Parashat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:8)

“When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the
>outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp.” (Genesis 25:27)

Parashat Toldot repeats the Genesis motif of families in conflict.  Rebecca gives birth to Esau and Jacob, children with very different personalities.  Isaac has his favorite (Esau) and Rebecca hers (Jacob).  The rivalry between the brothers comes to a climax when Jacob, at Rebecca’s bidding, impersonates Esau and tricks Jacob into blessing him first.  When Esau discovers the deception, he appeals to Jacob, pleading, “Have you but one blessing, father?  Bless me too, father! And Esau wept aloud.” (Gen. 27:38)

Rabbi Herbert Bomzer (1927-2013; a leading American rabbinic authority and father of Gary Bomzer, President and CEO of the Michael-Ann Russell JCC), claims Esau is concerned not only for his individual well-being, but also for the well-being of the entire family.  Bomzer reads the verse to mean Esau is asking not merely for one more bracha (blessing), but rather, for the bracha of “Oneness,” or unity.  Esau knows his family is a mess and he wants to heal it.  Esau knows family strife is inevitable.  But he also knows a sense of unity is critical to family survival.  Being connected to one another is the secret of Jewish survival.

The recent Pew Report documents some of the ways Jews in America are different one from the other.  In and of itself, that is not a problem; the Jews always have been a diverse people with myriad customs and traditions.  Today, the increasing distancing of each segment of the community from the other is the real threat.  The challenge of the Pew Report is the same as Esau’s challenge to Isaac: how can we reach across our differences to hold one another close?

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom