Growing up in the south, starting around Thanksgiving, in addition to seeing the well-placed greenery of a freshly cut Christmas tree we would begin to spot something more gruesome tied to the top of SUVs.
Hunting season had begun a few weeks prior and by Thanksgiving it was in full swing. You would see large animals such as deer tied to the roof or tailgate of vehicles such as Ford Bronchos or Chevy Blazers. (Unlike today where driving to Short Hills or Westchester necessitates owning an SUV, when I was a kid these vehicles were actually used to drive off road)
Although we were fairly assimilated to southern culture during my childhood years, hunting was something that was unquestionably taboo.
“Jews don’t hunt” my mother, oleh hashalom, would invariably reply in an “end of discussion” sort of tone whenever I naively asked about the intricacies of hunting.
My first and only foray into hunting came in college. In a case of almost reverse discrimination, one semester my two Jewish roommates and I took in a token goy as a sublet. This guy was a classic old south, old money type-what you would call a “sportsman”- complete with the LL Bean wardrobe and fancy Jeep Cherokee with the wood paneling looking like something out of a Norman Rockwell portrait or Ralph Lauren ad.
Most Sundays when I was busy studying, he and his WASP friends would return home after a full day of hunting, reeking of beer and chewing tobacco. They would regale us with tales of their exploits and a few dead ducks, turkeys or a slower moving member of Bambi’s family.
As repulsive as this may seem to the reader, I continued to possess a morbid curiosity about how the act of hunting actually went down. Finally, I gave in to curiosity and requested a ride-along for a duck hunt.
So here I am on a Sunday, well before dawn. Decked out in camouflage, deep in the middle of the woods, a little Jewish boy surrounded by a bunch of big rednecks with guns. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like such a bright idea .
At any rate, The whole day turned out to be a bust. Even with binoculars we failed to spot a single duck. (I hold the ducks were probably back at our SUV enjoying our coffee and listening to the radio while we froze our rear ends off)
I relate this story because I always think back to it when I read this week’s Parsha.
In the narrative of Sefer Toldos, we actually do see a Jew hunt and he seems to be pretty good at it. As much as Esau/Esav is described as a רשה or wicked person, the parsha describes his father Yitzhak as loving Esau for his ability to hunt:
וַיֶּאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו אֶֽ
“Isaac favored Esau because he put (meat) in his mouth”
The question raised is: how could Yitzhak be swayed to overlook his son’s violations of cardinal Torah laws- (idol worship, adultery, murder) all for the promise of a fleshing meal?
Rashi and other commentators note the language used in Yitzhak’s request for Esau to sharpen his knives are phrased to instruct Esau to slaughter ritually as opposed to in a non-kosher manner.
Although this may be a very subtle point, often glossed over by the reader, I think it’s extremely telling.
I would suggest that Yitzhak is in no way naïve to his son’s faults. Instead of casting him off completely, He tries to meet him in the middle. Realizing that there is still a desire for kivod av/em (honoring one’s parent) embedded in Esau, Yitzhak gives him an opportunity to fill that mitzvah. Asking him to hunt was really not about food at all but rather following his father‘s wishes.
I think the teaching point for all of us, whether as parents, teachers, colleagues or friends is to try and understand where the other person is coming from. Not to have them necessarily fit in our construct of how things should be, but instead always work to find a way to engage them at their level, valuing their positive attributes as opposed to writing them off due to their negative ones.
Wishing ya’ll a good Shabbos