When I caught my children calling each other curious variations of the word "ketchup", it made me think of Esau. Famished after a hard day's hunting, he came home to the smell of fresh food and demanded some "red, red stuff" from his brother. Why does the Torah nickname Esau "Edom" ("Red One") after the colour of the lentil stew he requested? In what way was this request so definitive of the man? And apart from the gluttony and lack of etiquette, why does Esau's culinary desire precipitate his character assassination by the commentaries?
Jacob was cooking lentils as an act of mourning following his grandfather Abraham's death. Rashi explains that lentils are eaten at a shivah house because they are circular and remind us of the cyclical nature of life and death. Further, they have the appearance of closed lips, reminding us not to lash out verbally against God during times of bereavement, thereby risking making regrettable comments. This seemingly simple Jewish custom of serving lentils contains profound lessons for the mourner.
Esau's flaw, and what he allowed to dominate his personality, was a refusal to see beyond the superficial. He was so overcome by the lentils' luscious red appearance that he was willing to exchange his entire birthright and destiny for it. A moment's reflection would have enabled him to decode the food's significance with greater perspective and reach a more measured decision. One of life's most valuable lessons is not to take things at face value but invest the time and effort to seek out meaning and depth. Perhaps I'll be able to teach my children this one day - when they finish calling each other "ketchup", that is.