Toldot 5779

By: Larry Tobin

So, Isaac and Rebecca wanted a child. OK. Nothing unusual about that. Well, nothing unusual accept for the fact that they produced twins. Esau and Jacob. But these were no ordinary twins. Rebecca experienced an unusually hard labor. Why? Because the twins seemed to be fighting in her womb. And this began the saga of Jacob and Esau.

“Toldot” means generations. Jacob and Esau were destined to become the progenitors of two groups of people who would always be at each other throats. The battle between their descendants continues to the present day. Was this to be their destiny? Was there something in their early history that could account for this?

I could simplify the matter and state that Jacob vs. Esau represents a battle between good and evil. But as we all are undoubtedly aware, life today has made it difficult to differentiate between good and evil. One person’s hero is another person’s villain. After all, even the Wicked Witch of Wizard of Oz fame has suddenly become the admiration of millions in her own play.

Jacob and Esau were not only not identical twins, but their lifestyles were diametrically opposed. Esau was very hairy. Jacob may have actually been bald. Esau was a hunter. Jacob was a scholar. Esau worshipped idols. Jacob devoutly followed the precepts of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. It’s recognized that Isaac favored Esau and Rebecca favored Jacob. Esau had a way with his father. He would hunt and bring him good food to eat. He knew exactly what to say to his father to bring out the gleam in his father’s eyes.

As the first born, Esau preceded Jacob out of the womb, Esau was entitled to certain birthright advantages. Most of us are probably familiar with the pot of lentils for birthright trade that Jacob negotiated with Esau. Hence, I won’t bother retelling it. Suffice it to state that Esau eagerly accepted the trade. The deal turned out to exceed the acquisition of Manhattan from the Native Americans and Seward’s purchase of Alaska from the Russian Empire. Skip forward to the disguise of Jacob enabling him to receive a blessing from a vision-impaired Isaac that was apparently intended for Esau. Again, I will forego reiterating the story as most of you are already likely familiar with it. So, where does this leave us? Is Jacob a dirty rat who took advantage of his poor brother Esau?

Some of you may disagree, but in my opinion everything Jacob did was perfectly above board. Let’s examine the two incidents earlier described a little more closely. Esau may have been able to fool his father, but he couldn’t fool his mother. Rebecca was aware that Isaac planned to bless Esau with material wealth and Jacob with spiritual fulfilment. Why should material wealth go to an undeserving Esau instead of to a righteous Jacob who would have to toil to make ends meet? Shouldn’t the righteous be blessed with the good things in life? Therefore, she devised a plan that would allow for a proper outcome from Isaac’s blessings. Should Jacob have disregarded his mother? I think not.

Let’s examine this even further. Why was Esau entitled to the first blessing from Isaac? Simply put, it was a birthright blessing. But didn’t Esau voluntarily trade his birthright to Jacob? So, wasn’t Jacob really entitled to the first blessing? But for the fact that Isaac was apparently unaware of the negotiation between Jacob and Esau, Jacob would clearly and legally be entitled to the first blessing. Why didn’t Esau come forward and explain to Isaac that Jacob should get the first blessing? Didn’t he trust that Isaac would give him a great second blessing? Obviously not. Jacob, please note, never recommended to Rebecca that he inform Isaac that Esau’s birthright had been traded to him. Such was the noble and humble nature of Jacob. Therefore, Rebecca intervenes and the rest is history.

Now please note that Isaac felt something was awry. “… but the hands are the hands of Esau”. Nevertheless, he proceeds to bless Jacob. Moreover, when Isaac later blesses Esau after learning of the disguise, why did he choose to bless Esau as he did? Jacob was blessed with the spiritual blessings of Abraham and with material blessings. Esau was given a conditional blessing. If he shakes loose from the yoke of Jacob, then he will get the material blessings. What does this mean? So long as the descendants of Jacob remain spiritual and loyal to G-d, they will be entitled to material blessings. If they abandon G-d, then the descendants of Esau will be able to snatch the material blessings. Mistake by Isaac? I think not.

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