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There is a commandment given to Israel that once every 7 years, during the Festival of Sukkot, they should assemble ALL the people to hear the Torah read to them. (Deuteronomy 31:10-12). Chazal (a Hebrew acronym that means, “our sages of blessed memory”) instituted a continuous cycle of reading the Torah. They defined weekly sections so that Jews would be reading and hearing Torah every single week and complete the 5 Books of Moses in a set time. The teachers I learned under taught me to follow the yearly Torah cycle and I discovered that Chabad divides their Torah study into daily aliyot. When the Torah portion is read in its entirety on Shabbat in the synagogue, there are seven sections, seven aliyot. The Chabad tradition is to study one aliyah each day, starting Sunday and going through to Shabbat. One who does this can get a double dose of the same Torah Portion each week.
Additionally, the Ashkenazic and Sepharidc, that is Eastern European and Spanish or Iberian Peninsula communities sometime differ on how they divide the Torah Portions.
It’s time to explore Torah Portion Toldot, aliyah by aliyah.
Toldot Genesis 25:19–28:9
Aliyah 1 – Genesis 25:19 – 26:5
25:22-23 The children fought with each other inside her so much that she said, “If it’s going to be like this, why go on living?” So she went to inquire of HaShem, 23 who answered her, “There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
“Why go on living?” – This is such a human response. Is it hyperbole? Is it dark humor? I don’t know. Death was much better known to the people of the ancient world, so it seems a bit strange to me that Rebekkah would say this. I jokingly pantomime seppuku. My wife has chided me for it and I can see why. It isn’t something I am proud of, but the truth is sometimes negativity overwhelms a person and they long for the release that death brings. May we never know such things. As I said, it is very human and I feel like I get it, but maybe the shock of the statement is there to get across what a truly terrible ordeal it was for Rebekkah to endure hersons fighting within her. She prayed for years to become pregnant, she longed to be a mother and then to wish for death as an alternative to her distress. That says something.
“She inquired of HaShem, who answered her…”
Rivkah is from a more than likely pagan home and yet she was able to commune with the Most High in such a direct way. She feels like she is on the level of Abraham, more so than Isaac. How can I say that? Avraham and Rivkah are described as calling out to G-d. Sarah and Isaac are spoken to by G-d, but He seemingly always initiates contact. Here, Rivkah calls out and He answers. What kind of woman is she?
25:26 Then his brother emerged, with his hand holding ‘Esav’s heel, so he was called Ya‘akov [he catches by the heel, he supplants]. Yitz’chak was sixty years old when she bore them.
“holding Esav’s heel”
Jacob has been described as sneaky, slippery and scheming by many. From birth he was trying to hold back Esau or attain the rights and duties of the Firstborn. What is a godly person to do? Should they sit back and let evil run amok? Is it the duty of the righteous to strive to act, to do, to have an influence on the world and raise it up to a more godly state? Or do the good need to just sit back and let all the good be done miraculously? Messiah went around and actively found people to bless and to heal. I am not condoning the trickery that happened, but there is something good at the heart action taken to ensure Jacob had the blessings and that was there from their conception.
It took 20 years for Rivkah to get pregnant.
25:27-28 The boys grew; and ‘Esav became a skillful hunter, an outdoorsman; while Ya‘akov was a quiet man who stayed in the tents. 28 Yitz’chak favored ‘Esav, because he had a taste for game; Rivkah favored Ya‘akov.
This feels like a rough sketch showing how different the brothers are, but I don’t think it says anything about them morally. HaShem is in the fields and in the tents, both.
Flying in the face of my thoughts on the righteous being proactive and taking steps to fill the world with goodness as opposed to letting the wicked ruin everything, Esau becomes an active man, while Jacob is a subdued homebody.
Is favoritism natural? Is it good? Is it bad? Does it depend? Why does the Torah give a reason for Isaac preferring Esau, but not give a reason for Rivkah favoring Jacob? Is that a man woman dichotomy? Is it spiritual? Does it support Rivkah perhaps being more godly or having more insight?
25:34 Then Ya‘akov gave him bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, got up and went on his way. Thus ‘Esav showed how little he valued his birthright.
It’s interesting that sometimes the Torah editorializes or rather gives us insights into what people are thinking and what is in their hearts. Esaus’s actions are very dismissive of the birthright, but the Torah really puts a fine point on it.
Also, for those who come against Jacob for his trickery, do you think Esau deserved the Belssing of the Firstborn? What would he have done with it? Could he have sold it to Jacob in a way that feels right or fair to you? Where would we be if the Birthright had not been transferred?
26:1-5 A famine came over the land, not the same as the first famine, which had taken place when Avraham was alive. Yitz’chak went to G’rar, to Avimelekh king of the P’lishtim. 2 HaShem appeared to him and said, “Don’t go down into Egypt, but live where I tell you. 3 Stay in this land, and I will be with you and bless you, because I will give all these lands to you and to your descendants. I will fulfill the oath which I swore to Avraham your father — 4 I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, I will give all these lands to your descendants, and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will bless themselves. 5 All this is because Avraham heeded what I said and did what I told him to do — he followed my mitzvot, my regulations and my teachings.”
Why does Torah clarify that this is a distinct famine? We are now following the life of Isaac. Isaac gets very few lines dedicated to him and his journeys, is that way, to make sure we know this is not the famine that Avraham or Jacob dealt with? I just realized that right now; all three patriarch lived through famines in the Land. That’s neat.
Was Isaac passing through G’rar to Egypt?
It is interesting to me that Avraham was allowed to go to Egypt during his famine, while Isaac was prohibited.
Inheritance of the Land and blessings to the Nations are reiterated here. I wonder if to some extent, HaShem is reassuring Isaac that He will bless him and his descendant because of the harshness of the famine and the fear that likely created in the hearts of many, possibly even Isaac.
Once again, Avraham’s faithfulness and obedience proved his belief in HaShem and seemingly sealed the Almighty’s blessing, protection and promise by his actions. Its all about faith and actions, walking in faith. You trust and believe and so you act upon that as proof.
Aliyah 2 – Genesis 26:6-12
26:12 Yitz’chak planted crops in that land and reaped that year a hundred times as much as he had sowed. HaShem had blessed him.
This whole account mirrors what happened with Avraham and Sarah and, presummably the previous Avimelech, mixed in with what happened with Pharaoh. This time, Rivkah isn’t taken, G-d doesn’t speak to anyone and no material gain comes from the Ancestral Couple through human hands. The great gain and blessing Isaac receives after this event is that he reaps a tremendous harvest after the Land had been in a famine for some time. It strikes me as odd because, in a way, Isaac acts worse in this situation. Rivkah is his cousin, removed to some degree as she is his uncle’s granddaughter. Avraham and Sarah were half-siblings, so it is far more true to say they are brother and sister. Despite that, Isaac is blessed more by the Hand of the Almighty and directly from the Land of Israel on the other side of this situation. Why? What am I missing?
Aliyah 3 – Genesis 26:13-22
26:23 He went away from there and dug another well, and over that one they didn’t quarrel. So he called it Rechovot [wide open spaces] and said, “Because now HaShem has made room for us, and we will be productive in the land.”
Isaac re-opened all the wells that had been stopped up. As he opened new wells that were disputed over, he just kept moving and kept digging for more water. Finally, he was rewarded for all his efforts when HaShem kept him free from trouble about the wells. We need that energy, that attitude today. When something is hard, when adversaries try to stop you, just keep moving, dig deeper and G-d will be with you!
Aliyah 4 – Genesis 26:23-29
26:29 that you will not harm us, just as we have not caused you offense but have done you nothing but good and sent you on your way in peace. Now you are blessed by HaShem.’”
The Master says to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. There is a Jewish teaching sometimes called the “Reverse Golden Rule,” which states, “that which is hateful to you, do not do to another.” I can see the seed of that idea here.
Aliyah 5 – Genesis 26:30 – 27:27
27:13 But his mother said, “Let your curse be on me. Just listen to me, and go get me the kids!”
“Let your curse be on me.”
Wow. I have a hard time recalling how this effects Rivkah. Is she somehow curse later in her life? If so, then that means that what Jacob did warranted cursing. If not, that doesn not mean that his actions were not worthy of cursing. Instead it could be said that he received mercy or the curse could have come from Isaac, but he chose to overlook the wrong Jacob did. Then again there seem to be echoes of this “goats and coats” incident in Jacob’s life. That is a topic for another day. Getting back to Rivkah and the curse, if she isn’t cursed in Jacob’s stead, if he is stuck with the consequence of the actions he willingly took as a man of at least 40 years, then what does that say about bearing curses on the behalf of others? Does Torah say that that doesn’t work? If so, how does that balance with the Redemptive work of Messiah, or the suffering of Job that helped save Israel as they were crossing the Reed Sea as spoken of in the Midrash?
Aliyah 6 – Genesis 27:28 – 28:4
27:38 ‘Esav said to his father, “Have you only one blessing, my father? Father, bless me too!” ‘Esav wept aloud,
I know Esav is supposed to be the villain of the piece, but his pain is so real and so bitter, I truly feel sympathy for him. I feel like there is more at work here than greed or desire for honor. Does Esav feel less loved because Isaac blessed Jacob instead of him? It feels like Esav learned to cook from Rivkah and he would cook for Isaac from time to time. Those are ways of showing love and fellowship in a family context. Those activities carry meaning and intimacy that really humanizes Esav.
Aliyah 7 – Genesis 28:5-9
28:8-9 ‘Esav also saw that the Kena‘ani women did not please Yitz’chak his father. 9 So ‘Esav went to Yishma‘el and took, in addition to the wives he already had, Machalat the daughter of Yishma‘el Avraham’s son, the sister of N’vayot, to be his wife.
This feels like Esav trying to be the son he should have been. I wonder why he took wives from the Kena’ani in the first place. Did he not know that it mattered to his parents? At this point Esav and Ya’akov are at least 40 and I would think Rivkah and Isaac would have talked about the importance of choosing the proper kind of wife. Is there an element or parental neglect at work here? Was Esav destined to be evil? Did they not say anything because they didn’t care? That can’t be, can it?
That concludes my journey through Toldot for the year 5782.
I hope these words have been a blessing to you.
May our Heavenly Father give you peace and joy.
This is Matthew and I am Walking In Liberty.