Feed Me: Esav’s Behavior and His Nature
Yaakov simmered a stew, and Esav came in from the field, and he was exhausted. Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted.’ He therefore called his name Edom. - Bereishit 25:30
Name changes always have deep meaning in the Torah. Avram becomes Avraham. Jacob becomes Yisrael. The matter of names is never trivial. Why “Edom”?
It was only a few short verses earlier that Yaakov and Esav are born and we are told, Vayetze ha’rishon admoni – the first one emerged red, entirely a hairy mantle; so, they named him Esav” (25:25) Rashi is clear as to why the Torah was so specific about Esav’s red hair and the ruddiness of his complexion. The redness of his complexion foretold his murderous nature (siman sh’yehe shofech damim). Mizrachi concurs. After all, Torah is not a style magazine. It has no intrinsic interest in this or that hair style or color – unless it portends something more than mere appearance. Here, Esav’s red hair and ruddy complexion foretells his character and midos.
Like Esav, King David was also “ruddy”. David’s complexion caused the prophet Shmuel to fear a tendency towards bloodshed in his nature. After all… well, just look at Esav! However, God reassured Shmuel that David “…had beautiful eyes” (Shmuel 16:12). This told Shmuel that David would always follow the rulings of the Sanhedrin, which acts as the eyes of the nation, and only kill when so decided by the Sanhedrin. Not so, Esav. His redness was a sign.
Even so, his name was Esav, not Edom. He was not born with this “redness” in his nature. Only now, when he comes in from the fields and demands the red stew is his name changed to Edom.
Some commentators suggest that Yaakov “stole” Esav’s blessing by taking advantage of Esav’s hunger. But a closer reading shows that, “Yaakov gave him bread and lentil (red) stew.” This makes it clear that Yaakov first fed Esav bread to ease his hunger. It was only his insatiable desire for more, for the red stew, that caused Esav to forfeit his inheritance.
Even during this Shloshim period, as we mourn the passing of HaGaon Rav Dovid Feinstein ZT’L, the kind, sensitive, modest, giant of Torah, we remember his teaching about Esav’s name. “In all generations and cultures, ruddy people have been considered more likely to have violent, and in extreme cases, even murderous temperaments.”
We’ve noted that King David’s complexion caused Shmuel Hanavi to be deeply concerned. “David, however,” Rav Dovid ZT” L explains, “was able to channel his character so that it was manifested only in desirable ways. In fact, he was known for his kind and charitable nature.”
Up until the moment he clamors for the red stew we couldn’t be certain about the person Esav would come to be. Gruff is one thing. Murderous is quite another. But when he returns from the field after a day of violence and blasphemy, it is, “…apparent that he had turned to wickedness.”
Up until the age of bar mitzvah, Yaakov and Esav were like most children – relatively similar in behavior. Yes, Esav was prone to pranks and Yaakov more likely to find happiness at his mother’s side, but they were both within the bounds of their childish ways. As with any rambunctious child, we hoped that Esav would settle down as he matured. But that is not what happened at all. As they grew older, each twin went a very separate way; Yaakov to learn in the academy of Shem and Ever, Esav to his idols.
In his greed for the red stew, Esav shows his true “redness”.
He comes in from the fields and demands “the red stuff”. He does not call the dish by its name, just the red stuff. His vulgar demand for food, his cry of “feed me” is in even sharper relief when we realize that, as Chazal tells us, it is the very day that his zayde, Avraham Avinu passed away (so that he would not have to be witness to the vulgar violence of his einekel.)
Esav returns from the field to find all eating the round lentils of seudas ha’vraha and lamenting their great loss – “Woe to the world that has lost its leader; woe to the ship that has lost its pilot.” (Bava Basra 91b) Unlike the young child who comes upon the Seder table and declares in astonishment, “How different is this night!” Esav does not even take note of the mourning of others. His desires and demands must take precedence.
Sforno paints the picture well. Those in mourning confronted Esav and assigned him the derogatory name, Edom, as if to say, “You are so divorced from normal human values, so consumed with your hunting and plunder, that you look at food and refer to it only by its color - ‘pour that red stuff down my throat!’ A person like you should be red, like the stew you wish to swallow!”
Rav Dovid Feinstein adds, “From now on, just as he had turned to violence as a way of life, he would look for the redness in everything, even the food he ate.”
The Talmud (Bava Basra 16b) informs us that on that day when Esav demanded to be fed, he committed far greater sins, but it was his demand for the red stew that caused his name to be changed.
We all eat to live but, because we are created in God’s image, even those things necessary for existence can – must – be given greater meaning. For us food must be more than just the stuff we eat. Food must have meaning to us. Our intimate relationships are intertwined with food and, consequently, we love food. From the finest meals prepared at four-star restaurants by the finest chefs to the most modest meal, food is central to our sense of who we are.
Yes, at base, we are simple creatures very much like every other beast of the field. And, like other beasts, we must consume food to live. However, though we are, at base, very simple, we are very much more. Created by God to be something more, even our most base experiences can and should be imbued with significance, meaning and holiness.
Torah is clear, man does not live by bread alone.
Esav/Edom in his demand for food made clear his base, beast-like nature.
What we eat and how we eat distinguish us and elevate us from the beasts of the fields. It is no wonder then that in Shulchan Aruch we find countless halachot regarding how we are to eat and drink including such details as: to feed our animals and birds before we eat, not to eat while standing, or in a gluttonous manner, to eat at a clean table, not to do anything offensive at the table, not to talk while eating, to await for the elder to start eating first, not to throw bread or other foods, not to stare at anyone eating, and not to partake of a meal which may not be sufficient for the hosts, and many more…
These are not simple “do’s and don’ts” of dining etiquette, they are the behaviors that define our status as more than the beasts of the fields. They guide us so that our most basic needs and urges are elevated to expressions of our sacred status.
One who is so driven in his hunger that he cannot even see the food in its entirety, only its color is someone who has no control of his animal needs and desires. Such a person (Red!) is not simply eating like a beast but he is declaring his destiny to commit the gravest of sins, as indeed Esav did on that day.
The fact of eating, the need for sustenance is physical. The way we eat raises a mirror to our souls. The beasts of the fields do not offer a blessing to God before eating. They do not reflect on the food that they eat. They, as Esav/Edom, simply eat; driven by need.
One who can reflect and maintain his holy nature even in the fulfillment of physical needs like eating demonstrates that his animalistic urges are in check. One who engages food in the manner of Esav/Edom, who demands, “Feed me!” and engages food to fulfill his gluttonous desires is one who becomes enslaved to his food and feels a desperate urge to indulge. He is one like Esav, in grave danger of being driven by his urges.
He becomes the thing he desires.