Written by: Rabbi Avrohom S. Moller
The Torah describes the birth of Yaakov Avinu and Esav and contrasts them right away. Esav is described as ruddy and hairy and his name Esav, means he’s already “made” and finished. In contrast Yaakov’s physical appearance is not mentioned at all. Instead, his behavior of being an “innocent (or wholesome) man always in the study tent” is given as his description. Esav is defined by his external appearance because that is his path in life. He did not see life’s mission as one of constant growth and improvement. He saw the purpose of life to be an ongoing pursuit of desires using his talents and the opportunities for worldly pleasure as they present themselves. This outlook is reflected in his response to the negotiation with Yaakov about the birthright. Esav scoffs at the idea of leadership and responsibility, “I am going to die. What do I need this for?” He is saying that life is short, and he doesn’t have time for that sort of thing. (Remember the bumper sticker – He who dies with most toys wins)
Our great king Dovid was also described as being ruddy. This means that he was also a bold person, capable of bloodshed. The difference between him and Esav is that he spent his life refining his character and struggling with the challenging aspects of his personality. That is a life which is well spent and that is how one achieves greatness.
At the end of the parsha, it is interesting that Esav himself understands that he has missed the potential in his life when he realizes that he won’t receive the blessings of his father. He complains that Yaakov took his firstborn rights. This seems odd since he scoffed at the whole idea earlier in his life. It is obvious that when Esav stood at this major crossroad in his life where his destiny and that of his progeny were being determined, he was able to comprehend that growth and responsibility are the true purpose of life and that he had missed the mark.
This stark contrast between a life of growth and self-improvement vs. self-indulgence and regression is important to understand early in life. It enables us to set a course that will give us a life of meaning, fulfillment and goodness.