And Yaakov lived in the lands in which his father sojourned, the land of Canaan. – Bereishis 37: 1
Rashi tells us that after the Torah described the life of Eisav in an abbreviated manner, it then told over the events of the life of Yaakov in full detail. The reason for this is that Yaakov and what occurred to him are important in the eyes of Hashem, whereas Eisav and his life aren’t. So too, Rashi explains, we find with the ten generations from Adam to Noach. Each individual gets a mere mention until we get to the life of Noach. Then the Torah elaborates in full detail.
The same pattern is repeated with the ten generations from Noach until Avraham. We are told in condensed form – “so and so gave birth to so and so” – until we get to the life of Avraham. Then the Torah again goes into great detail because the life and activities of a tzaddik are important in the eyes of Hashem, while those a rasha aren’t.
Rashi continues with a mashal to help explain this concept. Imagine a man has lost a precious stone in the sand. He takes a sieve and begins combing through the sand to find it. The sieve picks up many small rocks along with the gem that he is searching for. Once he finds the gem, he takes it out and throws the rocks away.
This Rashi becomes difficult to understand when we focus on the purpose of a mashal. Chazal use parables to help bridge a gap. When we are dealing with concepts that are outside our frame of reference, our sages often use examples and metaphors to bring difficult ideas into terms that we can understand. For instance, if you were given the task to describe the color purple to a color-blind person, how would you portray it? Well, it isn’t blue and it’s not red. The problem is that since this person sees all colors in the grey spectrum, neither point of reference has any meaning. So you might revert to a mashal. The purpose of the mashal is to capture the essence of a distant concept and bring it closer.
Why does Rashi feel we need a mashal to understand this concept? It seems rather straightforward. Eisav wasn’t important, so the Torah told over his life quickly, whereas Yaakov and what he accomplished are significant, so the Torah went into the details. That seems like an elementary concept, not one that needs repeating or a mashal to help clarify it.
The Value of a Person
The answer to this question is that Rashi is explaining a concept that isn’t obvious at all – namely, the true value of a person. If you were to ask a chemist the value of a human being, he might say, “Well, let’s see…So much potassium…so much magnesium…I would estimate his value at about 60 cents.” That would be accurate in one dimension. If we were measuring the value of a human from the perspective of the chemicals that make up his body, we would find him rather inexpensive. However, from a different perspective, the human is the most precious entity on the face of the planet – something so precious that it was worthwhile to create an entire cosmos for just one person.
The difference in the value systems manifests itself in the way a person lives his life. If a person leads his life like any other occupant of this planet, as just another member of the animal kingdom, then he has the value of whatever his physical being represents – a couple of pounds of rotting meat. However, if a person recognizes the reason Hashem put us on the planet and leads the life of a great person, his value is incalculable.
Living Like a Rock
That is what Rashi seems to be telling us. If the Torah only mentioned Eisav quickly and then elaborated about the life of Yaakov, you would never quite understand the difference in their values. Let me give you a mashal: When a man is looking for a pearl in the sand and he picks up some rocks along with it, they are utterly, totally and completely valueless to him. He throws them back down. The Torah is using this mashal to give us the perspective of the stark difference in value. It wasn’t that Eisav wasn’t as important as Yaakov – he was valueless, something to be discarded. He was a rock. When he left this planet, that is all that was left – the body to decay into the ground.