12/2/2016 - TOLDOT/GENESIS
D'var by Alex Bolotovsky, Director of Institutional Advancement
In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we meet the twins Jacob and Esau. Esau is born first with Jacob following close behind, grabbing onto Esau’s foot! Esau being only a second or so older has held great significance—it gave him the birthright and with it, the family legacy, greater inheritance, etc.
Jacob and Esau grow up to be quite different; Esau becomes a big, burly man, a hunter with a wild spirit, while Jacob becomes a nerdy homebody, quiet and obedient. One day, Esau comes home from hunting tired and hungry. Jacob is making some stew and after Esau asks for it, makes him a deal: Esau’s birthright, for a bowl of stew.
On the surface this seems like a crazy story; why sell your inheritance and legacy for some stew? Looking deeper, this story embodies a failed cost-benefit analysis and lack of thought about the future. Esau thinks, “I’m hungry right now. I get the benefit of a delicious meal to satisfy my hunger, and the cost comes way far down the line sometime in the uncertain future.” From the outside looking in, it is clear to us that trading a birthright, which has social and financial significance, for a measly bowl of soup is silly. However, we make these kinds of decisions for immediate gratification all the time, and every time, from the outside looking in, they are bad decisions.
This is what we can take away from this story. It is important to live life and make decisions that are best for the long run, not just in the immediate. We must make decisions to sometimes be hungry in the present in order for happiness in the future. The Torah teaches us that there are always trade-offs but one should err on making decisions that are best for the future at the cost of immediate gratification.