Date: November 16th 2017


Eisav (Esau).was entitled to a greater monetary inheritance than his younger brother Yaakov (the Forefather Jacob); he was the firstborn son of the Forefather Yitzchak (Isaac), Additionally, being the firstborn, Eisav was the primary heir to the spiritual and ethical legacy of Avraham (Abraham) and Yitzchak.

Parshat Toldot relates that on one fateful day, Eisav came home tired and hungry, and he found Yaakov cooking a bean stew. Eisav asked for some of the stew and offered his own birthright as payment. Yaakov agreed to the ‘deal.’

Eisav’s situation was not desperate. Though tired and hungry, he seemingly was not in mortal danger. Why then did he exchange the everlasting benefit of the birthright for such an insignificant and fleeting physical pleasure?

The Commentary of Rashi explains Eisav’s logic. One of his responsibilities as the eldest son would have been to serve in the Temple when it would be built. While that was a great honor, it was dangerous for one who did not maintain a high level of purity and abstinence. For example, one who performed the Temple service while slightly intoxicated could be immediately struck down by G-d. Eisav reasoned that retaining his first born status could lead to his death. It was therefore advisable to dispose of it – even for nothing more than a plate of beans.

The Torah (ibid. 34) relates that in addition to selling the birthright, Eisav also ridiculed it. Explaining Rashi, the Commentary of Mizrachi (by Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, 1455-1525) writes that this took place only AFTER the sale. Eisav originally valued his birthright. But once he exchanged it for some beans, Eisav began mocking what he had just sold.

This reaction requires closer examination. It may be that he sold the birthright because he reasoned that if he served in the Temple, he could die. But why did Eisav set out to belittle the birthright in general? Think of a man who lost his job and was therefore forced to sell his house and move into a small apartment for that was all he could afford. Would he then set out to mock the idea of living in a house that was far larger and more comfortable than his apartment? Yet, that is what Eisav did. He first sold his birthright and then began mocking its essential worth.

What was the reason behind Eisav’s mockery, and why did it begin only after the sale.

Rabbi Liebowitz clarified the meaning of the Mizrachi’s words: There are times when one’s own conduct is motivated by a desire to create a smokescreen – even to the person himself. For example, a lazy college student might offer serial reasons for why he did not study over a term: sports activities, social engagements, headaches, and so forth. Laziness was the real one making the excuses.

When such people flunk out of school because they didn’t study, they might then suddenly realize the bitter truth. Their non-performance was simply due to laziness and that the explanations for not doing schoolwork were nothing but a cover-up for the real cause – their own sloth.

At this point, the following subconscious psychological chain-reaction may then take place. The inner pain brought on by recognizing that they alone are responsible for flunking out of school will be hard to bear. So… they will suddenly begin to disparage and mock the education they were receiving as being of no value and not worth working for. Once this false perception is internally adopted, it creates the fiction that little was lost by flunking out. This eases the inner discomfort and guilt, for it makes what they did seem less condemnable. This false logic and mockery is an unseen subconscious psychological defense mechanism that offers protection from the pain of confronting one’s own inadequacy and wrongdoing.

Eisav was a sinful person. Quoting the Midrash, Rashi writes that when Eisav came home tired on that day, he was in fact tired from committing murder. As one who lived for the “here and now,” Eisav was willing to part with anything in order to acquire the bean stew; that was what he lusted for at that moment. To explain his self-destructive actions as they were taking place, Eisav rationalized to himself that he sold the birthright due to a fear of dying in the Temple that would be later built.

After those events transpired, the reality of what he just did struck. Eisav had sold eternity for a plate of beans, relying on a bogus excuse – a fear of being harmed while serving in the Temple. This awareness made it very unsettling and painful for Eisav to live with himself. So… Eisav began to disparage the birthright - but only AFTER the it was sold. Eisav’s mockery was a psychological defense mechanism that was necessitated by his own inner torment over what he had just done.

Applied to everyday life, this insight of the Torah enables people to understand the phenomenon of mockery more deeply. Very possibly, as in the case of Eisav, what is really happening when derision takes place is not what meets the eye. The ridicule is not a consequence of rational thought. Instead, it is a psychological defense mechanism that protects people from owing up to the reality of their own deplorable past choices that were foolish, self-destructive, immoral, and so forth.

Accordingly, based on this text, when it comes to one’s own ethical and religious thinking and choices, a tendency toward hostility and derision toward others can be a telltale sign. It is often a red flag that might be pointing to the existence of some very improper past behavior acted out by the person doing the mocking.

This can be a valuable tool. It can help a person gain insight into the psychodynamic of mockery both in others and in cone’s own self as well.

This is an edited version of the Dvar Torah that was previously emailed on November 1st 2013. It was adapted from the teachings of Rabbi Alter Chanoch Henach Hakohen Liebowitz (1918 - 2008).

You are subscribed to Jewish Heritage Initiative using

You may automatically unsubscribe from this list or change your subscription
by visiting

For more information, visit or send mail to

Mailing List Powered by Dada Mail

<< Previous: JHI Dvar Torah on Parshat Chaye Sara

| Archive Index |

Next: JHI Dvar Torah on Parshat Vayetze >>

(archive rss , atom )

this list's archives:

An occasional mailing from the Jewish Heritage Initiative on relevant Torah topics.
Visit us online at

Subscribe/Unsubscribe on Jewish Heritage Initiative

* Required

Powered by Dada Mail 3.0.3 Stable
Copyright © 1999-2008, Simoni Creative.