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Shabbat Parashat Toldot | 5770

Parashat Hashavuah: Manners Please!

Harav Yosef Carmel

When a “tired” Eisav asked Yaakov for food and Yaakov responded that he wanted the rights of the firstborn in return, Eisav said: “Feed me na this red, red food” (Bereishit 25:29).

Among the various explanations one could give to some of the episodes involving Eisav, Chazal often presented negative ones. For example, the gemara (Bava Batra 16b) says that on the day in question, Eisav committed five serious sins. Regarding the red, red food, Chazal (ibid.) tell us that the food Yaakov was preparing and Eisav wanted was made of lentils, which was appropriate for mourners, as Avraham had just died, and Yaakov prepared it for Yitzchak. Lentils are special because they “have no mouth” like a mourner, and they are round, like mourning, which “rolls from one person to another in the world.” Why did Eisav stress the redness of the cooked lentil? Also, why did he say na (which we usually translate as “please”) when making his request on a day when he had committed major crimes?

One answer can answer both questions. Na can mean not only please but also can refer to a food that is not sufficiently cooked. Thus, we are commanded not to eat the korban Pesach in a manner of na (Shemot 12:9). The etymological explanation for this shared word is apparently that na also means right away, as in the famous pasuk: “Please (ana), Hashem, save now (na); please (ana), Hashem, give success now (na)” (Tehillim 118:25).

Now, let’s return to the lentils. Because they were not fully cooked, they were red, a color that fades during the cooking. Eisav demanded to eat, using the word that is usually used for feeding animals (haliteini), and was not willing to wait until the food was cooked. This demonstrates his rashness and lack of good manners.     

It is interesting that there are homonyms similar to na: ana (one spelled with an aleph and one with a heh), which mean please in related contexts. They come to soften the word na which can mean please but can also add a possibly uncomfortable urgency to a request that can make it sound like a demand.

In any case, Eisav appears to us as a bad politician. He is too outspoken and coarse, does not use civil words, and, worst of all, is unwilling to push off his desires. These get him into trouble in the long run. Let us hope that our political leaders will learn from Yaakov rather than his brother, Eisav.

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