Why Esau Wanted to Tithe Salt - תולדות

Friday, 25 November, 2022 - 2:51 pm

Why Esau Wanted to Tithe Salt

Rebecca and Isaac were blessed with twins who were very different from each other: “And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents {of study}. (Genesis 25:27).” Surprisingly, the intensely spiritual Issac loved Esau: “And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth”. Rashi explains that Issac loved Esau because Esau deceived his father by presenting himself as righteous: 

who understood hunting: [He knew how] to trap and to deceive his father with his mouth and ask him, “Father, how do we tithe salt and straw?” His father thereby thought he was scrupulous in his observance of the commandments. 

Of all the questions Esau could have asked his father, why did he choose to ask about tithing salt and straw, which, according to Jewish law, are exempt from tithing? 

Issac loved Esau and sought to bless him because he hoped that Esau and Jacob would form a partnership whereby Esau would use his material success to support Jacob’s spiritual pursuits. From Isaac’s perspective, materialism is worthwhile and meaningful only when it serves a greater purpose of serving G-d. 

Unfortunately, Esau was not on board. As Rebecca sensed, Esau did not wish to partner with his brother as he desired and valued material success for its own sake.

Esau, therefore, asked about tithing salt and straw, items that are exempt from tithing specifically because they only have value when they are used to perfect something else. Salt seasons a dish, and hay is used to create bricks. Esau expected the salt and straw to be tithed and to be considered inherently significant, as Esau failed to distinguish between what is of primary importance and what is of secondary importance.

Judaism teaches that each and every aspect of our life, including the mundane and material, is significant when and because it serves a higher purpose. Every achievement and success is significant when subordinate to a higher purpose. Our efforts during the six days of the week become significant when they contribute to our experiencing the holiness of Shabbat. It is our job to sanctify every part of our life by viewing it as part of our overarching purpose of serving our Divine mission and purpose. 

Adapted from the Shem Mishmuel


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