- Rebekah has twins, Esau and Jacob. (25:19-26)
- Esau gives Jacob his birthright in exchange for some stew. (25:27-34)
- King Abimelech is led to think that Rebekah is Isaac's sister and later finds out that she is really his wife. (26:1-16)
- Isaac plans to bless Esau, his firstborn. Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac so that Jacob receives the blessing. (27:1-29)
- Esau threatens to kill Jacob, who then flees to Haran. (27:30-45)
by Arthur Greenfield
Parashah Toledot described the events of Abram's son Isaac and his marriage to Rebekah when he was 40 years old. Twenty years passed, and Rebekah still had not given birth. Isaac pleaded with God on her behalf, and God allowed her to conceive. As she was nearing the delivery of twins, God told her "two separate nations are in your womb and are fighting for domination, and the older will serve the younger."
The first born was Esau. His skin was red and covered with hair. His brother Jacob followed, holding Esau's heel. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.
One day, when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau, who had been out hunting, came back famished and requested some of the stew. Jacob demanded Esau sell him his birthright as the price for the food. Esau spurned his birthright and sold it to Jacob for a mess of potage (A bowl of stew.)
When Isaac was old and blind, he summoned Esau and asked him to hunt some game and prepare a dish for him. Isaac told Esau that when he returned he would receive his blessing. Rebekah, who favored Jacob, had overheard this exchange and instructed Jacob to bring her two of her choice kids so that she can prepare a dish which Jacob can then take to his father. Rebekah told Jacob to put on Esau's best clothes; she then covered his hands with the kid's skin. Jacob presented himself before Isaac as Esau. Jacob then asked for his father's blessing and Isaac asked who was there. Jacob declared he was Esau. Isaac thought his clothing smelled of the fields and the voice he heard was that of Jacob. Nevertheless, Isaac gave Jacob his blessing.
The chapters that follow describe Esau's desire to kill Jacob because of the deception and Esau's loss of Isaacs blessings. They further describe Rebekah telling Jacob to flee to Haran to her brother Laban.
What a combination of moral and ethical dilemmas. There is the question of Rebekah's behavior urging Jacob to pretend he is Esau and Jacob's actions in carrying out the deception.
Most of us at some time have been wronged; it is natural to be disappointed when it involves close friends or family—and it can sometimes escalate into tragic events. Are we just supposed to forget the damage done to us? Or do we take revenge? Turning the other cheek is difficult but often necessary where violence could ensue. Although there is much genuine cause for anger, keeping a clear head and understanding the Jewish moral code is a great help in making the right decision.
Judaism demonstrates clear examples of both good and bad moral and ethical behavior, the knowledge we all need if we are to teach our children these attributes. So, what do we learn from this parashah? For one thing, it illustrates the frailties of man, confirming we all have good and bad traits. It also shows that restraint is needed when we are about to make a major blunder.
As I was going over the various verses, I had to smile as I thought what great material for an opera.
The first operas appeared in the early 1600's and slowly grew in popularity. Different opera styles evolved over the years. The basic idea of opera is to tell a story and interweave music to accentuate the mood. Mozart, born in the 1750's and a brilliant composer wrote both serious and a lighter style that today we call comic opera. If we jump to the 1870's we find two established artists, one a composer Arthur Sullivan, and the other a librettist (writer.) W.S. Gilbert. They were introduced by a third party and became partners in producing comic operas. They wrote 14 operas together, which paved the way for the great musical movies of the 20th century.
Gilbert's stories were noted for their absurdly improbable "topsy-turvy" situations and setting the action in locations far away from Britain, permitted Gilbert to criticize British politics and institutions. This method of disguising dangerous criticism of a country was not new, it was used by Sir Thomas More in his book Utopia.
Operas like the Mikado, while telling a very amusing story, would most certainly be written differently today. The farcical portrayal of the Japanese government, society, and individuals is so over the top and is deliberately presented that way to mock the British. Just the assignment of the characters names is insulting. Names like Nanki-Poo, Pish-Tush, Pooh-Bah, Pitti-Sing, and Yum-Yum. An interesting aside of how time changes what is and is not acceptable.
The story of Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Jacob contains all the strange twists and turns one can imagine, along with the full range of emotions: love, hate, envy, lying, jealousy, theft, blackmail, disguise, and deception. In fact, it has all the ingredients of an excellent comic opera, not because the Parashah is funny, but because it resembles a melodrama and the only thing missing is the twirling of a mustache. I believe Toledot could have inspired Gilbert.
I have this fantasy where I am producing this opera, and I assign the roles for the players along with their vocal range. Isaac is the baritone, Esau, and Jacob, tenors, Abraham although not seen, is heard off stage as a booming bass. Rebekah the mezzo-soprano, Judith, and Basemath screechy sopranos; perhaps inspired by Cinderella's Ugly Sisters or Katisha, an elderly spinster in the Mikado. Toledot is one opera I would pay to see.
Oh well, so much for my twisted imagination.