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

“Esau said, “Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is the birthright?” (Genesis 25:32)

Parashat Toldot introduces Esau and Jacob, twin brothers whose rivalry begins in the womb (Gen. 25:22) and haunts them into adulthood. Ultimately, their differences turn them into archtypes, symbols of evil (Esau) and good (Jacob) in Jewish thought. Surely Isaac and Rachel must wonder how two boys raised by the same parents, in the same home with the same upbringing, in the same community could develop such different personalities.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) contends Isaac’s and Rachel’s rigid insistence on treating them the same contributes to the boys’ different attitudes. According to Hirsch, the boys actually are identical twins and therefore are raised in identical fashion (Genesis Rabbah 63:9). But because they are distinct and unique individuals, only Jacob benefits from this approach; Esau suffers. Hirsch contends were Isaac and Rachel to follow the injunction “Educate a lad in his own way, and even in old age he will not stray therefrom” (Proverbs 22:6) and acknowledge Esau’s needs with a different approach, he might grow up to be a hunter and outdoorsman with a love of Torah. In Hirsch’s words, “…the sword of Esau could have become wedded early on to the spirit of Jacob, and who knows what a different turn all of history would have taken.”

Parashat Toldot uses Jacob’s failing vision (Gen. 27:1) as a plot device to set up the “stolen” blessing episode. According to Hirsch, this is simply the outcome of Isaac’s earlier failure to see the person standing right in front of him.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom


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