This week I am excited to have a guest blog from my son Hillel Steinmetz, who is currently studying at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa in Israel.
Man’s natures have been classically divided into two. There is the intellectual man and the spontaneous man. The intellectual man is a man of science, calculation and rationalization; he seeks to conquer, categorize and understand the world, its events and processes. The spontaneous man is the polar opposite of the intellectual man. The spontaneous man does not seek to understand the world with science but instead values human experience above all. The spontaneous man will live life to the fullest as he learns to value human interaction and search for meaning.
In this week’s Torah reading we read parashat Toldot –which can be translated as “stories”. In the parsha, Rebecca and Isaac have twin boys. These boys are not identical in any way. Esau the bechor, or first-born child, is described as an Ish Sadeh a man of the outdoors. He was tasked to hunt for the family. Jacob, the younger of the twins, is described by the Torah as an Ish Tam, literally, a mild mannered fellow. Ish Tam is interpreted by the Torah commentators as a sage man.
Esau has just recently returned home from a hunt and is ravenous. He sees Jacob cooking a stew. Famished and tired he asks Jacob for “some of that red stuff to gulp down” (25:30). Jacob takes advantage of the situation and demands Esau’s Bechora or birthright. Esau replies, “I am at the point of death so of what use is my birthright to me?” Jacob demands that Esau take this an oath. So Esau swears away his birthright, eats, drinks and goes away.
The Torah continues with Isaac who has lost his eyesight and is close to death. Isaac asks Esau to hunt and prepare for him his final meal, before blessing him with his birthright. Rebecca sees this as the opportunity for Jacob to receive his father’s blessing and birthright. She dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, so that way if Isaac touches him he will believe it is Esau. Isaac blesses Jacob and Jacob leaves, effectively taking Esau’s birthright. When Esau returns from his hunt he is shocked to hear that Jacob had been blessed. Esau is outraged and distraught and wants revenge against his brother. Fearing for his life, Jacob flees to the land of Haran. The grudges and hostilities between the twins are harbored for years.
Jacob and Esau perfectly represent the aforementioned natures of man. Esau is impulsive, spontaneous and dramatic, in stark contrast to Jacob who is mild and pensive.
Neither of these natures of man is perfect on their own. If we think and function only “scientifically”, we will lose touch with being human. If we function solely based on intellectual principles, we will forget the value and importance of human interaction, ethics and the importance of living.
If we only act according to our will and impulses, we will also lose touch with what it means to be human. Although in being more spontaneous we may understand ethics and human interaction better, it will be a waste because it will all be discarded for what we feel at the spur of the moment.
Parshat Toldot teaches us about human nature and that the ideal way to act is with a properly weighted combination of man’s intellect and man’s spontaneity. Had Jacob been more impulsive he may have recognized that it was wrong to take advantage of his brother and to lie to his father. Had Esau been milder mannered and less dramatic he may have foreseen a huge mistake. Both of them could have easily avoided years of fighting.
Our nature should not be determined by one perspective but by many. We must constantly switch and mix these perspectives to deal with the various challenges and events of life. We should learn from the mistakes of our elders before us. We should learn to be the most human we can be.