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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT TOLDOT
December 3, 2005 - 2 Kislev 5766

Annual: Genesis 25:19-28:9 (Etz Hayim, p. 146; Hertz p. 93)
Triennial Cycle: Genesis 26:23-27:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 152; Hertz p. 96)
Haftarah: Malakhil 1:1 - 2:27 (Etz Hayim, p. 163; Hertz p. 102)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director

Summary

Isaac takes Rebekah as a wife at the age of forty. They suffer from infertility for twenty years, and pray for one another. Finally Rebekah conceives twins, who struggle in her womb. She inquires of the Lord, who tells her that two nations are in her womb and the older shall serve the younger. Esau is born first, red like a hairy mantle. Jacob is born second.

Esau is a skillful hunter and Jacob is a man of the tents. Esau comes back from the hunt hungry and sees Jacob making a lentil soup. He agrees to give Jacob his birthright in exchange for the soup. A famine comes into the land, and Isaac and his family move to Gerar. Like his father before him, Isaac pretends that his wife Rebekah is his sister to protect him before Abimelech. Eventually, Abimelech makes an agreement with Isaac. The Philistines fill up the wells that Isaac's father had dug, and Isaac redigs and renames a number of wells. His wealth multiplies.

Isaac is old and blind, so he asks his elder son, Esau, to hunt venison so he can eat and bless him. Rebekah overhears and tells Jacob to prepare a meal, put on hairy clothes (Esau was hairy), and pretend to be his brother. She wants him to receive the blessing. Jacob is worried that his father will curse him, and Rebekah replies that the curse will be on her. Jacob comes before his father pretending to be Esau. Isaac replies, "The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau." Isaac blesses Jacob with the blessing meant for Esau.

When Esau returns to his father, he learns that Jacob stole his blessing. He begs his father to give him a blessing too. Esau harbors a grudge against his brother, forcing his brother to flee in fear. Jacob leaves for Haran, ostensibly to find a wife. When Esau learns that his brother was going to find a wife from within the family, he takes Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael as an additional wife.

Issue #1 - Sibling Rivalry

"But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, if so, why do I exist?" (Genesis 25:22).

Discussion

  1. Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Leah and Rachel, Joseph and his brothers - sibling rivalry seems to be built into the universe. Rebekah expresses the pain she feels when her children struggle in the womb. It is the pain all parents feel when their children do not get along. What can be done to prevent sibling rivalry? What can parents do to prevent their children from fighting?
  2. Only Moses and Aaron, of all the brothers in the Torah, seem to get along. The Midrash teaches, "'Oh if you were as my brother.' (Song of Songs 8:1) We find that all the brothers in the Torah hate one another. - What brothers is Israel referring to? Moses and Aaron, about whom it says 'Here is what is good and what is pleasant, for brothers to dwell together' (Psalms 133:1). They loved and honored one another. When Moses took the kingship and Aaron took the priesthood, they did not hate each other but each rejoiced in the other's achievement." (Tanhuma Shmot 27)
  3. Francis Klagsbrun has written, "[There is] the need brothers and sisters have to be different, to distinguish themselves from one another, to establish their own identities..." (Francine Klagsbrun, Mixed Feelings; Love, Hate, Rivalry, and Reconciliation Among Brothers and Sisters, New York: Bantam Books, 1992 p. 27). How can parents help each child establish his or her own identity?
  4. The Bible teaches, "A friend is devoted at all times, but a brother is born for adversity" (Proverbs 17:17). The Ralbag comments that a friend is there for good times, but when difficult times hit, a person turns to a brother or sister. Because they are flesh and bone, they have a mutual obligation to one another. Are we obligated to be our brother or sister's keeper? Is there a definition of how much of a keeper we might need to be? Are there mitigating circumstances? Is this part of honoring our parents?

Issue #2 - Unconditional Love

"Isaac loved Esau because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob."

Discussion

  1. Both parents made the mistake of playing favorites with their children. But at least Rebekah loved her son Jacob unconditionally. Isaac, on the other hand, loved Esau because he brought him game to eat. What happens when parents love their children based on what their children do? Can parents love their children unconditionally?
  2. If a child brings home a good report card, suppose the parent says, "This is wonderful. I love you." Is that a mistake? Should love ever be tied to behavior? How often do we love others expecting some kind of behavior from those others?
  3. Pirke Avot teaches that there are two kinds of love, conditional and unconditional. "All love that is conditional, when the condition disappears the love disappears. All love that is not conditional will never disappear. What is conditional love? The love of Amnon and Tamar. What is unconditional love? The love of David and Jonathan" (Avot 5:16).
  4. In the Bible, Amnon loved Tamar because he was sexually attracted to her. He had his way with her and then hated her. (See II Samuel, chapter 13.) Why does conditional love so quickly turn into hate? On the other hand, Jonathan sacrificed his kingship for David. (See I Samuel, chapter 20.) How can we learn to put ourselves, our needs, and our egos aside in order to love someone else unconditionally?

 
 
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