This week we are studying the sixth par’sha of the book of B’reshith which is entitled Toldot - תולְדֹת, generations. Toldot refers to one’s physical descendants, which in this case is a reference to Esau and Ya’akov, the sons of Yitz’chaq and Rivkah. Spanning B’reshith 25.19 through 29.9, this par’sha relates their story from their birth to Ya’akov being sent to his mother’s people in Charan to escape his brother’s wrath. As we learned in this par’sha, Esau was angry with his brother for securing the b’korah - בְּכֹרָה - the birth-right of the first born - from their father. Earlier Esau had sold Ya’akov the birthright for a bowl of red stew and now Ya’akov, through his mother’s manipulations, had secured the blessing as well.
Toldot continues to only establish the lineage Y’H’V’H chose as the foundation for House of Yisrael. Based on some interpretations of the opening verse, 25.19, some scholars question the redundancy of stating Yitz’chaq was Avraham’s son. This has already been established in B’reshith 21.3-4 where we were told that Sarah bore Avraham son at the appointed time Y’H’V’H had promised and Avraham named him Yitz’chaq. This led to speculation as to why Y’H’V’H felt it necessary to once again establish that Yitz’chaq was indeed Avraham’s son.
As you might imagine, for many generations scholars have offered their thoughts about this, but one in particular really stands out. If you’ll recall from B’reshith chapter twenty, after the destruction of Sedom, Amorah, Admah and TseboyimD’varim 29.23, Avraham moved south and settled in the land of Gerar - the land of Avi’melek. While there, king Avi’melek took Sarah, believing she was Avraham’s sister, and it was only after Y’H’V’H appeared to the king and told him he was a dead man because of the woman he had taken20.3 that Avi’melek learned the truth. He returned Sarah to her husband and they settled in the land.
It was soon after this that Sarah conceived and gave birth to Yitz’chaq. Some scholars suggest that soon after his birth, rumors started circulating that Yitz’chaq was actually Avi’melek’s son, not Avraham - although Torah clearly states Y’H’V’H did not allow Avi’melek to touch Sarah.20.6 Whether this rumor was from ha’satan or men, it teaches a valuable lesson: rumors and/or gossip are seldom, if ever, true. This being the case, Y’H’V’H chose to once again declare that Yitz’chaq was indeed Avraham’s son - dispelling any doubt as to his right of inheritance.
Now, forty years later, Yitz’chaq and Rivqah are married and facing the same trial that Avraham and Sarah had faced - Rivqah was unable to conceive and bear children. The English text is not as clear as the Hebrew text in this passage in that it simply states that Yitz’chaq prayed to Y’H’V’H for his wife25.21. The Hebrew text actually reads that Yitz’chaq prayed in front of or opposite of לְנֹכָח his wife. This tells us that Yitz’chaq not only prayed for his wife, he prayed with her. When he did, Y’H’V’H answered his prayer and Rivkah conceived the twins who would play such an important role in the history of the world.
There are a couple of lessons in this that we should take to heart. One is that since we are one flesh, husbands and wives should pray together. We aren’t told if Yitz’chaq and Rivqah had prayed individually before, but we do know that when prayed together, Y’H’V’H responded - eventually. Notice that twenty years elapsed from the time they were married until the birth of their sons (vs. 20 and 26). Sometimes our prayers aren’t answered as quickly as we would like - they are answered according to Y’H’V’H’s timing and His will.
As the boys grew up, Esau became a man knowing how to hunt - a man of the field איש שדה. In contrast, Ya’akov became a complete man, an אִ֣ישׁ תָּ֔ם ish tam. Tam refers to perfect, or blameless before Y’H’V’H. This same shoresh is used in B’reshith 17.1 where El Shaddai commanded Avraham to walk before Him and be perfect. So as the boys grew up, we learn that Esau grew up as a man of the world while Ya’akov devoted his life to learning to be blameless before Y’H’V’H. The results of the different paths are both obvious and predictable.
One of the first consequences we learn about concerning their choices is revealed in what happened concerning the Esau’s birthright. Because he cared more about being a man of the field rather than walking blamelessly before Y’H’V’H, Esau had no qualms about selling Ya’akov his birthright. Not only that, he sold it for a bowl of stew. Some attempt to explain Esau’s decision by saying he was near death and that Ya’akov simply took advantage of the situation, but the Hebrew text suggest this was not the case.
Verse twenty-nine states that Esau came in from the field, and he was weary. Weary is from a’yef עָיֵף, which means exhausted, but not near the point of death. We should also note that there were numerous servants in his father’s house, but Esau demanded his brother feed him. Why? What was in Esau’s heart at the time?
When Ya’akov demanded he sell him his birthright, Esau didn’t hesitate; not because he was near death, but because he cared more about being a worldly man than one who walked blamelessly before Y’H’V’H.
There is another lesson in B’reshith 26.1-5. Just as it happened in his father’s day, a scarcity of food came upon the land but unlike his father, Y’H’V’H appeared to Yitz’chaq and told him to remain in the land. If he would heed Y’H’V’H’s word, Y’H’V’H promised He would increase Yitz’chaq’s seed like the stars of the heavens, and give him all these lands to his seed. And in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And notice why. It wasn’t just because Yitz’chaq agreed to stay in the land. It was also because, Avraham had obeyed Y’H’V’H’s Voice and guarded His Charge: His commands, His laws and His Torot.26.5 There are at least two lessons in this passage.
When we walk in obedience to Y’H’V’H’s Will for our lives and teach our children to do the same, our children are blessed. Remember, Melek Sh’lomo wrote, Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.Mishle 22.6
So while sons are not put to death for the sins of their fathersD’varim 24.16, they can certainly benefit from our obedience to Y’H’V’H, which includes diligently teaching His Word to our children. This means that as parents, we are in a position to pass on either blessings or a curse to our children, depending on how and what we teach them.
There are many more lessons in Par’sha Toldot, including not showing favoritism for one child over another. We’ll reserve time in this afternoon’s study to discuss some of the other lessons, but I want to spend the remainder of this midrash on the exchange Esau had with his father when he learned that Yitz’chaq had once again - in his words - caught him by the heel these two times.27.36 Of course Esau claimed his brother had taken his birthright from him, even though he had carelessly sold it to him, and now Ya’akov had taken his blessing as well.
In his bitterness and weepingvs.34, Esau asked his father if had reserved a blessing for him as well. Yitz’chaq did indeed bless Esau, but he also gave him some sound advice that is often overlooked.
He told Esau that his dwelling would be in the fatness of the earth - a choice Esau had already made for himself - and of the dew from the heavens above. Esau would live by his sword, but he would also serve his brother. Then he told Esau how he could someday break his brother’s yoke from his neck. In B’reshith 27.40, Yitz’chaq told Esau, And it shall be, when you grow restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck. It is in the word for restless that we learn how to break yokes in our lives as well.
In the Hebrew text the word restless is תָּרִ֔יד, ta’rid, from the shoresh רוּד that means to be humble. Even though Yitz’chaq loved Esau, he recognized a weakness in his son. Esau refused to humble himself to anyone, including Y’H’V’H. This at least suggests that Yitz’chaq knew Esau had sold Ya’akov his birthright and now Esau was too proud to tell his father the truth. He was also too much in love with his way of life to humble himself before Y’H’V’H - as we saw in this week’s reading from Mal’aki.
Given the fact that Esau demanded his brother feed him rather than one of his father’s servants also hints at the possible contempt Esau had for Ya’akov. Esau was a mighty hunter, a man of the world. His father loved him because he was manly and could hunt and what was his brother. Ya’akov was a man that spent his time in tents learning to walk humbly before Y’H’V’H. And yet, it would be Ya’akov who would be named Yisra’el.
And what of Esau? In Mal’aki 1.1-3 we read Y’H’V’H’s message to Yisrael: “I have loved you,” said Y’H’V’H. “But you asked, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ “Was not Esau Ya’akov’s brother?” declares Y’H’V’H. “And I love Ya’akov, but I have hated Esau and laid waste his mountains and his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”
The shoresh for hate is שׂנא We find this shoresh used in passages such as:
B’reshith 37.5, where Yoseph’s brothers hated him.
Zekaryah 8.17 where Y’H’V’H declares He hates those who plot evil in their heart against another and those who love a false witness.
But the shoresh שׂנא can also mean to reject and distance.
In B’midbar 10.35 Mosheh declared, and let those who hate You flee before You. Those who hate Y’H’V’H also reject Him and distance themselves from Him.
Yeshayahu 1.14, Y’H’V’H declared He hated Yisrael’s new moons and sabbaths - He rejected them.
To be hated by Y’H’V’H is to be rejected by Him. To reject Y’H’V’H - or His Word - is to hate Him. Yitz’chaq warned his son that he would carry the yoke of hatred for his brother around his neck until the day he learned to humble himself before Y’H’V’H. When he finally grew tired of living an empty life and turned to Elohim, he would be freed from his hatred of his brother.
Was that the change that came over Esau? If so, it was a change that took some time. Esau missed the meaning of his father’s words. He hated Ya’akov and swore that when the days of mourning his father were over he was going to kill his brother Ya’akov.27.41 We don’t know how many years Esau carried that yoke - that hatred - with him. We are only told that when he met his brother and Ya’akov was returning from Laban’s house after nearly twenty-two years, Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept.
That passage, in B’reshith 33.4, is marked by a set of jots (or dots) over the words translated as kissed him. Some believe this set of jots represents Esau’s true desire was to bite Ya’akov’s neck, but they may well have another meaning. Sometime in the intervening years Esau became restless - and humbled himself before Y’H’V’H and instead of wanting to kill his brother, he welcomed back into the Land.
If you ever truly want to break the yokes you’ve been carrying around, heed Yitz’chaq’s words to Esau - humble yourselves, seek to walk blamelessly before Y’H’V’H - and come to know what true freedom really is.
2 Kislev 5776
14 November 2015