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Toldot – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

Toldot, signifies “the generations” but what is set out is not just Jacob and Esau but also the many wives of Esau.


After a difficult pregnancy Rebecca gives birth to Jacob and Esau. Esau is born first, and he is followed by Jacob who is described as “grasping his heel”. Hanging over them is the prophesy:

Two nations are in your womb
One kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom
The elder will serve the younger

The results of this will fashion a large part of the story.

Isaac would favour Esau, the first born. If Jacob knew this it must have rankled with him. We see, for the first time, the cunning that would go on to colour his own life as he buys the birth right of Esau.

Whilst in Gerar, Isaac does not learn from the experience of his mother. He allows Rebecca to be seen as his sister rather than his wife. He becomes rich and he spends his time digging wells. He is, by nature, passive.

Rebecca will go on to deceive Isaac by disguising Jacob in order for him to receive the blessing of the first born. What is Esau’s response when he hears what has happened? He may have forgotten the childhood bargain he had made in haste with Jacob. For Jacob it was the fulfilment of the prophesy made to Rebecca. From Esau’s perspective he had done nothing wrong and we read:

he cried out a great and bitter cry

Later in the Sedra we read:

And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, "Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Jacob.”

In the world of today there are many great divides. Resentment colours our perceptions of our fellows. The cry “it’s not fair” or “they are less deserving” or even just “they are different” can lead to intolerance and even violence.

Jacob and Esau will eventually meet, albeit with suspicion, but they depart in peace. Understanding those who have a different path is the foundation of tolerance. Labour or Conservative, Democrat or Republican, Charedi or Reform, we all share the same world.

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