2014 / 5775
Strength of Faith
Isaac and Rebecca finally conceive after some twenty barren years, filled with prayer and devotion to God. Following an uncomfortable pregnancy, the twins Jacob and Esau were born – two very different sons who would both travel very distinctly separate paths. It is said that even in the womb they fought, a fight that continued their whole lives.
One famous incident, which highlights their underlying tension and rivalry, is when Esau sells his first born birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. In those days, the birthright was the privilege of divine service, something that was eventually taken away from the first borns and passed to the Tribe of Levi after the sin of the Golden Calf. It was essentially the role of a priest or Cohen today.
However this raises the questions; why would Esau give up his eternal destiny for a bowl of soup? Was he really that hungry?
The answer builds on the back of two things; firstly he didn’t value it. It wasn’t that he was starving and wanted to eat, he just didn’t see the importance of the path and destiny he could have – that of continuing the formation and leadership of the Jewish Nation. Unfortunately for Esau, he didn’t feel like he was giving anything up – he didn’t realise what he had!
Secondly, the Midrash explains that Jacob was preparing lentil stew – significant because lentils are a traditional meal we give to a mourner – as Isaac was sitting shiva for his father Abraham. When Esau walked in and inquired as to the nature of Jacob’s actions he was confronted with an emotional and philosophical dilemma. Could there be a just God if the Great Abraham had died? Esau therefore concluded that God could not exist and wanted to distance himself from his assigned path.
With this perspective, we can clearly see that Esau lost his faith when faced with a challenge. He grew up hearing and seeing the wonders of God, and with the inspiration of his father and grandfather, yet at the first test he seems to fall and renounce his beliefs, casually selling his inherent birthright.
Throughout our existence we face constant challenges; life can throw things our way that force us to question the very core of our faith and beliefs. The events of this past week are such examples. The horrors emanating from our holy city are not reasons to turn away from our traditions, rather we must search for greater depths of faith and understanding. It is difficult to articulate the immense pain we are going through, we can only pray that this ends soon, stay strong with our faith and unite together in peace, shining a light unto the world and showing that we are still here. As we learn from this week’s sedra, we must keep our faith and reignite the flame of Torah within ourselves, in order that we can learn and grow personally from these atrocities. Am Yisrael Chai!
2013 / 5774
In this weeks portion, we have the famous incident when Esav sells his birth-right to his younger brother Yaakov. Following this, at the request of his mother Rebecca, Yaakov takes the blessing from his brother. Yitzchak who by now is old and blind, mistakenly blesses Yaakov in place of Esav, angering Esav to the point that this fuels his hatred and sparks great rivalry.
It is important to understand the function of a blessing, a bracha. We all have free will in life to make decisions. We decide how to act in any given situation, how to spend our money, which subjects to study in school and how to treat each other. That is why it is important to note that whatever Yitzchak’s blessings were to be, his sons would still need to muster the strength of character to act accordingly. Esav would need to control his anger and barbaric tendencies in order to fulfil his father’s wishes, and Yaakov would need the vigour and patience to study hard.
There is great importance on prayer to build our connection with G-d, but there is also the beautiful concept of praying for others and their well-being. It is built into the fabric of our life to offer blessings and good wishes to our friends and family. You may note that in shul on Shabbat morning, we even give thanks and bless the British Royalty and the State of Israel, but these alone are not enough. It is up to us to use the strength and power of such blessings to fulfil our potential and achieve greatness.
And finally, we often pray for bracha in our lives. The real test of a person is how we act when our cards are laid out before us, to really notice and appreciate when good things come our way.