Jacob was cooking soup, and his older brother wanted a bowl. Jacob offered the soup in exchange for Esau’s firstborn rights. Esau didn’t hesitate; he happily surrendered his birthright for a bowl of soup.

Years later, their father, Isaac, wanted to bless Esau. Jacob donned Esau’s garments and presented himself to his blind father as Esau. Jacob received the blessings, and Esau was incensed. “He deceived me twice,” cried Esau. “First he took my firstborn rights, and now he took my blessing!”

This story presents a question: Esau was understandably perturbed over losing the blessing. But why was he suddenly concerned over his birthright? He had surrendered it with barely a protest years earlier, so what changed now?

The Biggest Challenge

So long as the hurdle seems insurmountable, the path to recovery is blockedWhen faced with an internal challenge, be it obsession, depression, addiction or a craving for food, the first step must be nurturing faith in our ability to overcome the challenge. So long as the hurdle seems insurmountable, the path to recovery is blocked. The journey to recovery can commence only if we possess a firm belief in our ability to succeed.

The journey can begin, but there is a long way to go. The road is strewn with obstacles, and overcoming them requires motivation, commitment and a great investment of energy. Knowing that we are capable of completing the journey does not guarantee that we will do so. It is only when we have succeeded in ridding ourselves of negative traits that we are truly liberated.

Our initial belief in our ability to overcome was unproven. The actual demonstration of success reinforces our faith in ourselves.

We are still not completely free; we are still at risk of succumbing to our weaknesses again. But we have gained real confidence. And we now know that, even if we should fail again, there will always be hope. We have overcome once and, if necessary, can do it again. This awareness stimulates confidence and joy, the ecstatic thrill of success.

In the Grip of the Body

The soul faces a similar challenge. It is given a task by G‑d to descend from heaven and function on earth. In a realm focused on materialism, pleasure, ego and self-worship, the soul is asked to introduce selflessness, devotion to a higher cause, and sanctity. A staggering task, but the soul contains the tools to succeed.

Jacob, the pious scholar, represents the soul. Esau, the wicked hunter, represents the body. Esau appeared a formidable foe; at first glance one would doubt that Jacob could ever prevail. The showdown transpired over a bowl of soup. Jacob allowed Esau the soup, but forced him to surrender his claim to the firstborn rights. This was Jacob’s way of saying that they might grapple, but from here on he would always have the strength to emerge triumphant—he is now the firstborn.

Now Esau realized that the birthright wasn’t merely a hypothetical toolEsau conceded the point. He was not overly bothered by the soul’s untapped ability to triumph, because he knew that tapping into this potential is difficult. In fact, most people never tap into it; they accept the formidability of their foe, and surrender long before the struggle begins. Thus, Esau rested secure in the knowledge that the soul’s vast potential will, most often, be left untapped.

Then disaster struck. Jacob challenged Esau and won; he actually received the blessing.1 The blessing represents the empowerment of the soul. It is Jacob’s spiritual delight, his soulful realization that he has bested Esau. It is the euphoric realization that comes with having conquered our will at least once.2

Now Esau was perturbed—about the blessing and the birthright. Now he realized that the birthright wasn’t merely a hypothetical tool never to be used; Jacob had used it once, and intended to use it again. With this dawning realization, Esau belatedly protested the sale of the birthright.

The good news for you and me is that Esau’s protests went unheeded. Neither the blessing nor the birthright was taken from Jacob. We are thus truly empowered to overcome the wiles and temptations, the cravings and yearnings, of our temporal and materialistic selves, and rise to the sacred worship of G‑d.