"'Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?'"
Last week's Torah reading of Chayei Sara, (Genesis 32:1-25:18), describes at great length the negotiations leading up to the purchase of the Machpelah cave by Avraham Avinu - our forefather Abraham. Midrash tells us that Avraham first entered the cave many years earlier, when chasing after a runaway calf which he intended to serve to the three wayfarers who visited him at his tent, (Genesis 18:2). Once inside he saw Adam and Chava - Adam and Eve - lying in repose. From that very moment he felt that he just had to have possession of that cave. Why? Avraham was himself, as it were, the continuation of Adam some twenty generations later, and the way of G-d that Avraham had been living and teaching was, in fact, the tikun - the rectification of Adam - the first man (and the everyman). The errors that Adam made, as recorded in the opening chapters of Genesis, caused his own spiritual stature, (and that of his descendants), to be diminished. By rekindling the love between G-d and man, Avraham was beginning a process through which man can return to the Adam that G-d first created; that is, the immortal Adam, the Adam who knows that life doesn't end with death, but that when our soul departs from this world its destiny is in the world to come.
Clearly, then, Avraham would make every effort to acquire the cave, but why did he negotiate the transaction so publicly? Avraham knew that his ownership of the cave would be contested throughout the ages. He wanted his descendants to never waver in their claim, (see Rashi's commentary on Genesis 1:1), not simply because it is a foothold in the land of Israel, and not only because it is a bridge to the world to come, but because of both these reasons it comes to complete the message of Avraham's teaching to the world: There is a hereafter, and how a person conducts himself in this world is determined by his belief in the reality of the next world. If life ends here, why should we transcend our earthly limitations by emulating G-d's qualities through our deeds?
This upcoming Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Toldot, and in it we are made privy to the great struggle that was waged between the two grandsons of Avraham: Yaakov - Jacob - and Esau. It would appear that both boys were natural leaders and that both boys followed their own distinct paths leading to their own truths. Yitzchak - Isaac, we are told, valued the potential that he saw in Esau, and hoped that he would prove worthy of the birthright that ostensibly was his, having emerged first from his mother's womb. Rivka - Rebecca, who recognized the character flaws inherent in Esau, herself having grown up in a household containing some less than savory characters, sought to encourage and direct her son Yaakov, whose way was the way of Torah, embodying the qualities of truth and pleasantness.
But it was the two brothers themselves who, each having examined the way of their grandfather Avraham, drew the conclusions that would direct them in their own paths:
"Now Jacob cooked a pottage, and Esau came from the field, and he was faint. And Esau said to Jacob, "Pour into [me] some of this red, red [pottage], for I am faint"; he was therefore named Edom. And Jacob said, "Sell me as of this day your birthright." Esau replied, "Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?" And Jacob said, "Swear to me as of this day"; so he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and a pottage of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and left, and Esau despised the birthright." (Genesis 25:29-34)
Where is the "giveaway" that the birthright truly belongs to Yaakov and not to Esau? Where do we see that Esau has irreversibly strayed from the teachings of his grandfather Avraham?
"Behold, I am going to die; so why do I need this birthright?" (ibid) If life ends here, why should we transcend our earthly limitations by emulating G-d's qualities through our deeds? If life ends here, why shouldn't self-aggrandizement be our goal? If life ends here, why should we not employ all means of violence and deception to get our hands on all we wish to possess? If life ends here, what use is a birthright whose value is not as a trophy to be hung on the wall, but a precious inheritance, a way of love and truth, to be handed down to our children and to our children's children?
Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK, as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Avraham Avinu's purchase of the Machpelah, and his message to his children and to the world, in doing so. And what exactly do Avraham's grandchildren, Yaakov and Esau make of Avraham's acquisition of the gateway from this world to the next? Also, the Temple Institute's new 1000 entry ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HOLY TEMPLE KNOWLEDGE.