9 years ago this month, I was in Columbia, South Carolina in the southeast United States, in Fort Jackson, completing my United States Naval Chaplaincy Course. At the conclusion of the course, there was a one week field exercise where we simulated being out in the field with a Marine Unit under tactical conditions. We had to carry all our supplies on our back; all our water, clothing, food, shelter and defensive equipment. The culmination of the expedition took place on the final day where we marched for over 30 kilometers with our 30 plus kilo pack on our backs with one ration to share between three people and finished close to midnight. During that day, we had to complete a series of tasks and overcome several obstacles, including water hazards, rappelling towers and a simulated gas attack in which we had nine seconds to put on and seal our gas masks. At the start of the final day, several of my classmates remarked how starving they would be by the end of the day, to which I and my fellow rabbis in the course thought to ourselves, “Is this really going to be so different to Yom Kippur?” Well, besides the pack, rappelling and gas mask.
How many times have we come to a situation in our lives when we have gone for a period without food, perhaps skipped a meal, or even had to fast for a whole day and the words out of our mouths are, “I am starving!” In reality, are you really starving? Or merely very hungry? We are told by science that the human body can go 30 days (or more) without food. We are probably not even aware of the capabilities of our own body until we are pushed beyond the limits we are normally accustomed to. It is very easy and natural, to succumb to those limits, perhaps complain, or simply give in to those urges, because normally we have no need to push ourselves. In this case, I am being pushed by my classmates and my instructor. I don’t want to let them, or myself down and we will all be pulling, pushing and urging ourselves to the finish line. If I succumb to my hunger, I will not pass the course and I will also lose the respect of my classmates and instructors. For that brief satisfaction of satisfying my hunger in the moment, I will have multiple consequences in the long term.
In this week’s Parasha, Toldot, we are told that Esav is coming home from the field after a long hunt. He is starving and makes a rash decision. In order to satiate himself, he sells his birthright to Jacob saying, “I am surely going to die, so what does the birthright mean to me?” Most commentators chime in saying, surely Esav was not near death, but convinces himself that he is because he has not eaten and sees the red stew that Jacob is making and makes a decision in the moment, not even pausing to think of the consequences. He does not consider the value of the birthright and the blessings that come with it. He is so consumed by his hunger, he thinks what so many of us do in that moment of weakness, “I am starving”. All I can think of is in the now, what is happening at this very moment.
The lesson we can learn from this is to consider, even in trying moments, even in moments when we are weakened by our physical state, to consider very carefully our actions and choices. Are we really starving? Or simply hungry? Can we push through and overcome that impediment? Or will we succumb to the here and now, the transient, the temporary?
I pray this week that we are given the strength to overcome, to triumph, to succeed over our weaknesses, our impulses and stay true to ourselves and to discover that hidden strength.
Rabbi Rafi Kaiserblueth