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

“When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb.” (Genesis 25:24)

Parashat Toldot tells a familiar tale of familial conflict. Rebecca gives birth to Esau and Jacob, boys with very different personalities. Isaac favors Esau; Rebecca prefers Jacob. The sibling rivalry 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 vows to kills his brother (Gen. 27:41).

This rich and dramatic story allows many interpretations. It can be about the power politics of family dynamics (Rebecca and her favorite, Jacob, besting Isaac and his favorite, Esau). Or, it can be about the struggle between good and evil (embodied by Jacob and Esau). Additionally, it can be about God’s ultimate plan for the Jewish people (bracha, or blessing, representing the covenant with Abraham and the focus of all the action, appears seven times, a number that signifies wholeness and completion). The Hayim Vahesed (Hayim Hayka of Amdur (-1787; early Chassidic leader in Lithuania and a disciple of the Maggid of Mezrich) suggests it also can be about the inner struggle to choose wisely.

Hayka plays with the verse,” No sooner had Jacob left the presence of his father Isaac-after Isaac had finished blessing Jacob-than his brother Esau came back mi-tzeido, from his hunt.” (Gen. 27:30) He changes the vocalization so it reads mi-tzido, from his side. Hayka says Esau represents the evil inclination, always standing at our side, tempting us to choose poorly. Rachel and Jacob’s collusion become a strategy not to outwit Isaac, but to outwit the evil inclination so Jacob can choose well. Parashat Toldot isn’t a story about Jacob, our ancestor; it’s a parable about ourselves.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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