Red, Red Stuff

Jacob has a bad reputation for cheating Esau out of his birthright. Preachers scold Jacob as a deceiving trickster, but is that really the Torah's point? Let's examine this story more carefully.

Esau [right] selling his birthright to Jacob or The Lentil Stew, 17th century. (Image: Circle of Matthias Stom [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Toldot

Regular Shabbat Readings

Read / Listen to these Portions

  • Toldot (תולדות | Family history)
  • Torah: Genesis 25:19-28:9
  • Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
  • Gospel: Matthew 10:21-38

Note: The regular readings are often interrupted with special readings on Jewish holidays, special Sabbaths, and Rosh Chodesh. Refer to the annual Torah Portion schedule for these special portions.

Portion Outline

  • Torah
    • Genesis 25:19 | The Birth and Youth of Esau and Jacob
    • Genesis 25:29 | Esau Sells His Birthright
    • Genesis 26:1 | Isaac and Abimelech
    • Genesis 26:34 | Esau's Hittite Wives
    • Genesis 27:1 | Isaac Blesses Jacob
    • Genesis 27:30 | Esau's Lost Blessing
    • Genesis 27:41 | Jacob Escapes Esau's Fury
    • Genesis 28:6 | Esau Marries Ishmael's Daughter
  • Prophets
    • Mal 1:1 | Introduction
    • Mal 1:2 | Israel Preferred to Edom
    • Mal 1:6 | Corruption of the Priesthood

Portion Summary

The sixth reading from the book of Genesis is named Toldot (תולדות), which means "generations." It is so named because the Torah portion begins with the words "Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac" (Genesis 25:19). Toldot tells us the story of the birth of Jacob and Esau and their struggle for the birthright and blessing of their father, Isaac. We also learn about Isaac's trials and difficulties in the land of Canaan. The portion concludes with Jacob's deception of Isaac in order to procure the family blessing.


Jacob made a stew. Esau returns from hunting, exhausted and famished. When he sees the stew he exclaims, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished!" The Hebrew is even more comical. He uses a verb more appropriate to describe "slopping the pigs." In his desperation, he cannot quite formulate the word for soup, so he stammers around calling it, "red, red stuff." "Quick, slop me some of that red, red stuff!" he begs.

Jacob, on the other hand, replies calmly and deliberately and in clear legal terms, "Sell me as this day (from this day on) your birthright." There are no hidden terms, no fine print, and no deceitful bait-and-switch. It is a straightforward and honest offer.

Esau should have refused. He should have been insulted that Jacob would suggest such a sacrilege. Jacob asked him to forfeit everything that Abraham and Isaac had cherished—the entire covenant, the land of Canaan, the blessings and the promises, the future destiny of the nation, all for the price of a bowl of soup.

Instead of refusing the offer, Esau briefly considered it and accepted the terms. He said, “Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” This was hyperbole. His life was not in danger; he was not about to die. He let his appetite dictate his will. His desire for red, red stuff, at the moment, outweighed the value of being Isaac’s firstborn.

Whenever we allow our appetites to rule us, we follow in the footsteps of Esau. A disciple of Yeshua should not let his desire for “red, red stuff” dictate his decisions. Opportunities to honor or despise his birthright in the kingdom pass before him on a daily basis. He is constantly placed in positions where he must decide between what he craves and what is right. A man controlled by his appetites is a godless man. All forms of materialism and greed fall into the same category. Some people desire power, control, and prestige. Others will find that physical addictions and substance abuse dictate their decisions in life. For many men and women, sexual temptation is the “red, red stuff” for which they are willing to compromise their spiritual birthright. All of these are signs of the spirit of Esau. The writer of the book of Hebrews warns us:

Let there be no immoral or godless person like Esau, who sold his own birthright for a single meal. For you know that even afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought for it with tears. (Hebrews 12:16-17)

Disciples of Yeshua are children of Jacob, not children of Esau. Our animal nature does not rule us. We belong, not to our appetites, but to the Master. Our heads must rule our hearts: “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13).

Esau accepted Jacob’s offer. The Hebrew of the Torah artfully describes Esau’s cavalier exit with a succinct series of one-word verbs: “He ate; he drank; he rose; he left, and he despised his birthright.”

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