Thought for Shabbat – November 5, 2021
According to baseball historians, this has been a historic week. For the first time in the history of the World Series, a Jewish pitcher (Max Fried) pitched to a Jewish batter (Alex Bregman) on the opposing team. Fried was not the only Jewish player on his regular season team. Joc Pederson, who wore pearls onto the field and played for the Israel National Team during the World Baseball Classic, was a significant player on the team as well. To top it off from a historical perspective, this Shabbat is the 53rd anniversary of my bar mitzvah, the portion of Toldot.
Because it is my bar mitzvah portion, it is probably the portion from which I have read in the synagogue more over the course of my life than any other. As I read from the Torah this Shabbat, I will once again visit Esau and Jacob, twins who, while born within split seconds of each other, are polar opposites. Esau is a man driven by his basest animal instincts and Jacob is driven by his plotting, intellectual side. As divided as they are, so are their parents. Isaac loves Esau and Rebecca loves Jacob. Esau’s failure early on comes simply because he is hungry. He gives up his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. Jacob takes advantage of his brother’s desperation to take that birthright.
Each of the brothers suffers from this transaction. Esau loses his ability to inherit. Jacob has to go on the run to hide from the violent Esau after he tricks his father into giving him his blessing and inheritance. Yet when we look closer at this portion, perhaps we are missing one of its main themes.
Each son has good qualities, but they also have deficiencies. Esau is athletic and talented in his own way. But he has a temper and is violent. Jacob is smart but he is also manipulative and a trickster, going so far as to deceive his own father. Each of them ends up being successful in their own right, and each becomes the father of a people. But in becoming successful, each of them risks great losses and causes great conflict. Their methods of success or winning become the methods of the generations of their families/people that followed them either through the promotion of violence or sibling rivalry.
The willingness to do or say anything to “win” or succeed, has ramifications not just for those who are living in that moment but for the generations that follow. That is true in our personal lives, the business world, and even the 2017 World Series. The more desperate we are to “win”, the more risks we are willing to take, the more pain we are willing to inflict, the greater the lies we are willing to tell, and the more often we have to look over our shoulder.
Is it important to win? It can be. But how we go about winning a game or succeeding in life defines us as much or even more than the victory itself. We often talk about winning at all costs, but when we do that, we are rarely thinking about our souls.
Rabbi Yaier Lehrer