Parshat Toldot: The relevance of goodness

“And Esau said, ‘Behold, I am about to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first’; and he swore to him, and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.” (Genesis 25:32)

Our oral tradition tells us that Esau and his descendants represent negative traits and trends in consciousness, derived from ego’s sensual desires and materialistic fantasies and illusions. By their temporary nature, they are destined to disappear once human consciousness enthrones goodness as the original and destined ruling principle in God’s creation.

Esau was aware of this, and in his free will he chose such predicament, even knowing that God created evil as a reference and not a choice, for us to choose goodness. In this context we understand evil as the negation of the goodness that life is, and such as it also represents death. Thus we also realize that living in that which rejects what is meaningful and transcendent in life leads us to make death a way of living.

This brings us to the moral and ethical ramifications of the meaning of birthright, which is the fundamental reason of the transaction that took place, in regards to the Jewish identity’s approach to good and evil.

In this sense, birthright is not limited to the exclusive inheritance of the first born in terms of material possessions but intends to be perpetuated by the descendants of those who hold such principle as the reason and purpose in life.

Thus we understand Jacob’s decision to give Joseph the birthright, for the latter demonstrated to be the worthiest to bear what the legacy that his father, grandfather and great grandfather received from their God. Hence Judaism as the Jewish identity is what makes the children of Israel the chosen people to live from, with, by and for goodness as God’s will for human consciousness in the material world.

This brings us to Esau’s choice to live by the sword that pursues ego’s materialistic fantasies and illusions at the cost and expense of the ethical frame inherent in the ways and attributes of goodness.

In Esau’s choice there is no meaning in being, having and doing the “loving kindness and truth” by which life acquires its reason and purpose in this world. This episode reminds us the differences between Cain’s vegetable offerings and Abel’s animal offerings that we learn in the first portion of the Torah, as well as what made Ham different from his brothers Shem and Yafeth.

Our sages teach that Cain’s offerings represent living by the lower traits and trends in consciousness, attached to the sensual and bodily instincts. Like vegetable life, these keep us static as trees that exist only to constantly produce and reproduce their fruits as the only function that they are able to perform.

On the other hand, Abel’s offering represents raw talents and qualities that when properly developed and guided can take us to higher aims in life. Like domesticated animals, these are able to move towards the direction that we can productively conduct our lives. In the case of Ham and his brothers, he represents living subordinated to the lower traits and trends that become the attachments, obsessions and addictions that make us enslaved or subservient to them.

Thus are also the differences between Esau and Jacob, as the remarked distinction between the strictness of the positive and productive ethical frame of goodness and the recklessness of the negative and destructive expressions of evil.

All this brings us to the awareness of what defines the Jewish identity as the birthright, also understood as the priesthood with which we acquire, possess and manifest goodness as the fulfillment of God’s will for the human consciousness in this world. Hence that is the reason of our bond with the Creator, as the prophet reminds us.

“I have loved you, says the Lord. Yet you have said, ‘How have You loved us’? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? says the Lord, yet I loved Jacob.” (Malachi 1:2)

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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