Lentil Soup

A Jewish tradition that goes back to the Bible.

In Parashat Toldot we read the story of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for some delicious lentil stew. One day, Jacob prepares a stew while Esau is out hunting in the fields. Esau returns from his long day of hunting and demands some of what he calls ha-adom ha-adom hazeh or “that red stuff,” but Jacob won’t give it to his brother unless Esau agrees to give up his birthright. Esau forfeits his birthright, and the text tells us, “Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank and he rose and went away. Thus did Esau spurn the birthright.” (25:34)This is an important point in the Torah because it shows Jacob beginning to take some agency over his future, and the future of the Jewish people. The episode also teaches about the importance of food and hunger. When people are as famished as Esau was after his day of work, they will do anything, give up anything, in order to eat.

To commemorate this story and its lessons, it is my family’s custom to make a big pot of lentil soup on the Shabbat of Parashat Toldot. This recipe is excellent, but don’t go selling your birthright to get it–you can make it yourself very easily.

Ideally, the soup should be made in a slow cooker that is turned on the morning before you plan to serve the soup. If you’re planning to serve the soup for Shabbat lunch, you can turn on the crock pot on Friday before Shabbat starts, and the soup will be delicious (but maybe more like a stew) by lunchtime on Saturday. This recipe can also be prepared in a large soup pot. And don’t reserve it only for Shabbat Toldot–this hearty soup is great for any chilly night.


1 Tablespoon salt

Bouillon to taste

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon cumin

1 Tablespoon paprika

1 Tablespoon oregano

1 32 oz container low-sodium tomato juice

1 bunch celery, chopped

1 16 oz bag brown lentils

1 onion, chopped

1 bunch leeks, green parts discarded, white parts cleaned and chopped

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into large pieces


If using a slow cooker, put all the ingredients in the slow cooker together. Fill the slow cooker with water, leaving an inch from the edge of the bowl, and add a liberal dash of bouillon. Set the cooker to its low setting for 6-8 hours. It only needs to be stirred before serving.

If using a soup pot on the stove, put all ingredients in the pot together. Fill the pot with water, leaving at least an inch of space at the top. Add a liberal dash of bouillon and simmer covered for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.

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