TOLDOT tells the story of the second generation of patriarchs and matriarchs, and begins the dramatic story of the third. Scenes from this Parashah are among the most famous in the Bible. The saga begins when Isaac is aged forty, and Rebekah is experiencing a difficult pregnancy. Learning from God that she is pregnant with twins who will become ancestors of different peoples, Rebekah is also told by the Divine that the older of the twins will someday serve the younger. Esau and Jacob are born, the first famously red and hairy, and thus named “Esau”, the second emerging clutching the heel of his brother, and hence named “Jacob”. In a poignant line, the Torah tells us that Isaac loved Esau because he brought him food, but “Rebekah loved Jacob”. Impetuous from birth, Esau, a hunter, returns from a hunt so hungry one day that he agrees to sell his birthright to his younger brother in exchange for a bowl of the lentil stew that Jacob is preparing. The scene changes, and what follows is a series of incidents that echo nearly identical ones from the life of Abraham, again involving Abimelech and the attempt to pretend his wife is his sister; once more the Hebrew patriarch is protected by the king and grows rich. Then forced from place to place by avaricious Philistines, Isaac leads a nomadic life. As God once blessed his father, Abraham, in Beersheva, so God blesses Isaac there. Next comes one of the most powerful incidents in all of Torah. Now blind and frail, Isaac decides the time has come to bless his elder son, and so he sends him out to hunt game and to prepare a dish for Isaac to eat before he bestows the blessing. At Rebekah’s behest and with her help, Jacob masquerades as his brother, approaches his blind father, offers him food, and asks for the blessing. In words that have resounded through history, Isaac responds: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau”, and blesses his son. Esau returns and discovers that his younger brother has stolen his blessing; distraught, he begs his father for a blessing as well, and plans to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac dies. Rebekah sends Jacob away to safety with her brother Laban, telling her husband that Jacob needs to find a non-Canaanite bride. Isaac agrees, and now, in a blessing indeed intended for his younger son, says: “May God grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, and which God bequeathed to Abraham”.
Questions for discussion 1- How can we understand that Isaac, a patriarch of Israel, prefers a son “because he brings him food”? 2- Why cannot Isaac “cancel” the blessing on Jacob when he learns of his deception and give it to Esau as it was intended? 3- How can we explain the similarity between the incidents that happen to Isaac in this Parashah and those that happened to his father in the past? Can they really be so similar or should we read this differently?
Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Mijael Even-David