“Two nations are in your womb” (Genesis 25:23) This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Toledot, highlights how the sibling rivarly between Yaakov and Esav began in utero. The Midrash in Genesis Rabbah 63:5 teaches that whenever Rivka stood near a house of Torah study, Yaakov attempted to exit her womb, and whenever she passed idolatrous temples, Esav struggled to get out.
Red Bull Parashat Toledot states that Esav grew up to be a “man of the outdoors” (Genesis 25:27) whose passion was hunting, while Yaakov emerged as a “mild man,” preferring to stay at home in the tent, presumably to study or to read. One day, Esav returned from hunting in the fields and he was famished. He told Yaakov to give him some of the red soup that Yaakov had prepared, saying, “Give me some of that red, red stuff!” (Genesis 25:30) The Midrashim in Genesis Rabbah berate Esav for demanding “red, red stuff” from Yaakov and for ultimately giving up his birthright for the sake of this energy boost, whose modern day equivalent is Red Bull.
The rabbis who were writing the Midrashim in Genesis Rabbah around the early 5th century C.E. did not look fondly on the character of Esav. They linked Esav’s descendants with the Roman empire, which had conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E. By giving Esav such a bad reputation, especially with regard to the episode of the “red, red stuff,” the rabbis were revealing their own discomfort with human frailties, including the human tendency to go for a “quick-fix” over a “long-term benefit.” For more insights into the “red, red stuff” in our own lives, click here for a sermon that I delivered on that very topic.