At the risk of seriously dating myself, I grew up fascinated by the world of George Jetson, Jane, his wife, his boy Elroy and daughter Judy. That famous animated family of the future where computers did all the work, robots ran the household and “button-itis” was a common ailment. But I still wonder what happened to the promise of a future filled with time-saving devices that would make our lives run smoothly and easily. Here we are, on the verge of 2020, with fancy, smart machines that do our laundry, wash our dishes, run our homes, our cars and sometimes even our lives. Our lives today are anything but! From the time the alarm sounds early in the morning and we drag ourselves out of bed to the daily commute to school, to work, carpool, after-school activities, errands, and meetings. In between it all trying to squeeze in family time, parent time, children time, couple time, community time, personal time, and maybe some time to work on those reports we brought home because we never had a moment to finish them during the day. And at the end of it all, we collapse, exhausted, into our beds, ready to begin anew the next day. Gone is our time to think and reflect, gone is the time to read and learn. Many of us are living in a constant reactionary mode, dealing with each of the above like some crazed game of “whack-a-mole”. It is no surprise that clinicians are seeing a rise in stress, anxiety and burnout which in turn can contribute to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gastro-intestinal issues, high cholesterol and even death. Too many of us live this experience on a daily basis but do not know how to step off the crazy merry-go-round.
In Parashat Toldot we read of a strange exchange between Esau and Yaakov whereby Esau sells his birthright to Yaakov for a bowl of lentils: “Now Yaacov cooked a pottage, and Esau came from the field and he was ayef/tired. And Esau said to Yaakov, ‘Pour me some of this red, red pottage, for I am tired.” (Bereishit 25: 29-30). Clearly, Esau must have been really, really tired as the Torah repeats the word ayef meaning “tired” twice in rather quick succession. The red pottage in question is thought to be lentil soup or stew prepared in mourning of the recent passing of Abraham Avinu, their grandfather. If Esau was so tired after a day in the field, why not just go lie down? In fact, he was so tired and hungry that he sold his birthright without much thought.
Esau was not just tired, he was fatigued. He was an accomplished and talented hunter, at the top of his game. He had pushed himself to the point that he no longer cared, nothing was important anymore beyond his baser instincts. Rabbi J. Soleveitchik explains that Esau was “tired from all his accomplishments and all his conquests. He was exhausted and disappointed. This is just like modern man, who, with all his progress, his innovations and his inventions, is still full of internal doubt, tortured by disappointment, bothered by anxiety, fearing death. Esau came from the field and he was tired.”
The contrast between the two brothers is brought just before the exchange. “Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents” (Bereishit 25:27). In today’s world, it is the Esaus who are valued, those who are out there moving and shaking the world, while the quiet, reflective ones, who do not make big waves, are often overlooked.
Interestingly, Targum Onkelus translates “yode’ah Tzayid” knows the field as “batlan” or “ne’er do well”. In giving up his birthright, Esau gave up his spirituality, opting to worry only about the here and now, the physicality of the present, the baser, animalistic man. Yet, as Yaakov the one who is building something that will endure. He is, in the end, the true man of action, father to an entire nation.
David Hamelech once said “Orach chaim lema’alah l’maskil- a wise man lives a life of assension” (Ruach Chaim 1:13), constantly pursuing growth, never standing still. In our crazy rush to do it all, we forget to pause, to take time to breathe, to reflect, to pursue not only our physical needs but to fulfill our spiritual ones as well. When we are fatigued, our judgement is impaired and our decisions are poor. By getting bogged down by the day in day out, we are losing sight of the important things in life and essentially giving up our birthright all over again. Ambition and determination are good things, but there is a need for balance, a need for those quiet moments.
In our 2020 version of Jetsons’ world we have to actively pursue that stillness, that spirituality. We must consciously make time to pursue growth and build something that will endure like Yaakov Avinu. For myself, this time is Shabbat. It is a time to reconnect with family, a time to recharge my spiritual battery, a time to learn and a time to reflect. It is a moment in the week that I guard and protect for myself and my family. It is my time to breathe and grow in this crazy world. It is in these quiet and spiritual times that we truly connect with each other and with God and focus on the truly important things in life.
Wishing you all a relaxing and meaningful Shabbat,
Dr. Laura Segall
Head of School