The sale of the Birthright is an important ingredient in this week’s Parsha. The narrative tells us that Esav returned home hungry from hunting. He would sell the shirt off his back in order to get to eat some of the lentil soup that Yaakov was making. It would seem that Yaakov was taking advantage of his brother’s weakened condition by securing the Birthright as compensation for food. The Birthright is defined by the ritual tradition that their father and grandfather had carried before them. The sale could be contested later on as being an illegal transaction because Yaakov was taking advantage of Esav at this time. Several commentators bring this up in their writings. It is the last sentence of the paragraph that makes us believe that it is a recognized sale. The Torah tells us in 25:34 that Esav despised the Birthright. Therefore, no matter what value Yaakov placed on it, Esav placed no value on it. Hence this was not an illegal sale.
When the Torah tells us in the next narrative of Yitzchak’s sojourn into Philistine territory, Hashem tells Yitzchak not to be concerned because Hashem promised the Land of Israel to Avraham. This was because Avraham obeyed Hashem’s voice, observing His safeguards, commandments, decrees and Torahs (26:5). Rashi explains these four categories of commandments. The safeguards are rabbinic enactments that serve as barriers against transgressing Torah laws. Commandments are laws that man sees as sensible and logical. The third category, decrees, are laws that we cannot explain, hence they are like the king’s laws where his subjects do not understand the logic of it. The fourth category, the Torahs, is the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah in this discussion is limited to the interpretations transmitted to Moshe at Sinai and is tantamount to having the same authority as the Written Torah. The Sages felt that Avraham had arrived at the knowledge of the entire Torah through divine inspiration, and he observed all the mitzvot voluntarily. This, according to the Ramban, is how Hashem can praise Avraham for observing even these rabbinic enactments.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman