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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT TOLEDOT
November 9, 2002 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Genesis 25:19 - 28:9 (Hertz, p. 93; Etz Hayim, p. 146)
Triennial - Year II: Genesis 26:23 - 27:27 (Hertz, p. 96; Etz Hayim, p. 152)
Haftarah - Malakhi 1:1 - 2:7 (Hertz, p. 102; Etz Hayim, p. 162)

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

(25:19-26) Isaac marries Rebecca. During her pregnancy, she feels a struggle within her. She gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob.

(25:27-34) Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew.

(26:1-11) Isaac and Rebecca, fleeing famine, go to Gerar to live with the Philistines. God appears to Isaac and renews the covenant with him. Fearful of the Philistines, Isaac lies and says Rebecca is his sister. Abimelech finds out the truth and warns the people to leave Isaac and Rebecca alone.

(26:12-16) Isaac prospers, inciting the jealousy of the Philistines, who block the wells he dug. Ultimately, Abimelech asks him to leave.

(26:17-22) Isaac moves to the valley of Gerar, where there are further quarrels with the Philistines over wells. He finds a peaceful place to settle and names it Rechovot.

(26:23-33) Abimelech makes a peace treaty with Isaac, seeing Isaac's prosperity as a sign of God's blessing.

(26:34-35) Esau marries two Hittite women, to his parents' distress.

(27:1-27) Isaac, his sight now dim, announces his intention to bless Esau, but Rebecca and Jacob conspire to trick him into blessing Jacob instead.

(27:28-45) Isaac blesses Jacob. Esau returns home and Jacob's deception is discovered. Esau weeps and pleads for a blessing from Isaac, who complies. Enraged, Esau plots to kill Jacob when Isaac dies. Rebecca hears of this and advises Jacob to flee to her brother Laban in the land of Haran.

(27:46-28:5) Isaac blesses Jacob and sends him to Haran.

(28:6-9) Esau realizes that his Canaanite wives displease Isaac, so he takes a daughter of Ishmael for a wife.

Torah Text Being Considered

"Rebecca then took her older son Esau's clean/best garments which were with her in the house and clothed Jacob her younger son." (Genesis 27:15)

Commentaries:

  1. Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel said: "All my days I attended upon my father but I did not attain to one hundredth of the attention Esau gave his father, for I attended him in soiled garments and when I went out to the marketplace I went with clean clothes. When Esau, however, attended his father, he waited upon him in regal garments, saying, 'Father's honor is to be respected only in regal garments." (Bereisheet Rabbah 65:16)
  2. Rav Yehudah said in the name of Shmuel: They asked Rabbi Eliezer: "What is the limit for honoring one's parents?" He said to them: "Go see what a certain idol worshiper in Ashkelon named Dama son of Netina did. Once the Sages sought to buy gems for the ephod from him at 60,000 profit - Rav Kahana taught 80,000 - but the key (to the gems storage place) was under his father's head and he would not disturb him. The next year, the Holy One rewarded him - a red heifer was born to his herd. When the Sages came to him, he said to them: "I know that if I were to ask for all the money in the world, you would give it to me, but I am asking only for the money I lost by honoring my father." Rabbi Chanina said: "If someone who is not commanded and acts is considered praiseworthy, how much more so one who is commanded and acts!" So said Rabbi Chanina: "One who is commanded and acts is more praiseworthy than one who is not commanded and acts." (Talmud Kiddushin 31a)

For discussion:

Esau is typically portrayed in negative terms in our tradition with one exception. He is a paradigm of kibbud av v'eim - respecting one's parents.

It is interesting to note that In discussing the extent to which someone should honor one's parents, the Talmud uses the example of Dama the son of Netina who, the Talmud later describes, as a general in the Roman army!

But that is not really so strange. Consider that Esau is the progenitor of the Romans (Edom). The name Dama is similar in etymology to "dam" which means blood, something that brings to mind the redness of Esau's physical description. Esau is also called Edom - "Red One" based on his exclamation when he returns from hunting and says: "Give me some of that red, red stuff (soup)." The red heifer seems to echo this theme too.

Yet, while Esau and his descendant Dama are extolled for their respect for their father, the Talmud still says: "The one who is commanded to act (Jewish person) and acts is greater than the one who is not commanded and acts (Esau and Dama the Roman). That seems counterintuitive. How do we make sense of the Talmud's dictum?

Some points to consider:

The one who acts out of a sense of being commanded may be more consistent and reliable in his conduct. As opposed to the one who acts when he/she feels like it, the person who feels an obligation is more likely to do the deed even when he/she does not feel like doing so.

But perhaps, there is even a better explanation. Acting out of a sense of commandment gives us the opportunity to enter into even a hi gher spiritual relationship. In performing a commandment, we experience God. If we perform a deed on our own, we may feel good about it; the other person may feel good about it. But if it is God's commandment that is being carried out, we experience an additional good feeling- a feeling of joy - as we carry out His will purposively.


 
 
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