Parshat Toldot — GENESIS 25:19-28:9
OVERVIEW OF PORTION (from A Torah Commentary for Our Times – Rabbi Harvey Fields)
Toledot may be translated as “generations,” and “history.” This Torah portion begins by describing the birth of Esau and Jacob, the twins born to Rebekah and Isaac. Esau is a rugged person of the outdoors; Jacob is a gentle person, preferring the quiet of his tent. Isaac favors Esau, and Rebekah loves Jacob. While still young, Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew. Later, at age forty, Esau brings pain to his parents by marrying two Hittite women. When Isaac is old and near death, Rebekah and Jacob trick him into giving Jacob the special blessing he had intended for Esau. Esau discovers what they have done and vows to kill his brother. Fearing for Jacob’s life and desiring that he marry someone from her people in Paddan-Aram, Rebekah persuades Isaac to send Jacob to her brother, Laban. Meanwhile, Esau took his first cousin, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael, as his third wife.
Hard as it is to believe, it’s Thanksgiving weekend – a time of family gatherings. (It’s only hard because it still feels like we just finished the Holy Days!) Over these days, we reconnect, we eat, we catch up on the stories of our lives, and we eat some more. To be sure we note the new additions to our family circle and we sadly note those who are missing.
Our Torah portion this Shabbat brings us to the story of a family reflecting upon its generations much as we do in our gatherings this weekend. In Genesis 26:12-25 we read of Isaac re-digging the wells his father had dug years earlier:
Isaac sowed in that land and reaped a hundredfold the same year. The Lord blessed him, and the man grew richer and richer until he was very wealthy: he acquired flocks and herds, and a large household, so that the Philistines envied him. And the Philistines stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham, filling them with earth. And Abimelech said to Isaac, ‘Go away from us, for you have become far too big for us. So Isaac departed from there, and encamped in the wadi of Gerar, where he settled. Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them. But when Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi, found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, ‘The water is ours.’ He named that well Esek, because they contended with him. And when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also; so he named it Sitnah. He moved from there and dug yet another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rehoboth, saying, ‘Now at last the Lord has granted us ample space to increase in the land. From there he went up to Beer-sheba. That night the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham. Fear not, for I am with you, and I will bless you and increase your offspring for the sake of My servant Abraham.’So he built an altar there and invoked the Lord by name.”
In his recent translation of the Torah, Everett Fox notes that he sees in these verses (especially 12-14) ‘confirmation of Yitzchak’s status as heir.’ How is Isaac’s status as Abraham’s heir confirmed? According to Everett Fox, it is confirmed “in the form of material blessings.” In our gatherings this weekend, we think a great deal about our blessings – material and otherwise.
As we consider our blessings over this Thanksgiving holiday and Shabbat, I want to mine our Torah portion for a spiritual understanding of Isaac’s blessings to his children. If, as Everett Fox suggests, our portion confirms that Isaac is bearer of God’s material blessings, we must look deeper to complete the picture so that we can uncover the spiritual dimension which was most certainly evident in Abraham, and yet seems lacking in Isaac. According to Fox, the answer lies in Jacob, whose birth occurs in our portion as well. Jacob, who will become Yisrael “the one who struggles/wrestles with God” will introduce the spiritual dimension. Indeed, Jacob’s life illustrates for us the reality of struggling in many dimensions of life – physical and material, emotional and spiritual. Though in some ways he seems quite broken, his brokenness models for us the struggle for wholeness. In all of our lives we grow through our disappointments as well as our successes.
Thanksgiving and Shabbat offer us the opportunity to reflect upon our blessings. May we use these days to reflect on how we can weave the material and spiritual dimensions together in our own lives. From our family’s gathering to yours – all the best for a happy, healthy and blessed Thanksgiving – and Shabbat Shalom!