Monday, November 16, 2009


The sad story of a compulsive consumer

by Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

One of the most famous stories in the Torah is that of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob in exchange for lentil stew, and Isaac mistakenly blessing Jacob towards the end of this portion.

Many plead in poor Esau's defence for being tricked out of his birthright by his own brother. There are even those who tend to see Jacob as the one who cynically took advantage of Esau's condition.

But even at the simplest literal level, we can see that this is only half true. In the same way that Jacob took advantage of Esau's exhaustion, Esau did not value his own birthright. Esau knew only how to listen to his gut instinct and act on his impulses without weighing up the implications...

At the moment of selling, Esau was totally impulsive...and made a wrong decision. But man is the sum total of all his decisions. It is true that there are things in life which are beyond our control. Forces of nature, and (G-d forbid) diseases and death itself. But an incorrect decision about those things which are in our control can harm us and come back like a boomerang even after many years. For a wrong decision resembles an arrow. While the arrow is under man's control he can do with it as he pleases. But the moment he has shot the arrow, he can no longer call it back...

This is what happened to Esau. He let his instinct decide and did not understand exactly how this act would affect him in the future.

I heard a story about Rabbi Alexander Ziskind of Grodno. Every year he broke his fast on Yom Kippur by eating a very bony fish. Why? Because this way he was forced to eat slowly and not devour his food. He decided that even at the moment of the greatest possible hunger, the soul should be in control of the body, and not otherwise.

And thus Esau could be considered the first typical compulsive consumer in the history of mankind. What is a compulsive consumer? Firstly, it is a person who cannot control himself and buys goods simply to satisfy his obsessions. This applies not only to someone who rushes to a store to buy the latest state-of-the art cellular phone on the market even if he doesn't really need one, or the person who upgrades his internet capabilities simply because the company called and encouraged him to do so. A compulsive consumer is mostly a person who is prepared to pay a very high price for something which is basically worthless. How much would a lentil stew be worth? Of course it would have some value, especially if one were hungry. But to give up one's birthright for a lentil stew sounds rather exaggerated.

A compulsive consumer is a person who makes secondary issues his primary concern, and considers essential matters to be subordinate to these.

A most interesting and graphic example of this is the law of the "Ikar and Tafel" as regards the world of blessings. A person eating a banana recites the blessing "Borei pri haadama", while one eating whipped cream recites the blessing "Shehakol nihiya bedvaro". But what happens when someone eats a banana with whipped cream? Which should one bless? The answer is "Borei pri haadama" because in this meal the banana is the main portion (Ikar) and the cream the smaller part (Tafel).

I would say that a person who knows in a similar way how to give essential matters primary importance in his life, is a person who is moving towards a life of blessings, just like the one which Jacob received from his father Isaac.

We can move towards or away from blessings, based on the decisions we make in our lives. That blessing was not, in fact, stolen from Esau. Esau simply lost it along the path he chose.

Previous Drashot
Toldot 5766 - The Brawn and the Brain