Birthright Pride Death

November 24, 2022, Israel


Scholar, warrior. 

"And Esau said, 'I am about to die, what do I need the birthright for?'"  (Bereshith, Genesis, Chapter 25, verse 32)

Now let's put it into context. This is the Biblical story of the two brothers, Yaakov/Jacob and Esau, who were feuding for most of their lives even in the womb. Esau is a hunter, one day he comes home from his hunting, and he is famished. He sees that Jacob has just prepared a delicious looking stew and he wants some. Jacob takes advantage of this situation and asks for a very high price, Esau's birthright. 

In Biblical times the birthright translated not only into honor but also into a greater share of the father's inheritance. Being the oldest child had its privileges. The brothers were twins, but Esau was born first. 

Esau agrees to the high price, at this moment all he can think about his satisfying his hunger. He exaggerates and says, of what use is the birthright to me now as I am about to die of hunger.  Instead of holding off for a little while he agrees to these terms and as a result comes to despise his own birthright, as the scripture tells us. 

Now there are various different translations, or interpretations of Esau's words, such as: What do I need the birthright for as I am a hunter and may die soon, or, as I am starving now why do I need to think of the distant future? or what profit can the birthright bring me now?

I would like to suggest another meaning as well. What is the birthright? It has two elements: prestige and money. Being the first-born male of a family carried with it a certain prestige. In families of kings this could mean you are the next on the throne. It had financial value as well, as the first-born received a larger share of the inheritance. Thus, we are looking at two of the most important issues to man: money and prestige. 

When we face death, when we face the moment of truth, all our worldly concerns become meaningless. All our petty grievances appear shallow, our financial status is of little concern. When facing death men unite, yesterday's bickering is put aside, life transcends our rivalries and feuds. Yesterday's insult becomes meaningless and is easily forgiven, who is ranked higher is of no significance, the "Birthright" status is of little concern when "I am about to die". 

Jacob demands that before the transaction is complete Esau take an oath. What is Jacob asking for? on the surface he simply wants to validate and confirm this strange transaction, but perhaps for us there is a deeper meaning here, something beyond a petty brotherly rivalry from three millennia ago. After all the Bible is not just a collection of stories, and it is not meant as a history book, it is meant as a work of eternal lessons. So perhaps Jacob is teaching us the following:

Esau, at this moment when you feel you are facing death you have had a revelation, a moment of enlightenment, you have realized that in the moment of truth money and honor count for little. Now I don't want this moment to pass, I want you to learn something from this. Swear to me today that you will never forget this lesson, take a holy oath so that this lesson shall not be lost upon you in future days. Remember that you have come to realize that fame and fortune, status and wealth are ultimately fleeting, but life and death are divine. Live a life of meaning and your eventual death too will have meaning. Make your life eternal by living eternal values. Free yourself of false status and wealth.

Today, November 24th, 2022, marks one year since my dear mother's death, according to the Western calendar (the Hebrew calendar uses a different date). One year ago today my brother's and I laid her to eternal rest in the land of our forefathers and mothers. None of us live forever.  A very dear friend said to me recently, "We all die, the only question is did we live a meaningful life, did we leave a legacy behind?"(She is currently 90, may God bless her with many more years of good health). When we breath our last let us know that we lived a life that left the world a better place. 

Today has been a very painful day as I recall my dear mother and yearn to hear her sweet voice and see her angelic smile. And yet, I know, she is gone from this earth. What is left for me, for all of us, is to live a better life, free of petty jealousies and rivalries, free of false pride and ego, free of the fleeting honor of this life. 

When we face the reality of life and death, we understand both better. Jacob and Esau live on in our heritage to teach us, our own parents and loved ones live on to teach us. Let us learn!


Books by Moshe Katz

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