If Esau sold the birthright purely out of duress, we would expect some expression of regret from him once he had sated his appetite. This is totally lacking. "He went" without looking back.

So Rashi says this is the evidence of his true motivation ? the birthright had absolutely no value for him for he despised it.



We would add another insight here. Granted that Esau saw no religious or other value in the birthright. It was worthless in his eyes. But "despise"! Why the extreme expression of "despise"?

I would say that, psychologically, Esau needed this defense mechanism in order to completely abandon the heritage of his forefathers. He was hungry. He was even, we could say, a glutton. But this wasn't enough even for Esau's weak conscience. Remember: he was raised in Isaac's home and also Abraham was alive during his youth.

He needed even more justification to throw away such a heritage than just hunger. So, psychologically, he had to belittle the birthright even more ? even to despise it ? in order to quiet his conscience and allow him to slurp the porridge to his heart's content.

For those interested, we find a similar psychological message in Megillas Esther (3:6) where it says: "It was despicable in his (Haman's) eyes to lay a hand on Mordecai alone." We see the same phrase ? and the same psychological need on Haman's part to justify killing one Jew for his inflated ego. For more insights, see the new "What's Bothering Rashi?" on Megillat Esther.


Shabbat Shalom,
Avigdor Bonchek

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