SALT - Friday, II Rosh Chodesh Kislev - November 29, 2019

  • Rav David Silverberg
The Midrash Zuta (Shir Hashirim) observes that all three patriarchs are described with the term “gadol” (“great”).  Avraham’s servant says about his master’s wealth, “va-yigdal” (“he became great” – Bereishit 24:34), and the Torah says about Yitzchak’s success as a farmer while living in Gerar, “va-yigdal ha-ish…ad ki gadal me’od” (“The man became great…until he was exceedingly great” – 26:13).  Finally, the Torah says about Yaakov and Eisav, “Va-yigdelu ha-ne’arim” (“The youths grew up” – 25:27). 
As this final verse speaks of both Yaakov and Eisav, the Midrash Zuta establishes that both brothers were meant to be “gedolim,” equal founders of Am Yisrael.  In the Midrash’s words, “Just as the Name [of God] was bestowed upon Yaakov, so was it supposed to be bestowed upon Eisav.”  The Midrash proceeds to explain that Yaakov and Eisav were expected to jointly build God’s special nation.  Yaakov was to be the founder of the priestly tribe, and Eisav was to be the founder of the monarchy.  However, the Midrash comments, once Eisav sold the birthright to Yaakov, it was said about him, “Bazui ata me’od” – “You are very despised,” referring to the second verse of Ovadya’s prophecy condemning the wicked kingdom of Edom, which descended from Eisav.  After selling the birthright, Eisav forfeited his status as a partner in the building of Am Yisrael.
It seems that the Midrash here draws a connection between Ovadya’s condemning Edom as “bazui” (“despised,” or “loathsome”) and the Torah’s conclusion to the story of Eisav’s sale of the birthright: “va-yivez Eisav et ha-bekhora” – “Eisav scorned the birthright” (25:34).  As a number of commentators explain, the Torah here clarifies that Eisav did not sell his privileges as the firstborn out of desperation, or because he was taken advantage of by his brother.  He sold the birthright because he “mocked” it, he dismissed these privileges as worthless and unimportant.  The Midrash appears to teach that because “va-yivez Eisav et ha-bekhora” – Eisav cynically mocked and ridiculed something valuable and precious, he became “bazui…me’od” – a target of scorn and ridicule.  Eisav had the potential to be an equal partner with Yaakov in the formation of Am Yisrael, but he forfeited this privilege because of his quality of “va-yivez,” his cynicism, his denying the value of something precious like the birthright.
If so, then the Midrash here teaches that if we live with an attitude of “va-yivez,” looking upon people and things with ridicule and scorn, then we ourselves become “bazui,” lowly and contemptible.  If we deny the value and significance of things, then we will end up denying our own value and significance; if we don’t take things seriously, we will not take our own life seriously.  If we routinely mock and poke fun, we are not likely to have much respect for ourselves, and so we are not likely to invest time and effort to achieve greatness, to become “gedolim.”  The Midrash here teaches us to take the world around us seriously so we will take ourselves seriously, to show respect for people and for things of value, so we will live with self-respect and work to make the most of our opportunities during our brief sojourn in this world.