- 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 Art Greenfield
We live in unusual times─that has been said of every decade of my life and undoubtedly every decade since the beginning of time. I’m sure it was said 4000 or 5000 years ago.
Parashah Toledot, in part, tells the story of Abraham’s son Isaac and his wife, Rebekah. We are told she was barren, and she and Isaac prayed to God that she might conceive. She becomes pregnant with twins that fought within her womb. She asked God the meaning, and God told her “two separate nations were in her womb, one mightier than the other, and the older would serve the younger.
This is also a tale of two brothers who are different one from the other. One brother, Esau, is an outdoorsman, a hunter who spends his time in the fields and forests hunting animals to provide meat for the family. The other brother, Jacob, is more of a homeboy. Esau is hairy and of a swarthy complexion, Jacob the opposite:
Isaac favored Esau for his game, but Rebekah favored Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking, Esau returned to the camp famished and demanded some of Jacob's red stew. Jacob demanded that Esau first sell him his birthright, and Esau did so with an oath, spurning his birthright.
This, of course, is not the first story of brothers falling out, Cain and Abel were the children of Adam & Eve:
Cain, the firstborn, tilled the soil, and his brother Abel was a shepherd. The brothers made sacrifices to God, each of his own produce, but God favored Abel's sacrifice instead of Cain's. Cain murdered Abel. God punished Cain to a life of wandering.
This can be understood as fact since it is in the Torah, or it can be read as folklore to explain dysfunctional family relationships and family feuds.
Today we are living in a time of upheaval, a period unprecedented in the speed change is occurring. The world is never static, but in the past changes occurred at a much slower rate. Our political parties are in disarray and are pulling away from each other at an alarming, and some would say dangerous rate.
I could be dismayed that the very people we hail as our ancestral heroes also fell short in the moral and ethical departments. Abraham pimps his wife so he will not be killed; Esau is scornful of his birthright and sells it to Jacob for the cost of a meal. Rachel aids and abets Jacob in deceiving Isaac into believing he is Esau. Isaac, like Abraham, also represents his wife as his sister.
If I didn’t know better, I might think this was the plot for a soap opera, or a Larry David sitcom. Perhaps my cynical mind is leading me to put my own spin on what is considered sacred text. Maybe we need our Rabbi’s explanation, so we don’t go down the wrong path.
It does, however, make one think about the folly of assuming our ancestors were all paragons of high moral character.
So why do we still read the passages of the Bible every week? Could it be it is to remind us the bar is not so high we cannot aspire to surpass those that we otherwise hold in high esteem?
In today's world, as in the past, we are troubled by the suspicion our spouses or partners may be unfaithful, but now we have the added fear our partners are changing gender. We are told our children of any age, should be able to decide which gender they are and dress accordingly or in any way they choose. We are told there are not two genders but many. I’ll admit I am confused and feel too old to deal with this stuff.
Toledot, as written does not explicitly point out how one incident of deceit can turn into more and more deception. Yet reading the text, it is quite evident that is what has happened. This snowball effect can easily lead to family dysfunction and hatred between former friends and loved ones.
Today our concerns are with our modern world and the dysfunction that is everywhere. It is as though we are experiencing a modern Tower of Babel. We are having difficulty communicating with each other in a common language.
Eons have passed, yet we are still subject to the same deviousness the people experienced back then. Although events are moving fast, we still have not learned the lessons of long ago.
Perhaps we need to remember the words of the poet, Bob Dylan.
The times they are a changing.