Today’s Torah portion introduces us to Yakov and Eisav, twin brothers who are as different as night and day. Eisav was born first, “and then his brother came out, his hand holding onto Eisav’s heel.” A gnawing doubt oppresses many Jews about their own worth and the value of their heritage. To be sure, all of us are “proud to be Jews,” at least we say we are, but we do manage to betray ourselves. There is this tendency to hold onto Eisav’s heel, to prefer the unworthiness of Eisav to the sublime lifestyle of Yakov. When Yakov offers to buy Eisav’s birthright for a bowl of soup, Eisav immediately agrees, and has no regard for his spiritual birthright. Anti-semites have exploited this biblical episode to malign and vilify the Jew. “See!” they cry with glee. “See, this is the way the Jew does business. Even Yakov, one of their Patriarchs, was inconsiderate and unscrupulous in his dealings. He forced a famished brother to sell his birthright for a pot of soup.” The saddest part of all this is that some of our own people are mouthing this same slander. Those who make these slanderous accusations conveniently overlook, while others are ignorant of, a pertinent fact, i.e. that the birthright did not provide Yakov with any material advantages. It merely made him the spiritual successor of his father and grandfather. This is the reason that the spiritually minded Yakov wanted to possess it, and the materialistic Eisav was willing to sell it. The Jew who conceals every indication of his identity lest he be rejected by Eisav’s society, the Jew who prefers Eisav’s concepts of morality and religion to his own, the Jew who cannot with equanimity recognize the uniqueness of Israel, is still holding on to Eisav’s heel. The American Jew has hit a low in assimilation, when he considers him/herself a good American if he/she is a follower of sports, music, poker, movies, etc. If we, the children of Yakov, continue to insist on brotherhood with Eisav and Yishmael and seek their approval in forging our own heritage and rights to our own land, then the hands of Eisav and Yishmael will be upon us. We need not apologize for who and what we are. We are to be reminded that we are a light unto the nations of the world and we should act like it.
Rabbi Gabe Elias