Toldot – continuity and rivalry

It was hard to write this parsha piece with the rockets falling on Israel, and Israel mobilising its citizen army to defend its borders. Along with many others, this writer prays for G-d’s help in saving us from our enemies and granting success to our soldiers. Beersheba in the south has been under attack, and it is mentioned in this parsha. Rechovot, not far from Rishon LeTzion that was bombed, is also mentioned. This parsha develops the sibling rivalry theme so prevalent in the book of Bereshit, (see Cain and Abel) and portrays the hatred of one brother for another, restrained only by his love for his aged father’s opinion: “May the days of mourning for my father come quickly so that I can kill my brother Jacob.” Interestingly, this rivalry is predicted in advance, and begins prenatally.

This parsha also describes the ways in which Isaac continues the way of his father Abraham. In the end it is Jacob, the second born twin, who continues the spiritual line. He continues the chain of the three patriarchs in whose merit all Jewish people pray to this day, appealing to “The G-d of Abraham, the G-d of Isaac and the G-d of Jacob”. It’s not that Esau is a bad person, but he is caught up in the physical life, and is not spiritually attuned. He “despises his birthright” and sells it to Jacob for some “red stuff” made of lentils when he is very hungry from a day out hunting. Esau is described as hairy, and born ‘reddish’, interpreted as reddish skin and/or red-haired. Jacob is a ‘pure man who dwells in tents’. He is more of an indoor type, and ‘tents’ is a metaphor for studying Torah (which wasn’t given yet, but the ideas were there). This parsha contains the morally troubling event of Rebecca convincing the reluctant Jacob into tricking the blind old man Isaac into giving the blessing of the firstborn to him. In fact, later Isaac, when he knows it is Jacob, gives Jacob a very good blessing, so maybe it wasn’t necessary to trick him at all: “you should inherit the land which G-d gave to Abraham”. The Torah makes sure that Jacob is punished later on (see next parsha) when the dressing up for mistaken identity is done back to him.

Isaac’s carrying on the legacy of his father is told in terms of wells that his father Abraham had dug. Spitefully and short-sightedly, some jealous Philistines stop them up with dirt. But Isaac digs them again, and gives them the same names. He is persistent. He never gives up on digging wells with fresh water, even when his enemies sabotage his efforts. He tries again and again. Finally he has some peace. “Rechovot” means wide open spaces. In today’s Israel, persistence and tenacity is such a necessary quality. We have to know who our enemies are, not blame ourselves for their continued hostility, and be proud to continue the legacy of the early Zionists. After all, revisionists are those who value their own “originality” above continuity of purpose. One commentary says about Isaac and Rebecca: Isaac was too kind and honest to realise when Esau was passing himself off as a righteous son, and needed the tough Rebecca to see clearly what needed to be done. Later in the book of Samuel, when out of too much kindness and empathy King Saul refuses to kill Agag the king of the Amalekites even though he has been commanded to do so, later he kills many innocent Jewish priests of ‘Nov’ for supposedly harbouring his arch-enemy, David. This shows, says the commentary, that if you are kind when you are supposed to be tough, you’ll end up cruel when you should be kind. The New Israel Fund emphasises kindness and gullibility towards the Palestinians over a healthy self-respect and recognition that the hostility of our enemies is not our fault.

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