The Bowel of Beans
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Yaacov saw the big picture; he saw the unfolding of Jewish history. Esav couldn’t get past a bowl of beans. This is both the story and the message of this week’s Parsha.
It’s not that Esav didn’t appreciate his birthright. Our sages teach us that Yaacov had been trying to buy the birthright from Esav since they were conceived but Esav didn’t want to part with it. Later, when Yaacov took Esav’s blessing away, Esav screamed such a shrilling scream that the earth shook. Never again until the persecution of the Jews in the time of Mordechei and Haman was there such a “great and bitter scream”. He screamed over the fact that his brother took his birthright and now his bracho. Esav loved and valued his birthright. He understood that being the b’chor would make him the progenitor of a great people. He understood that his birthright meant chosenness and eternity. So why did he sell it?
Because he was hungry. He understood and believed in theory but in practice there was the bowl of beans. It looked delicious and its fragrance filled the room. In order to satisfy his immediate urge he sold the farm. He couldn’t see past his appetite. The second he swallowed he immediately regretted the entire sale. He realized that he had traded eternity for a moment of immediate gratification.
Yaacov saw the big picture. Esav saw a bowl of beans.
In this weeks Parsha we have more to learn from Esav than we have to learn from Yaacov. We’ve all seen marriages, businesses, Yeshivos, and individuals fall apart because they couldn’t get past the bowl of beans. I have personally sat at meetings where spectacular ideas have been brought to the table. Ideas that I was sure would positively change the direction of our people. A month, a year and a decade goes by and nothing happens. I inquire, what happened to that great idea? It’s always the same story, when it began to move and to happen there was a political struggle, a power struggle, a bowel of beans. The idea never saw the light of day. Sometimes even beautiful families break apart and suffer over small stuff. What a shame.
Kamtza and Bar Kamtza destroyed Yerushalayim. They couldn’t get past the bowl of beans and there went Jerusalem ! Hillel and Shamai saw the big picture, they saw the future. They put aside their differences and as partners were able to restore the Jewish people, and here we are!
I’m reminded of the famous Talmudic story. Yeravam ben Nevat was an evil king. He corrupted the Jewish people. The Talmud tells us that G-d grabbed Yeravam ben Nevat by the collar and shook him. “Yeravam”, said G-d, “Repent!” If you do Teshuvah Me you and King David will walk together in Gan Eden!” Pay attention to the order in G-d’s promise – G-d first, Yeravam second and then King David last. But Yeravam was insecure, he wanted to hear again that he came before King David in this holy procession. His demanding two-word question to G-d has echoed through history. “Mi B’Rosh?!” Who’s going first; me or David? He sold the farm. He was willing to do the hard part, he was willing to do Teshuva. His mind and his heart were directed properly but he couldn’t get past the bowl of beans.
The message is clear. Choose your battles. Distinguish between things that get on our nerves and things that get in the way. Put things that annoy us into perspective. Choose eternity over momentary pleasure. Don’t never get stuck.
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