“The boys grew up. Esau became a skilled trapper, a man of the field. Jacob was a scholarly man who remained with the tents.”
— Genesis 25:27
Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins, but they couldn’t have been more different.
As they grew, Esau became a hunter and a man who demanded instant gratification. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it. We see this in the episode in this week’s Torah portion, Toledot.
Esau came in from the field, tired and hungry. Jacob was cooking a bowl of lentils. When Esau demanded some, Jacob offered to sell it to him in return for Esau’s birthright.
Esau said, “Look, I am starving and about to die. What good is my birthright to me?” The Torah shows us that he did not value his birthright at all. In fact, he was glad to be rid of it. It represented responsibilities and obligations he had no intention to fulfill.
As opposed to Esau who was interested only in material things, Jacob was a man who was self-disciplined, a scholar and respecter of the traditions of his father and grandfather. Jacob understood that in order to achieve anything in life, a person must work patiently and have faith. Nothing that is achieved quickly and easily is worthwhile. But if we put our best efforts into it, with G-d’s help, we will succeed.
While Esau represented instant gratification, Jacob represented a focus on the eternal. We do not have to forego all of the pleasures of this world. But we do have to live a life of faith and service to G-d and others. If we do so, we will feel a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. When we live only for the pleasures of the moment, like Esau, we end up with a hunger that can never be satisfied.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)