I’ve been away for a few weeks. My traveling partner, (Les, my husband) and I went on a wonderful trip to Uzbekistan. Attending lectures by Shalom Sabar about the Jewish cultural history there and seeing the incredible historical architecture was amazing.  I’ll be introducing some of that adventure in future blogs. 

Toldot Sig

  This week’s parsha is Toledot  (Generations). The parsha deals with the birth and sibling rivalry of Esau and Jacob- the twin sons of Rebecca and Isaac. Those babies were fighting even before they were born, to the point that Rebecca asked God what was going on with her pregnancy.

Esau loved being outside and hunting while Jacob stayed home, cooked, and according to the commentaries learned Torah. Esau traded his “birthright” for a bowl of Jacob’s soup – showing Esau’s impatience and disregard for tradition, and also showing Jacob’s desire to take advantage of his brother. The climax of the story is Rebecca and Jacob’s deception of Isaac. Rebecca convinces Jacob to masquerade as his brother in order to fool Isaac into giving Jacob the special blessing for the first born.

The story introduces all kinds of questions and puts flawed family dynamics into relief. Why did Isaac favour Esau while Rebecca favoured Jacob?  Why did Rebecca fool Isaac instead of talking to him? Was Isaac really taken in by Jacob’s deception? Maybe he suspected the truth but realized that Jacob was more suited to the blessing. Did the two brothers end up with the fates that most suited them in the long run? Esau would be a man of the field and Jacob would become the leader of the nation of Israel.

What seems to hold true is that poor family dynamics and communication skills certainly continued from generation to generation.

This picture shows the “family dynamics” of Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob. We see the blind Isaac blessing his son Jacob- having been fooled into thinking he is blessing Esau. Rebecca is delaying Esau from coming in until the blessing is complete. Rebecca is doing this because God had told her, when she was pregnant, that “the elder shall serve the younger”. She wants to ensure that the prophecy comes true.

The commentators had a very negative view of Esau because of his clashes with Jacob.

Esau settled in Edom, south of Judah and ultimately Edom was identified as the enemy of Israel and the ancestor of Rome- the bloody tyrant that destroyed the Temple and the land of Israel.

The haftarah is Malachi  1:1 -2:7. The prophet Malachi lived in Jerusalem during the 5th century B.C.E. after the return to Judah from exile in Babylonia in 538 BCE. In this haftarah Malachi is reprimanding the Jews for not observing the practices properly. He tells them that G-d loves His people- but they must stop making inferior sacrifices to God. Edom, the descendants of Esau, are mentioned as the tyrannical enemy.  I suspect that Esau was vilified through the guise of Edom and then Rome to make it easier to identify the source of Jewish oppression.


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5 responses to “Toledot

  1. Pingback: The Intercessor God Seeks | Prayer: Communication with God

  2. Debra

    Gorgeous photo of the dome! A very troublesome portion in many ways, the familial dysfunction and sneakiness.  All of Genesis reveals (predicts?) such awful things that go on in families.

    How is re-entry from the trip?



    Enjoy a fabulous photo and meditation in this week’s His Lens/My Pen feature. Have you read This Jewish Life, Stories of Discovery, Connection and Joy?

    Check out this month’s Dear Debra advice column.


    • Hi Debra,
      Thank-you for your comment on Toledot. Our ancient ancestors who formed our geographical and spiritual histories certainly also were blueprints for family dynamics. In large ways and small ways we can see the same patterns of love, support, jealousy and rivalry play out today. Hopefully we will learn from the positive examples of the “Avot and Imahot” rather than follow destructive patterns. Thank-you also for your own wonderful posts!

  3. Benji Cohen

    Hi Laya,
    I love the pictures! You asked for what I thought, so I have a couple of comments:
    -> Like I said, I love the pictures. Beautiful!
    -> You mention that the sages have a negative view of Esau because of his clashes with Jacob. There are very specific sources in the Torah that paint Esau negatively, and have nothing to do with Jacob. Specifically, we already know that Esau married wives that were from the Hittites (chapter 26, verse 34), which Avraham specifically said were not fit for marrying Yitzchak. We see the next verse that Esau’s parents were bothered by their daughters in law. Also, see Rivkah’s complaint in Chapter 27 verse 46. Of course there are midrashim about some other things he did, but we can leave those aside for now.
    ->I know this is nitpicking, but you state that Jacob spent his days cooking. We only see him cooking by the lentil soup. In fact, I would say that he probably did not cook much, because when his mother talks about sending in food to trick Yitzchak, she cooks the goats, not Jacob.

    You also bring up some excellent questions (why Rivkah didn’t just tell Yitzchak about Esau’s true colors, etc.), and if you learn any interesting answers, I would love to hear them. I have heard some answers, but they are for another time.

    Shavuah tov, and Chodesh tov!
    Benji Cohen

    • Dear Benji,
      Thanks for your well thought out and rich comments.
      First- I’m pleased that you like the image. Although in the text it doesn’t show Rivka (Rebecca) restraining Esau, I wanted to create a scene that would show the 4 main characters in the same “frame’, and show essentially that isaac is blessing Yaakov while Rebecca has manipulated the situation to prevent Esau from getting that particular blessing.
      I was being tongue in cheek about Yaakov spending his days cooking. I suspect he and Esau both cooked but I also think he actually much of his time being a shepherd to Isaac’s flocks and in that way had the skills to be an excellent shepherd in Lavan’s household.
      As for Rivka’s approach to dealing with her sons and her husband- we have seen that she is a feisty and outspoken personality. She made the decision to leave her family and go to a strange land and husband although her family tried to persuade her to stay with them longer. She had strong ideas. She had been told by G-d about her sons’ futures, and she decided how to deal with the information she had.
      My goal with my art is to get people to think, question, and maybe look at Torah and Jewish life from a different perspective. i’m glad it made you stop and write!
      Best, Laya

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