Only Connect

In their relationships with each other, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau, struggle between models of unity and connection and separation and deceit.

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Does Yehiel Malchsander's understanding of the reason for this parashah's consuming interest in genealogy express a model of family dynamics that is consonant with the rest of our reading this week?

The reason for the struggle between the children in Rebekah's womb offered by Genesis Rabbah 53.6 escalates and deepens the twins' uterine activity. What do you think is the commentator's purpose for giving this explanation?

D'var Torah

If only relationships were as simple as the recitation of lineage seems to be: "Abraham begot Isaac" and so on. Yet the opening verses of this parashah show us that each familial relationship and, by extension, all human relationships are far more complex. We plunge immediately into the harsh, competitive world of Isaac and his family. We see this clearly in Genesis 25:22: Our first piece of information about Jacob and Esau is that even in the womb, they fight. From here the parashah chronicles their conflict and the deterioration of their family's structure. It's easy to see why Genesis Rabbah develops this prenatal struggle into a murderous ideological conflict.

It is possible that there is a premonition of the twins' rivalry even before verse 22. The two translations of the phrase in the preceding verse l'nochach ishto, "on behalf of his wife" and "facing his wife," offer two models of existence open to Isaac and Rebekah and their sons--unity and openness or conflict and deceit. That both these options exist during a moment of prayer may hint that their choice of union or separation (whether we refer to Rebekah and Isaac or to Jacob and Esau) is embedded in their own constant spiritual struggle with their relationship with God.

"Only connect," E. M. Forster urges, yet we see that both the crowded conditions in Rebekah's womb and the empty space between Rebekah and Isaac reflect the difficulty to fulfill Forster's command. The opening lines of the parashah prepare us for the bleak sadness of its end. Both sons leave. The old couple, Rebekah and Isaac, are left alone, the continuation of their line uncertain. Will they be able to close the gulf between them? If they cannot connect with each other, can they connect with God? Can we?

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Rabbi Ruth Gais

Rabbi Ruth Gais is the director of The New York Kollel and Community Outreach at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, NY.