We read in Parashat Toldot of Yaakov’s “purchase” of the birthright from his older twin, Esav. After Esav asked Yaakov to feed him some of the food he was preparing, Yaakov asked for the rights of the firstborn in exchange. Esav happily agreed, dismissing the significance of these privileges: “Here I am going to die; why do I need the birthright?” (25:32). The Torah concludes this narrative by telling, “Va-yivez Esav et ha-bekhora” – “Esav scorned the birthright” (25:34).
The Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 63) comments, curiously, that Esav in truth scorned not only the birthright, but also the belief in techiyat ha-meitim – the future resurrection of the death. Esav’s rejection of the birthright, the Midrash teaches, included as well the rejection of this tenet of Jewish faith.
What might have prompted Chazal to introduce the belief in techiyat ha-meitim in this context? Of what relevance is this tenet to the story of Esav’s disregard for the privileges of the firstborn?
An insightful explanation is offered by Rav Shraga Pollack, in his work Tishbi. Symbolically, the concept of techiyat ha-meitim signifies not merely the future resurrection, but also the ability we all have to “resurrect” ourselves, to recover from grave failures, to rise from even the deepest abyss of sin, and to change even after having reached the point of spiritual “death.” This ability, however, depends upon our belief in ourselves, in our capabilities, in our capacity to grow and achieve, and in our latent potential which has yet to be maximized. Esav’s rejection of the significance of the birthright reflected a deeper form of rejection – a rejection of his God-given capabilities. The birthright, like any privilege a person is granted, is an opportunity to achieve. We are all given skills, talents, knowledge, experience and a myriad of other favorable conditions that we can utilize in order to produce and accomplish during our lives. Esav’s rejecting the birthright meant rejecting the blessings with which he was endowed, essentially denying his potential. Indeed, when Esav looked at his existence, all he saw was “I am going to die.” He did not recognize his ability to make his life meaningful and worthwhile, the blessings he was given that he could use to achieve greatness and to favorably impact upon the world. Esav’s rejection of his birthright was in effect a statement of despair, of meaninglessness, declaring that anything God had given him was useless and pointless.
Such rejection of one’s potential and capabilities is tantamount to a rejection of the belief in “techiyat ha-meitim,” the belief in our ability to rise, to change and to grow. We are to embrace our “birthright,” all the talents and privileges that God has granted us, recognizing that they are given to us for the sake of developing ourselves and making a significant impact upon the world.