2010-11-03 / Religion Column

Patriarch Jacob demonstrates importance of patience

RABBI MOSHE SCHWARTZ Kellman Brown Acadamy

Parshat Toldot
Gen. 25:19-28:9

In the Torah portion of Toldot, we read the well-known story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red soup. Esau says, “I’m dying! What do I need a birthright for?” The text states that Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and that he (Esau) “ate, drank, rose, and went away”—Esau spurned the birthright.

I find the difference between the actions of Jacob and Esau to be of significance, specifically when looking at the verbs used to describe their actions. Jacob, whom the text describes as a tent dweller, was patiently cooking his stew. The text states, “vayazed,” from the Hebrew root zayin, yud and daled, meaning to boil up, or to simmer. I imagine Jacob standing over the pot for a full day to make this homecooked meal. We all know that a good stew takes a day to prepare. We rarely do this anymore and if we do, it’s with a crock-pot that cooks it for us, without our having to watch the pot and stir every hour or so. This point was made clear in a 2009 survey by Cornell University that found only 56% of fathers and 40% of mothers had more than five home-cooked meals per week. While the focus of this survey was not on children, it goes without saying the impact that these startling statistics imply for the children of our families.

We see a similar interpretation in our midrash, which imagines Jacob preparing bread to accompany the stew. We know that bread requires time to rise. Leavened bread, chametz, means fermented, and in modern Hebrew, chamutzeem are vegetables that have been pickled for a long period of time. Neither of these activities— cooking soup or baking bread—can be rushed. Both require time and patience.

The patience of Jacob stands in stark contrast to the attitude of Esau. The biblical text uses five short, staccato verbs to describe Esau’s actions: Esau ate, drank, rose, went and spurned. The purpose might be to show how cold and unaffected Esau was by Jacob’s nurturing sustenance. Esau is portrayed as a man who lacked patience and focus, someone who went from one action to another without pause for reflection or introspection.

The Bible does not mention any further conversation between the two brothers. This is equally problematic, as we know from our lives today. All too often we rush through meals without sitting down and taking the time to converse with our family and friends. Jacob provided home-cooked meals, but Esau was looking for the biblical version of “fast food,” which he devoured on the run. He turned the meal into nothing more than a Big Mac, and that was insult enough to Jacob, even without words.

And what do we learn from all this? All too often we want fast, immediate results. We seek quick information and instant solutions to calm our jittery nerves. We see the Esau tendency in our everyday lives through our addiction to texting on the BlackBerry and iPhone. All too often we communicate in shorthand and don’t take the time to write letters or even to leave a voice mail. We’re content with “missed call” as a signal that someone is trying to reach us and BRB (be right back) as the universal shorthand for “I’m going to do something else and will TTYL (talk to you later).” Sadly, we often fail to truly communicate with the people who matter the most to us. We “touch base” virtually and in short bursts without taking the time to listen to others and shore up the relationships with those whom we care about. Real change and meaningful connections that have a lasting impact are yazeed, slow-cooked, nurtured, and patiently tended to over long periods of time.

This message has been clear to me in my first few months at Kellman Brown Academy, as I’ve witnessed the nurturing of our students, not just through the texture of everyday school life, but through the long-term cultivation of the next generation of leadership for our Jewish community.

Let us never forget that though we live in a world that moves so fast it’s dizzying, we are NOT the descendants of Esau, the impatient brother, but of Jacob, the patient one. In this day and age, we’d all do well to gain inspiration from our patriarch Jacob, who modeled for us the importance of taking the time to communicate with one another and listen to the voices around us. The lesson of Jacob’s patience reminds us to slow down and focus on relationships that can’t be rushed. .

Rabbi Moshe Schwartz is Head of School at Kellman Brown Academy in Voorhees. He lives in Cherry Hill with his wife Aviva and their three children.

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