Shabbat Shalom! I've told you all before about my soft spots for some of the Biblical "villains", and Esau is no different. Although the vast majority of rabbinic literature paints him as a monster, I've always thought he had an unfair reputation, and in rabbinical school I had the opportunity to hear some midrashim (especially modern) that explain some of his behaviors and choices in this week's Torah portion, Parashat Toledot.
The parasha is about the births of twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob is the favored son of their mother, Rebecca, and Esau is the favored son of their father, Isaac. Esau is the first born, with Jacob immediately following him out of the womb holding on his heel. Thus, Esau the elder is supposed to get the birthright and the blessing, the physical and spiritual inheritance of Isaac. Yet, as we see again and again throughout the stories of Genesis, destiny subverts the norms of the day, and Jacob the younger manages to weasel both away from his brother.
There is so much to say about all of this, but this year Esau's cry toward the end of the parasha is really sticking in my kishkes and filling me with empathetic sorrow for Esau. When Esau enters his father's room/tent to approach his death bed and receive his blessing, Isaac realizes he has been tricked into giving the blessing to Jacob and at first he acts defeatist. Esau wails a loud and bitter cry, "Bless me, too, Father! Have you no other blessing for me?" It's just so heartbreaking.
So Isaac reaches deep inside himself and finds a second blessing. But it's clear that the blessing Isaac musters up for Esau is such a second-place blessing. It's pretty objectively worse than Jacob's and it's not the one that was meant for him in the first place. Jacob is blessed with the blessing of HaShem, the promises God made to Abraham that continue to be passed down through this line to the Israelites. With this blessing, comes a particular relationship with Holiness, which now Esau seems to be completely barred from.
I know different people have different relationships with the Divine and different pathways into their Judaism, but no one should be barred from it this way, told that because they were not in the right place at the right time, now they have missed the chance to access their spirituality. It is not infrequent that I hear from people who didn't finish their Hebrew school studies and now they think it's too late for them to learn, or that they're lesser Jews because they didn't have a B' Mitzvah ceremony, and from converts who are made to feel like they don't truly have a Jewish neshama because of some happenstance of their birth, and from other reasons of identity that have caused so many to have been cast out of their religious communities.
I hope because you are here, you already know how wrong that is, and know that you are still entitled to your own spiritual journey. I hope because you are here, you feel welcomed and ready to learn and pray and explore your relationship with Judaism and God.
But just in case, I have a blessing for you, and it's not Isaac's second-rate, war-mongering blessing for Esau. You belong in the Jewish community. You have a right to your own relationship with the Higher Power of your understanding. There is no sexuality, gender identity, race, class, education level, or any other reason that gives anyone else the right to withhold from you the blessings of our ancestors and our peoples. May you always feel safe and loved here, may you feel warmth of the Divine Presence on the coldest days, and may you feel a sense of peace with your Judaism. Amen and Shabbat Shalom.