Toldos: Peacock or Vulture
Esau is an enigma; he acts like the coarsest of individuals, yet his speech is spiced with the politeness. What's the lesson that history learns from him?
by Rabbi Lazer Brody
"Please pour this red stuff down my throat..." (Genesis 25:30)
Jacob cooked a pot of red lentils, one of the types of foods that mourners customarily eat. Why? Rashi explains that Jacob's grandfather Abraham died that same day, five years before his time, so that he wouldn't see the five terrible transgressions that Esau committed that day.
Esau's request from Jacob, that he "please pour this red stuff down my throat", demonstrates a gross incongruity of speech. From one standpoint, he speaks in a crass and most unrefined style: "pour this red stuff down my throat". On the other hand, he prefaces his gruff request with the word of politeness, "please".
We wouldn't expect to hear words of etiquette from a person as vulgar as Esau, who has no qualms about murdering people to satiate his animal lust and appetites. Yet, we must remember that Esau was a master actor; he'd put on his finest clothes to serve his father dinner. His respect for elders was of course artificial, a mere show, for behind their back, he spoke about them with disdain.
The original Hebrew reveals some deep secrets about Esau and his nature, characteristics that would be revealed in his offspring to the detriment of all of mankind, especially the Jewish People. Haliteni na min ha'adom – "please stuff this red..." – the first letters of the first three words in this passage are the Hebrew letters of hey, nun and mem. Rearranged as hey-mem-nun, the letters spell the name "Haman". Haman was a direct descendent of Esau. So were the Nazis.
The Gemara in tractate Megilla refers to Germany as "Germany of Edom", the Edomites being the offspring of Esau. There name comes from the Hebrew word adom, which refers both to Esau's red hair and to the red lentils that he ate.
An close observation of Nazi Germany reveals the great extent that they continued in the footsteps of the ancestor Esau. Esau says "please" before he behaves like a beast and stuffs food down his throat. Probably the language with the highest level of etiquette in the world is German – bitte schoen, danke schoen, and so forth. The Nazis attained the highest levels of science and technology in their time. They held music and the arts in highest esteem. Their society was highly orderly. They had the strictest laws against cruelty to animals, for a person could be incarcerated if he were caught kicking a dog. Their streets and sidewalks were impeccably clean.
As with Esau, the Nazi's culture and etiquette was only skin deep. They were vultures with the veneer of a peacock. Gluttony was (and still is) a national pastime, as demonstrated by the bierfests, the periodic beer festivals all over the country. After a few beers, the vulture forgets his peacock etiquette.
Civilization asks itself how the world's most cultured and educated nation became overnight the world's most sadistic savages who built history's most notorious death machine. The answer is simple, alluded to in the above passage. The culture and etiquette of Esau is only skin-deep. Neither he nor his offspring ever accepted the Seven Noahide Laws, which are the basis of human decency. Furthermore, Esau doesn't have Torah and he doesn't learn ethics. His goals are power, money and bodily-appetite satisfaction. Character refinement and improvement is not a part of Esau's agenda.
We can therefore understand why, as our sages teach us, Esau forever hates Jacob. Esau thinks he's fine until he looks at Jacob. Esau wears the finest tailored suit, drives an Audi or Mercedes, makes a seven-figure annual income and is at the top of his profession. The fact that he will readily lie, steal and even kill to attain what he wants is immaterial. Watch how Esau pursues his bodily appetites and you'll see how quickly the peacock's pomp appearance becomes the black feathers of a vulture.
For Esau, the body is an end in itself; for Jacob, the body is a vehicle to serve Hashem.
Compare how Esau and Jacob respectively eat. Esau wants to be force-fed like a camel and drinks himself into a drunken stupor.
Jacob washes his hands and says a blessing. Before he eats a morsel of bread, he sits at the table and says another blessing. He eats slowly in complete composure and pushes his plate away before he's satiated. He then makes a final blessing over his meal. Jacob with his Torah, his lofty level of morals, his emuna and his refined character, is a dazzling bright light compared to Esau, who is a façade or respectability, but the cruelest and crassest of gluttons underneath.
Esau and Jacob were twins. The Torah and its ethics are what makes them different. One who chooses a life of Torah and service of Hashem chooses the path of Jacob. One who opts for the path of bodily gratification and pleasure seeking chooses the path of Esau. The choice is up to each of us.
Rabbi Lazer Brody was born in Washington, D.C. in 1949. After receiving his bachelor's degree in agriculture from the University of Maryland in 1970, he moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Forces regular army, and served in one of the elite special-forces units. He is a decorated combat veteran of two wars and numerous of counter-insurgence and anti-terrorist missions on both sides of Israel's borders.
Rabbi Brody is the English-language editor of Breslev Israel's highly popular English-language website at www.breslev.co.il, and the founder and director of Emuna Outreach. Between Breslov Israel and Emuna Outreach, he devotes his time to spreading emuna and particularly the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev around the globe.
"Lazer Beams," Rabbi Brody's award-winning daily web journal, has been instrumental in helping tens of thousands of people around the globe find joy and fulfillment in their lives.