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November 18, 2023: Parashat Torah Portion Toldot

This week’s Parashah Torah Portion Toldot is taken from Genesis 25:19-28:9. Join Dr. Jeffery Myers, as hones in on the players in this narrative, unpacking the story of Rebecca, Jacob, Esau and Isaac; Asking the fundamental questions that begs to be asked concerning not only the biblical interpretation, but also the moral aspects involved.


Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashah Torah Portion:


Lion of Judah Speaks: Parashah Torah Portion Toldot - Genesis 25:19-28:9


When we look at the story of Rebecca, Jacob, Esau and Isaac we try to figure out what was going on…Why such deception? So, we look at the players in the narrative: Was Jacob right to take Esau’s blessing in disguise? Was he right to deceive his father and take from his brother the blessing of Isaac? Was Rebecca right in conceiving the plan and encouraging Jacob to carry it out? These are all fundamental questions. It's not just about biblical interpretation but the moral life itself…How we read a text shapes the kind of person we become.


Here is one interpretation: Rebecca was right to propose what she did and Jacob was right to do it because Rebecca knew that it would be Jacob, not Esau who would continue the covenant and carrying out the mission of Abraham. She understood it on two levels: First, she heard from Elohim Himself in Gen 25:23 when Elohim said the older will serve the younger, therefore Jacob would emerge with greater strength. Jacob was chosen by Elohim! Secondly, she watched the twins grow up and saw that Esau was a hunter, violent, impulsive, not calm, and saw him sell his birthright for soup (Gen. 25:34). She believed that someone who sells his birthright can be the trusted guardian of a covenant intended for eternity! We also see in Gen. 26:34 (right before the blessing) Esau married a Hittite woman. His failure to understand what the covenant requires proved himself indifferent both to the feelings of his parents and to the self-restraint in the choice of a marriage partner which was essential to being Abraham’s heir. So, she believed the blessing had to go to Jacob! If you had two sons and one was an art-lover and the other was indifferent, who would you leave your Rembrandt to as part of the family heritage?


This was not just about relationships within the family but about Elohim, destiny, spiritual vocation, and the future of the entire people that was told to Abraham…a great nation who would bless all humanity. So, if Rebecca was correct then Jacob was correct to follow her instructions. Rebecca was chosen to be Isaac’s wife because she was kind. She wasn’t acting out of favoritism or ambition. She wanted the blessing to be cherished and to be lived…so does the end justify the means?


As we read Gen. 27:33-36 we feel sorry for Isaac and Esau rather than Rebecca and Jacob. Again, Elohim shows us their emotions! Look at the ramifications of this act: Jacob left home for more than 20 years in fear of his life. He suffered identical deceit practiced against him by Laban. The deceit Jacob accuses Laban of doing is the very same deceit Jacob used with Isaac. Translated as this “We do not do in our place what you have just done in yours.” The result of Laban’s deception is grief to the rest of Jacob’s life, tension between Leah and Rachael, hatred between their children.


Jacob is deceived again by his own sons as they brought back Joseph’s coat with blood…another deception involving the use of clothes. The end resulting in depriving Jacob of the company of his most beloved son for 20 years just as Isaac was of Jacob.


When Pharaoh asked Jacob how old he was in Gen. 47:9, he replied “Few and evil have been the years of my life.” No one else in Torah ever replied to this question like this.


Let’s go back and understand the phrase “elder will serve the younger.” This phrase suggests an ongoing conflict…but not who will win. Isaac fully understood the nature of the two sons. He loved Esau but this does not mean he was blind to the fact that Jacob would be the heir to the covenant. Isaac prepared two sets of blessings for Esau and Jacob. Look at Esau’s blessing that Jacob received…wealth and power! These are not covenantal blessings. Covenant blessings that Elohim gave Abraham and Isaac were completely different; they were about children and land! It is this blessing Isaac gave Jacob before he left home (Gen. 28:3-4). This was the blessing Isaac had intended for Jacob all along. There was no need for deceit and disguise! This is something Jacob understood later when he wrestled with the angel in Gen. 33:1. What did Jacob give Esau when he saw him as he returned…wealth and power. Jacob gave the blessing back!


Let’s sum up this narrative. We see a couple of things; Rebecca and Jacob made a mistake, a forgivable one, an understandable one, but a mistake nonetheless. The blessing Isaac was about to give Esau was not the blessing of Abraham. He intended to give Esau a blessing appropriate to him. In so doing he was acting on the basis of precedent (Gen. 21:18). This was the fulfillment of a promise Elohim had given to Abraham many years before when He told him it would be Isaac, not Ishmael, who would continue the covenant (Gen. 17:18-21).


Isaac knew this but maybe Rebecca did not know this fact and so she associated blessing with covenant! What do we learn? It is possible that all four people acted rightly as they understood the situation, yet still tragedy occurred. Isaac was right to wish Esau blessed as Abraham sought for Ishmael. Esau acted honorably toward his father. Rebecca sought to safeguard the covenant.


Jacob felt bad but did what his mother said, knowing she would not have proposed deceit without a strong moral reason for doing so. So, do we have one story with two possible interpretations? Maybe, but that is not the best way of describing it. What we have here is a story we understand one way the first time we hear it, and a different way once we have discovered and reflected on all that happened later. Because it is only after we have read about the fate of Jacob in Laban’s house, the tension between Leah and Rachel and the animosity between Joseph and his brothers that we can go back and read Gen. 27, the chapter of blessing, in a new light and with greater depth!


There is such a thing as an honest mistake and it is a mark of Jacob’s greatness that he recognized it and made amends to Esau. In the greater encounter 22 years later the estranged brothers meet, embrace and part as friends and go their separate ways but first Jacob had to wrestle with an angel. He had to become Israel!


This is how the moral life is…we learn by making mistakes, we live life forward but we understand it only by looking back. It is only then do we see the wrong turns we inadvertently made. This discovery is sometimes our greatest moment of moral truth! For each of us there is a blessing that is ours! It was true for Isaac and Ishmael and true for Jacob and Esau. What a powerful moral lesson: Never seek your brother’s blessing…be content with your own! This later became the 10th of the 10 Commandments!


Shabbat Shalom Mishpocha,


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This is your time to rise up and walk out the destiny Elohim has given you. Let us come together to worship our King for all He has done for us. Arise and shine for the Light has come and the glory of Adonai has risen among us! Amen!

Enjoy your Sabbath and may it be sweet as His Presence fills your life and the House. See you at the altar!


Shalom Aleichem

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1 Comment


"She believed that someone who sells his birthright can be the trusted guardian of a covenant intended for eternity!"

Shouldn't it say "can NOT be the trusted guardian"?

I

If I misread please let me know.

Hashem yevarech otha

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