What we notice about others can be “soup-er” revealing about ourselves!
You might think that Eisav was known as “Edom” (red) due to the ruddy skin tone with which he was born (B’reishis 25:25). However, the Torah explicitly says otherwise. It was not until 15 years later, when Eisav referred to Yaakov’s lentil soup as “the very red stuff,” that Eisav earned this national name in perpetuity (25:30).
But why would this be? Shouldn’t his congenital, reddish appearance be more of a defining feature than his choice of words one time in conversation?
The Kli Yakar answers that, in those days, it was not considered unusual for a baby to be born with a bloody hue. Chazal even list this condition among the common illnesses that would warrant delaying a bris milah (Shabbos 134a). For that reason, Eisav’s shade of color at birth was not unique enough to label him at that time.
However, the Kli Yakar continues, Eisav’s description of the soup as “the red stuff” was very telling. The pot undoubtedly contained numerous ingredients, and the stew must have had a name that Eisav knew. Why, of all things, would he identify the dish by its color? The fact that this element of the food stood out to Eisav was a reflection that he, internally, defined himself by his reddish appearance. It was the identification with his bloody complexion that led him – perhaps unconsciously – to “see red” wherever he went. It was only when Eisav demonstrated that he identified others by a red color that it became clear to all that he characterized himself by this same feature, as well. Therefore, it was only now that people began to call him Edom.
In psychology, this phenomenon is known as “projection.” Without realizing it, people often “project” a bit of themselves – their identity, feelings, and values – onto other people or stimuli. This is the theory behind the famous Rorschach Inkblot Test, in which the image that one person sees in an ambiguous inkblot may be different from what another perceives, and the results are telling about the personality of each. More practically, the qualities that we tend to notice in others can be a reflection of the values most important to us. Sometimes, our conscious, rational minds can employ various defenses to shield us from uncomfortable truths. We may profess to live by certain ideals or morals, but how can we know for sure if what we claim to be is who we actually are?
With a little introspection, we can take note of the judgments and characterizations that we tend to make about other people in order to gain unbiased insight into our true underlying views and values. What faults do we usually call out in others? What motives and labels do we tend to ascribe to those we dislike? Believe it or not, human beings are even more sophisticated than a pot of lentil soup; the aspects on which we choose to fixate may reveal more about us than those being labeled.
What color do you see?