Vente,” “Frappuccino,” and “refill” were a frequent part of my vocabulary this past summer as I worked to complete a master’s degree. In an effort to stay awake and stick to a tight academic schedule, I became entirely dependent on caffeine. I needed that coffee and I needed it now.
Two weeks ago, in parshat Toldot, we encountered Esau demanding of his brother Jacob, “Give me some of that red red stuff, for I am exhausted!” Esau desperately needed some soup. He was willing to do anything, even give up his birthright, in order to get his Frappuccino — or, in this case, lentil soup. Esau was over-programmed and overworked; at the end of a long day of hunting, he was exhausted and desperately reached for that quick fix. He sacrificed the long-term benefits of his rightful birthright for the momentary gratification of — soup.
We are often so focused on Jacob’s receiving the birthright that we overlook Esau’s pain. Esau’s actions are a model of unhealthy and impulsive behavior, but they are very human; like us, he had a natural breaking point. At that point of weakness, he acted out of desperation.
How often do we have Esau moments? How often do we reach for the “red red stuff” because we are tired, hungry, and desperately trying to get through the day? How often do we do engage in behaviors that may help us focus or give us instant gratification but might be detrimental to us in the long run? Like Esau, we have a tremendous amount of resources at our fingertips, but because we are human, when we have difficult moments, we sometimes do things that we post-facto might regret.
At times, our energy can reach such a low level that we experience Esau moments and engage in fidgeting, nail-biting, procrastinating, overeating, or consuming vast quantities of caffeine. Are we even aware of such “instant gratification” behaviors? We are over-programmed, so busy texting and e-mailing that whatever breaks we might have had have dissipated. Instead of downtime, we download! We then need that burst of energy — that “red red stuff” — because we have so little time to pause in our lives.
What would life be like if there wasn’t a coffee shop on every corner? What would happen if we were forced to use our own resources — intellectual, physical, or emotional? Perhaps we’d be impelled to balance our lives in healthier ways, as we would face the reality of what we can actually accomplish.
Vayishlach reminds us that Esau’s story doesn’t end with the “red red stuff.” When we re-meet Esau in this parsha, he has grown. It is comical to see Jacob attempt to win over his brother with a gift of hundreds of animals. The old Esau — the one we met in Toldot — would have said yes to the gift. But after 20 years, Esau is now able to tell Jacob that he doesn’t need the gift: “I have plenty, my brother.”
Esau has faced many challenges and experienced setbacks, but he has learned how to respond accordingly, without reaching for the “red red stuff.” He has found balance in his life and so is no longer vulnerable. He no longer needs to turn to rash and detrimental short-term solutions with long-term consequences.
Let Vayishlach serve as our “wake-up call” to face our own struggles and weaknesses and the behaviors we engage in when we are low-energy.
Instead of reaching for the “red red stuff,” we need, like Esau, to say, “I have plenty” and stop adding more to our already busy schedules. We need to recognize that we have plenty of internal resources to cope with the challenges of life, that we are accomplishing enough and do not need to commit ourselves to the breaking point.