Jacob, Esau & the Purpose of Life

September 20, 2012 | by Aish.com

I seem to have two voices pulling at me: One that says, “Be responsible; think long-term,” and the other that says, “Live it up now.” Each voice seems to have a good argument. What do you say?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

In the Torah, Esav says to Jacob: “I'm going to die anyway. What do I care about the birthright. Take it and give me the stew." (Genesis 25:31-34)

Esav believed that since in the end we're all going to die, good and bad alike, we might as well fill our lives with intense pleasures like food, sex, and the thrill of violence. Why worry about irrelevant nonsense like spirituality, or philosophical questions like the meaning of life?

Esav was the ancestor of a nation called Edom, which tradition identifies with Rome. (Edom means red, like the color of blood or of Jacob's stew.) The Romans' idea of a great evening was to watch gladiators hack each other apart, and then top it off with a drunken orgy. Our own enjoyment of blood sports like boxing (hockey? Football?) stems back to Rome. More profoundly, the influence of Roman culture encourages us to dismiss religion as wishful thinking and to believe that the goal of life is to satisfy our appetites.

"It [is] not true that there is a power in the universe, which watches over the well-being of every individual with parental care and brings all his concerns to a happy ending. Dark, unfeeling, and unloving powers determine human destiny; the system of reward and punishments, which according to religion governs the world, seems to have no existence." (Freud, "New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis")

If so, then what is the purpose of human life?

"What is the purpose of human life? Nobody asks what is the purpose of the lives of animals... it is [a striving to eliminate] pain and discomfort, [and to] experience intense pleasure... from the satisfaction of pent-up needs which have reached great intensity, and by its very nature can only be a transitory experience." (Freud, "Civilization and its Discontents")

This is the myth of the decadent world. In the end I'm going to die anyway. My advice: Listen to the long-term voice that has far more meaning and is ultimately more satisfying.


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