Our birthright: A sacred relationship

Brigitte Rosenberg is Senior Rabbi at  United Hebrew Congregation and is  a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical Association.

By Rabbi Brigitte Rosenberg

In this week’s parashah, Toldot, we read about Jacob and Esau, the twin boys of Isaac and Rebekah.  Their story is one of differing personalities, sibling rivalry and struggle throughout their lives.  

We read, “The boys grew up, and Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.” (Genesis 25:27-28). 

In our parashah we learn that Esau was quick to sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of a stew.  

What exactly is a birthright and how is it that Esau could sell it to Jacob?

According to the dictionary, a birthright goes to the eldest son and generally includes property and continuing the family name, history and traditions.  In ancient times, the birthright was a very sacred thing.  So I assume that Jacob created a legal means by which he was able to purchase/trade Esau’s birthright for a bowl of stew.  

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Why would Esau agree to this?  Perhaps the birthright didn’t mean much to him or perhaps he didn’t understand that it went beyond the tangible and into the spiritual.  He was a man of the “open country,” the world was his, waiting for him to take it on. 

And yet for Jacob, the one who stayed close to home, the birthright was everything.  One wonders what he saw that Esau did not. What led him to ponder and consider the importance of his family’s birthright and to ensure that he was the one to get it?  

This birthright wasn’t about property and tangible inheritance, but rather the inheritance of a sacred relationship with G-d that began with Abraham, was passed to Isaac and then on to Jacob.   

What of us today?  While we do not have the same traditions of birthright and our inheritance laws are very different from those in the Torah, there is still much for us to consider.  

What of our birthright, our connection to the sacred relationship with G-d that was passed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and to us?  Do we think about the family, the people who came before us? Do we consider their struggles, their joys, the things they did that make our families what they are?  Do we think about the challenges that they may have overcome to ensure that we have a birthright?  

Or do we take it for granted and let it fall by the wayside, forgetting our own responsibility of cultivating it and passing it on to the next generation?

We live in an incredibly busy world.  There is so much going on that it is easy for us to be like Esau, to think nothing of letting our birthright go.  We live each day, making our way in the world and taking things as they come, often not recognizing the blessings around us and the daily gifts that come from G-d.  

It is easy to forget that the world is bigger than us and that the world is waiting for us, in partnership with G-d, to act, to be, to do.  How much better are we, our world, when we accept the sacred, beautiful birthright that is ours for the taking and cherish it?  

Yes, it takes work.  There are “rules” to be followed and considered, as this is what it means to inherit the birthright, but imagine life without it.  Imagine life without the beauty of your family history, the traditions, and Torah.

We are blessed, each of us, whether Jews by birth or by choice, with an incredible birthright, that of Torah and a relationship with G-d.  May we never take it for granted.  Instead, let us cherish it, learn from it, figure out the ways in which it can and does bring blessings into our lives. 

And let us teach it to our children, so that it continues to be passed from generation to generation.  From Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and to each of us.