The Torah in Parashat Toldot tells the story of Eisav’s “sale” of the birthright to his younger twin, Yaakov. Eisav had arrived home weary from hunting, and asked Yaakov to serve him a portion of the stew he was preparing. Yaakov requested the birthright in exchange, and Eisav consented. The Torah concludes this story by stating, “Va-yivez Eisav et ha-bekhora” – “Eisav scorned the birthright” (28:34). Rashi explains that the Torah here “testifies to his wickedness, that he scorned the service of the Almighty.” The privileges of the birthright came with special religious responsibilities, which Eisav regarded with contempt. Seforno adds that the Torah mentions Eisav’s disdain for the birthright to emphasize that he was not unfairly forced to sell something precious in exchange for food, as he did not desire the birthright at all.
Rav Yisrael of Modhitz, in Divrei Yisrael, suggests that Eisav’s contempt for the birthright might also have additional symbolic significance. The term “bekhora,” referring to the birthright, is derived from the root b.k.r., which denotes the “first.” Symbolically, then, Eisav’s disdain for the “bekhora” could be understood to mean that he despised the first stages, the difficulties and challenges that are confronted whenever one begins a new endeavor or undertaking. Rashi (25:32) cites the Midrash’s comment that Eisav had no interest in the birthright because violations of the strict code of law that applies to the required rituals carry strict punishments. Eisav preferred to avoid the challenges and responsibilities of the birthright, because he did not have the patience to diligently study and accustom himself to the relevant strict guidelines and procedures. And thus, the Rebbe of Modhitz explains, Eisav had contempt for the “bekhora” in the broader sense of the term – for the challenging process of patient study of, and acclimation to, something new.
Earlier (25:25), we read that Eisav was so named because he was born with hair on his body, like an adult male. Rashi explains that he looked “readymade” (“na’asa”), like an adult, and so he was called “Eisav.” Many remarked that this quality characterized Eisav throughout his life – he wanted to live as a “finished product,” without having to go through the process of growth, development and change. He had no patience for the “bekhora,” for undertaking something new, for learning, for training, for gradually becoming better and more accomplished. Similarly, many have noted the significance of the Torah’s description of Eisav returning from the field “ayeif” – “fatigued” (25:29). This might indicate not only physical fatigue after a day of hunting, but also a condition of lethargy and apathy. Eisav lacked drive and ambition to grow and improve himself, preferring instead to lazily and complacently remain the same throughout his life. We, the descendants and spiritual heirs of Yaakov Avinu, are to embrace the “bekhora,” the challenges of learning and growth, restlessly seeking to positively change and always striving to become better.