Red Faced


Yaakov and Esav, long awaited offspring of Yitzchok and Rivka are finally born. Opinions vary as to whether or not the twins were identical, but all are in agreement that Esav had a ruddy complexion and was hairier than Yaakov. The boys grew up and their different natures and tendencies become apparent. Esav was a hunter while Yaakov was studious. One day Esav came home, ravenous and exhausted from his escapades. Yaakov was in the midst of cooking a stew and Esav in his famished state told Yaakov “Stuff me up from that red red substance”. The Torah records that is why Esav is forever nicknamed Red.


When Esav is born the primary feature with which the Torah chooses to identify Esav is his coloring, his red complexion. Yet, seemingly that was not a reason to call him Red. Rather it was the fact that on one occasion he asked for “that red red substance” that he deserves the appellation – Red. Why? What is more striking about this request than his actual appearance?


Hebrew nouns and verbs, and particularly Jewish names are not mere language to communicate ideas between humans. Loshon Hakodesh – the holy tongue – plumbs to the very essence of a concept or an objects reality. For example the word for a horse in Hebrew is Sus a derivative of the word Siso (to rejoice) because the horse is swift of movement and excited to approach battle (c.f. Iyov 39:25) therefore Adam named it Sus.

Eating is when we are engaged in a most basic animalistic activity and it is all to easy for the beast within us to surface. This beloved pastime provides an opportunity to overindulge, make a pig of oneself and bolt down food in a wanton unrefined manner. This is all the more true when one is hungry, because in a famished state the defenses are down and the spiritual focus is diminished.

Perhaps this is the meaning of the Talmudic statement “By three things a man is known: by his cup, by his pocket, and by his anger.” While conventionally “his cup” is understood to refer to one’s behavior under the influence, possibly we may suggest the cup refers to how one treats food. Much can be ascertained by observing a man’s eating habits.

The way Esav treated food is indicative of his inner nature. Esav in his starved state chose to identify the food solely on the basis of its color, surely this is the most meaningless attribute of food to the hungry man. Therefore, it follows that if this is was the most prominent characteristic which grabbed his mind, red was obviously an important marker for him. The connotations of the color red were part of his very essence, that is why he was called Red.


How do you eat? (when no one is looking)

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