TOLDOS (Genesis, 25:19-28:9) — “Red Beans and Redskins”

DISCLAIMER: In my 20+ years as a rabbi, I have learned that there are certain “safe” topics. (E.g., loving your fellow man and giving charity) Some topics are more “iffy,” (Sabbath observance and Kashruth) while others are downright volatile (intermarriage and “terminating” pre-born children). Many listeners and readers want a rabbi to inspire and uplift them, but only as long as he minds his own #$%&*#@*! Business. 

I have always served as the rabbi of orthodox congregations with mostly non-orthodox members. I have USUALLY managed to interface with Jews of all backgrounds, stating my beliefs without offending anyone. (Or, at least, so have I allowed myself to believe!) However, there have been times that I’ve managed to get lots of people upset with me. Today’s topic fits into that category. So, I hope you’ll read this with an open mind. If you agree, that’s great. If you disagree, there’s always next week! 🙂

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Esau was Isaac’s firstborn. Unlike his twin brother, Jacob, the “pure-hearted man, who dwelled in the house (of Torah study),” (Genesis, 25:27) Esau was a hunter who had little interest in matters spiritual. Our rabbis tell us that Esau was a thief, a killer, and an idol worshiper. One day, he came home from a day in the field, and found his brother cooking a meal of red beans:

Esau said to Jacob, “Pour into me some of that red, red stuff, because I am exhausted!” (Ibid, verse 30)

Very polite. There’s nothing like a refined, well-mannered request for a bit to eat. “Pour into me some of that red, red stuff…”

Jacob saw this as a golden opportunity. As the firstborn, Esau occupied a position of respect and authority within the family. He was entitled to the birthright to serve as the Kohain, the High Priest of the family. (It was only after the sin of the Golden Calf that the priesthood was taken away from the firstborn of each family, and given to the children of Aaron.) Jacob felt that it would be a mockery for a nonbeliever like Esau to serve as the Kohain. Perhaps he could find a way to get Esau to relinquish his birthright in exchange for a hot meal…

Jacob said, “Sell me your birthright.” (Ibid, verse 31)

Esau was the firstborn, and did not wish to give up that status. However, he WAS hungry… Jacob’s plan worked. Esau said, “I’m going to die! Of what use is the birthright to me?!” (Ibid, verse 32)

It was a deal. Esau forswore any interest in being the family Kohain. Rashi explains why: “I’m going to die! Of what use is the birthright to me?!” Jacob explained to Esau that there are many complex laws involved in serving as the Priest. Among those laws are sins punishable by death. Officiating in the Temple while “under the influence of alcohol” is one such offence. (Leviticus, 10:9) When Aaron’s sons brought inappropriate offerings in the Temple, they were Divinely punished with instant death. (Ibid, verses 1-3) If a High Priest had inappropriate thoughts during his once-a-year Yom Kippur visit to the Holy of Holies, he was immediately struck down.

Esau now saw the birthright in a different light. As long as the Priesthood was an honorary position, it was fine. Esau was not interested in a Judaism that consisted of rules and regulations. Perhaps he preferred a superficial “feel-good” religion of gefilte fish and Matzah balls. Once he realized that true service of G-d entailed serious commitment to actual religious law, he declared with disgust, “Of what use is the birthright to me?!”

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A friend of mine once asked me if religious Jews observe Thanksgiving. If you know me personally, or if you’ve been reading my column for any considerable amount of time, you SHOULD know that I don’t always give direct answers.

“Sure we do,” I replied with a smile. “My wife makes a big, delicious turkey…with lots of delicious side dishes… and…she brings it all out to the Sukkah!”

My sarcasm was lost on him. “That’s really beautiful!” he replied. “You eat your Thanksgiving dinner in your Sukkah!”

Then, with “virtual pumpkin pie” on my face, I went on to apologize for my sarcastic response. Of course, what I actually meant was that Sukkos is the Jewish Thanksgiving. Sukkos is the time that “… you gather in from your threshing floor and your wine vat. You will rejoice . . . for G-d will bless you in all your crops and all your work, and you will only be joyous.” (Deuteronomy, 16:13-15)

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BEFORE I MAKE TOO MANY ENEMIES for being a “Scrooge,” let me be totally clear. I know many very religious Jews who sit down to a turkey dinner every November. I personally happen not to eat a Thanksgiving dinner, but I don’t have a problem with those who do. It is ALWAYS appropriate to give thanks to G-d for His generous bounty.

We are blessed to live in a marvelous country that gives us unprecedented freedoms. The Founding Fathers articulated a concept that respects every person’s right to practice his own religion. We must be proud to be citizens of the United States of America. We must support her troops and pray for her well-being. I adorn my home and cars with the Stars and Stripes, and my synagogue recites a prayer for our government and our troops.

So what, you may ask, is bothering me? What’s wrong with expressing our solidarity with our fellow Americans?

Nothing, really. That’s not the problem. What bothers me is that for too many of our fellow Jews, Thanksgiving is the be-all and end-all of our thanks. Isn’t it sad that we need the Pilgrims and the Indians to tell us to set aside a day to give thanks to G-d? G-d has given us a miracle land called America. Why don’t we celebrate our American freedom with a Sukkah in front of every Jewish house on Sukkos? Why doesn’t every Jewish house with an American flag also have a kosher Mezuzah on every door? Why don’t we make sure that our Thanksgiving turkey is Kosher??!!!

Could the problem be that we prefer Esau’s Judaism to Jacob’s? Esau probably liked Jewish food. (Maybe that’s why he bought Jacob’s “cholent.” :-)) Esau preferred the perfunctory form of religion. He was not interested in getting down to the nitty-gritty of religious law.

There is a Torah. There is a Talmud. There is a time to pray, and there are specific details as to how to pray. There is a Shulchan Aruch, a Code of Jewish Law that delineates our religious obligations. We celebrate our American freedom by living according to those obligations.

If you ate turkey on Thanksgiving, that’s fine. But if you REALLY want to show your appreciation to G-d, why don’t you decide now to put up a Sukkah next Sukkos? Celebrate Thanksgiving with a commitment to live as a more observant Jew. Nothing could be more American!

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“The So-Called ‘Rabbi’” 

I don’t look down on people who don’t share Torah Judaism’s view of our obligations to G-d.  I try very hard not to put down Jews who believe differently than I.  I believe, quite simply, that in most cases, they have not had the opportunity to learn and to come to understand what Torah is really all about.

But one thing that really bugs me is when people misrepresent Torah Judaism.

Perhaps you read about the travesty that took place in  Washington,  DC last week.

Read More.

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“Something Smells Rotten in the State of Beersheba” (2009)

… The blessing of a holy man like Isaac carries a great deal of weight… Esau no longer possessed the legal status of the firstborn.  He was not entitled to Isaac’s blessing.

 … Rebecca set out to save Isaac’s blessing for Jacob … She placed goat hides on smooth-skinned Jacob so he would feel like his hairy brother if Isaac touched him.  She dressed him in Esau’s special garment, which had once belonged to Adam.

 The ruse went well…

 when he realized that he had blessed the “wrong” son, he saw Gehinnom (loose and largely inaccurate translation: “hell”) open up under Esau…

Read more.

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“Like Father, Like Son” (2008)

…  Abraham had been married to Sarah for decades without children.  Then she was abducted for a short time by Abimelech, the Philistine king.  A short time later, Sarah was pregnant.  It didn’t take much for the “Yentahs” in the neighborhood to start spreading nasty rumors as to the paternity of Isaac.

In order to stop the rumors…

Read more.

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“Closed Eyes and Closed Mouths” (2006) 

Abraham had a total of eight sons.  However, most of them did not represent the future of Israel.  Abraham passed his legacy on to his second son Isaac …

Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob.  Who would be the standard bearer of the descendents of Isaac?

Esau was perhaps the greatest con man who ever lived.  He managed to pull the wool over the eyes of his father Isaac … his mother, however, was not impressed…

Read more.

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“Red Beans and Redskins” (2003) 

… In my 20+ years as a rabbi, I have learned that there are certain “safe” topics. (E.g., loving your fellow man and giving charity) Some topics are more “iffy,” (Sabbath observance and Kashruth) while others are downright volatile (intermarriage and “terminating” pre-born children). Many listeners and readers want a rabbi to inspire and uplift them, but only as long as he minds his own #$%&*#@*! business.

… there have been times that I’ve managed to get lots of people upset with me. Today’s topic fits into that category. So, I hope you’ll read this with an open mind. If you agree, that’s great. If you disagree, there’s always next week! 🙂 …

Read more.

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“An ‘FFB’ Marries a ‘BT’” (2002)

… They were an unusual couple…

His father was a respected scholar. Her father was known to his neighbors as a degenerate. He had attended the finest Yeshiva. She was self-taught. In his youth, he had been insulated from the evils of the outside world. She had lived in the outside world.

His family welcomed her. Her family wasn’t thrilled about the marriage. She had told them that she was marrying him whether they liked it or not.

Could this marriage work?…

Read more.

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“Walking the Talk” (2001)

In an unprecedented act of “Divinely endorsed deception,” Jacob embarks upon a mission to fool his father. Jacob is an honest and gentle man, while his brother Esau is a rogue and a fraud. Esau has managed to fool his blind father Isaac into thinking that he is worthy of receiving his blessing…

Rebecca understands the true nature of her wicked son Esau. She has been given the prophetic message that this miscarriage of justice cannot be permitted to take place. She places goatskin on Jacob’s smooth-skinned arms so that he will feel like his hairy brother Esau. She assures him that under these unusual circumstances, it is permitted to mislead his father into thinking that he is Esau…

Still, Jacob was uncomfortable with the ruse. He understood that this was necessary. His mother was a prophetess, and she said that this had to be done… Yet, pretending to be someone he wasn’t didn’t sit well with Jacob…

Read more.

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“Double Trouble” (2000) 

…One Mitzvah that was very important even to a scoundrel like Esau was honoring his father; he would never do anything to hurt Isaac. He would wait patiently for his father’s death before murdering his brother. But why did he say, “The days of mourning for my father are coming”? Why didn’t he just say, “When my father dies, I’ll kill Jacob?” Why the emphasis on mourning?…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on November 26, 2003 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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