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

“When the lads grew up, Esau was a man who understood hunting,
a man of the field, and Jacob was a single-minded man, living in tents.” (Genesis 25:27)

Parashat Toldot introduces Esau and Jacob, twin brothers whose rivalry begins in the womb (Gen. 25:22) and haunts them into adulthood. It also introduces a new genre of Biblical literature: farce.

Commentators throughout the ages have speculated about Rebecca’s and Jacob’s deception of Isaac; could Isaac really not have known which son he was blessing (Gen. 27: 19-29)? Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh (1808-1888; a German rabbi considered the father of modern Orthodox Judaism) takes a novel approach, claiming the outlandish and clumsy scheme (dressing Jacob in freshly killed animal skins to impersonate Esau) is purposely over the top: Rebecca isn’t trying to deceive Jacob, she’s trying to shock him into opening his eyes to see the truth.

Toldot describes Esau as a “hunter with his mouth…” (Gen. 25:28), meaning he knows how to curry favor with his father. And once he wraps Isaac around his finger, nothing Esau does (even marrying idolatrous women) changes Isaac’s opinion. Rebecca knows Esau, with his focus on the material aspect of life, is unfit to carry on God’s brit, or covenant, but she doesn’t get to give the parental blessing. So she sets the plot in motion, not because she loves Jacob more than Esau, but because she doesn’t want Esau to deceive Isaac any more.

When Isaac realizes he has blessed Jacob unintentionally, he is seized by a “great terror” (Gen. 27:33) because he realizes, finally, it is Esau who has fooled him all along. That is why he responds, “…He, too, shall be blessed.” (Gen. 27: 33). Jacob later blesses Isaac a second time, this time freely and with full knowledge (Gen. 28:3-4).

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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