There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
November 25, 2022
By Logan Woodard

Favoritism, Deception, and Stew.

No, this isn’t a description of the newest Colleen Hoover book. This is a bit from this week’s Torah portion, Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

I vividly remember learning this story while attending the Syracuse Hebrew Day School. I was struck by the imagery my Rabbi– Rabbi Shore of Sha’arei Torah – used while telling this story. He told us of the twin boys born to Rebecca and Isaac, and that these twins are very different from one another. The oldest, Esau, an avid outdoorsman, and Jacob, the youngest, a timid man, focused on learning. Esau is favored by his father, Isaac, while Jacob is favored by his mother, Rebecca.

The story’s pivotal moment is when Esau returns hungry from a hunting trip and asks his brother for some stew. Jacob says he’ll allow Esau some stew on the condition that Esau sells him his birthright – his rights as the firstborn. Esau decided his hunger was too great, so he sold his birthright to Jacob. Years later, Rebecca and Jacob work together to deceive Isaac, who wants to bless Esau. In his old age, Isaac has become blind, so Jacob dresses in Esau’s clothes, feeds his father some stew, and successfully deceives him, who blesses Jacob instead of Esau.

Fast forward to today when, rather than thinking of one’s rights as a firstborn, we think about a free 10-day peer travel experience to Israel when we hear the word Birthright. Fortunately, there isn’t any deception in this Birthright story. Often, while promoting Birthright on campus, students ask, “What’s the catch? There’s no way this is totally free.” I tell them: “You caught me. It isn’t free. You’ll have to buy lunch for yourself a few times. Otherwise, it’s totally free.” And this is the truth. Birthright is an incredible opportunity to travel, learn, and ultimately explore one’s Jewish identity – and aside from a lunch here or there, it’s free.

Hillel of Buffalo is sending a full Birthright bus to Israel this January. This will be my sixth time staffing Birthright and the first time in nearly three years that we have been able to send a Birthright group. Along with Macie Clawson, a former Springboard Innovation Fellow at Hillel of Buffalo, we will be traveling to Israel with a group of 34 UB students, young alumni, and students from Buffalo. Our itinerary is packed with visits to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Negev Desert, and more. We’ll visit wineries, float in the Dead Sea, pray at the Western Wall, make art in the Jaffa flea market, and so much more.

The truth is not every activity will speak to each participant, and some will even challenge them. Perhaps they didn’t feel anything they were expecting at a religious site. Maybe they were surprised to learn that what they see on the news is more complicated. Students will have their favorite activities and visits and their least favorites. While I cannot guarantee which activity or visit will speak to which students, I can guarantee that “ah-ha” moments will happen, laughs will be heard, and no one will have to sell their birthright for the cholent, or Shabbat stew, that we’ll have on Saturday morning in Jerusalem!

Logan Woodard is the Director of Engagement at Hillel of Buffalo.

There's No Such Thing as a Free Lunch - Jewish thought of the week graphic