Parshat Toldot teaches us about two brothers who would forever change the course of Jewish and indeed, world history: Eisav and Yaakov. While Eisav is more concerned with worldly matters, Yaakov focuses on matters of the spirit, mind and heart. One day, Eisav approaches Yaakov, as it says, “And Esav came from the field, and he was faint” (Bereshit 25:29). According to Rav Soloveitchik, “Chazal teach us that the day Eisav sold his birthright was the day that Avraham died. Eisav returned from the field, from the world of business, wealthy and successful – yet the verse testifies that he was tired. He contrasted his life with that of Yaakov, the ‘ish tam,’ who lived a contented life. Suddenly he felt as if all his machinations and striving were purposeless, for naught. The Midrash relates that when Eisav entered and saw Yaakov preparing lentil soup, he asked, ‘What are you cooking?’ Yaakov answered, ‘Today our grandfather Avraham died.’ Eisav retorted in typical fashion that even the righteous Avraham fell victim to death. Although Eisav had no relationship with Avraham, he admitted to Yaakov, ‘I am tired.’ All the material goods in the world did not anchor him or provide security” (Daf Kesher, Etzion.org, Number 522).
Based on Rav Soloveitchik’s interpretation of the interaction between Eisav and Yaakov it seems that it is spiritualty, not materialism that centers us, that sustains and nurtures us and provides us with meaning. We may exert a great deal of energy and effort running in the rat-race of earthly pursuits – business, wealth, prestige and power, but at the end of the day, striving to achieve material success without having a spiritual center only drains us, and leaves us feeling depleted, dejected and sad, especially when we see people who do have strong and healthy spiritual lives. In other words, “An Eisav will always feel tired and despondent when he sees a Yaakov.” And so it is for all of us. While it is true we must all exert ourselves in worldly affairs to provide for ourselves, our families and communities, we must also endeavor to create our own spiritual centers that give our lives a sense of meaning and wholeness – something no material benefit can compensate. Eisav lived only for the “field,” only for worldly things, and in that world, yes, he was king. But when he saw Yaakov, a man centered around family and faith, a quiet man whose power came not from this world but from beyond, even Eisav, “king of the field” felt like he was missing something. True, he may have brushed that sentimental feeling aside, but he felt it nonetheless, as all Eisav’s do today.
As we celebrate the Thanksgiving weekend, let us take stock what we are thankful for, and as we do, let us also consider what centers us in our lives – family, friends, community, faith, Torah and our unique spiritual connections to HaKadosh Baruch Hu. This Shabbat, may we strive to hold onto our spiritual centers as we make our way in the world. Our spirituality is what sustains us, this Yaakov taught Eisav in that one, brief moment, but it is a lesson Yaakov’s descendants have taken to heart for eternity.