Monday, November 16, 2009


This morning at Minyan, as is customary on Mondays, we read from the Torah, AKA the Pentateuch, AKA the Chumash, AKA the Five Books of Moses. Today’s reading told the story of Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac, and how Esau gave away his birthright - the claim to the greater share of his father’s estate, his by right of his being the elder brother - for what is rendered variously as “a mess of pottage” or “lentil stew.”

Esau has just come in from, presumably, a hard day of running around chasing various Tasty Beasts. We can only assume he has not had a particularly good day, since he is hungry and thirsty to the point of passing out. And there’s his brother, stirring a yummy pot of stew over the fire.

Esau: “Give me, please, some of that red, red stuff, for I am famished.”

Jacob: “First sell me your birthright.”

Esau: “What good is a birthright to me, when I’m dying [of hunger]?”

You can accuse Jacob of being a tad mercenary here, but it’s pretty clear that Esau does not place much value on that birthright. And Jacob, somehow, understands a key principle of negotiation: that the value of goods or services is always greater before they are provided. Several thousand years later, Chester Karrass would call this concept “The Callgirl Principle” in his negotiation training seminars.

But there is a lesson in this story for all of us.

How often do we pay an exaggerated price for momentary pleasure? How often do we squander our wealth on things that seem oh, so very important today - right this minute! - instead of the things that will matter to us down the road?

If a pile of money suddenly landed on you, would you buy long-term disability insurance with it, or a gold-plated heated toilet seat? Blue-chip stocks or a vacation in Maui?

Our government has been in the “selling birthrights for a bowl of stew” business for many years now. Screw the grandkids... we want pork! Right now! Never mind that that Government Cheese comes with a hefty price tag, because we won’t be the ones paying for it.

We’re all guilty of selling our birthrights, whether it be on an individual basis or as part of the Great U.S. Collective. And there will come a day when we will all realize what we no longer have... and we will know how badly we fucked up.

Hope that lentil stew tastes mighty good... but I suspect it will leave a vile taste in the back of the mouth.

Update: Was it subconscious inspiration from this morning’s reading, or just my Meat-Jones kicking in? Regardless, for the evening’s repast I prepared a red, red Mess of Pottage... but with beef and onions in lieu of lentils. And it was tasty, all right - real Birthright Trade-In Material.

No comments: