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

“Isaac loved Esau, for game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.”  (Genesis 25:28)

Parashat Toldot repeats a familiar motif in Genesis:  brothers in conflict (think Cain and Abel; Ishmael and Isaac, and, later; Joseph and his brothers).  Esau and Jacob, twins, battle each other for primacy, even in the womb.  The rivalry climaxes forty years later when Esau discovers Jacob has deceived Isaac, their father, into blessing him first.  Esau bursts into tears and asks for a blessing, too.  When Jacob says he has already given the blessing away, Esau responds with one of the Torah’s most poignant verses, “Have you but one blessing, father?  Bless me too, father! And Esau wept aloud.” (Gen. 27:38)

This rich and dramatic story allows many interpretations.  It could be a story about the power politics of family dynamics (Rebecca and her favorite, Jacob, besting Isaac and his favorite, Esau).  It could be about the struggle between good and evil (embodied by Jacob and Esau).  It could be about God’s ultimate plan for the Jewish people (bracha, the Hebrew word for blessing, representing the covenant with Abraham and the focus of all the action, appears seven times, a number that signifies wholeness and completion). Or it could be a morality tale about disappointment.

Esau’s life doesn’t follow his self-imagined script.  Despite being the eldest, he ends up with neither the birthright, nor the intended blessing.  His heart-rending question may be directed toward Isaac, but it is one he really has to ask himself, just as each of us has to in our lives.  That is, when things don’t go our way, do we believe we have only the blessing of that one script? Or do we recognize we can go out and find a new blessing through an alternate path?  Esau ends up being successful, just not the way he expected.  We can, too.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,


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