Commentary on Parashat Toldot, Genesis 25:19 - 28:9
Rebecca and Isaac want a child. They pray to God. Rebecca soon feels violent movement within her womb. She asks God why she feels fighting within her, and God answers, “Two nations are in your womb and two states. They will be divided from one another, starting from within you. One state shall become mightier than the other and the mighty one shall serve the lesser.”
When Rebecca gives birth, she has two boys. The first baby comes out red-cheeked and hairy and they name him Esau. The second is a smooth-skinned baby whom they name Jacob.
When the lads grow up, Esau who understands hunting and farming. Jacob is a single-minded man, living in tents. Isaac favors Esau while Rebecca favors Jacob. One day Esau comes from the field feeling hungry and faint and sees Jacob with a pot of stew. “Jacob,” Esau asks, “May I have a bit of your stew please. I am faint with hunger.”
“Sure, if you sell me your birthright,” answers Jacob.
Esau stares at his brother. “If I am going to die from hunger, what good is my birthright to me?” Esau then sells his birthright to Jacob.
Esau eats and drinks and leaves. Thus did Esau despise his birthright.
After many years Isaac becomes old and blind. He calls to Esau, “My son. Go hunt some venison for me and prepare the tasty dish that I love. Bring it to me and I will eat it and then my soul will bless you before I die.”
Rebecca overhears this conversation between Esau and Isaac and tells Jacob what she had heard. “Now, son,” Rebecca says to Jacob, “go to the flock and fetch me two good young goats so that I may make a tasty dish for your father. Then you will bring it to your father so that he shall eat and bless you before his death.”
“But Mother,” Jacob replies. “Esau, my brother is a hairy man and I am smooth. Perhaps my father will feel me and I will seem in his eyes an impostor and bring a curse upon myself and not a blessing.”
“Upon me be your curse, my son;” says Rebecca. “Now obey me and go get the goats so I can make a stew.”
Jacob does as his mother told him to do. His mother then prepares the dish that his father loves. Before Jacob delivers the meal to his father, his mother puts hairy goat skins upon his hands and neck and dresses him in the Esau’s clothing.
Jacob then goes to see his father. “Father,” he says.
“Here I am!” Isaac replies. “Who are you, my son?”
“It is I, Esau, your first-born,” says Jacob. “I have done as you told me, please come eat of my venison so that your soul may bless me.”
“How is it that you have found the venison so quickly?”
“Because God, your God, caused it to happen before me,” answers Jacob.
“Please come closer so that I may feel you and see whether you are really my son Esau or not.”
So Jacob goes up to his father. Isaac feels Jacob’s skin and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob but the hands are the hands of Esau. Is it indeed you, my son, Esau?”
“I am,” says Jacob.
Satisfied that the man is Esau, Isaac eats the stew and drinks the wine. Afterwards, Isaac says to Jacob, “Come closer and kiss me my son.” When Jacob comes forward, Isaac smells his son’s clothes one more time to make sure it is Esau. He then gives his blessing.
“The smell of my son Esau is like the smell of a field which God has blessed. So may God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fat places of the soil and an abundance of corn and wine. Peoples will serve you and nations will bow down to you. You will be a man to your brothers, so that the sons of your mother may bow down to you. Then he who curses you will be cursed, and he who blesses you will be blessed.”
When Isaac finishes blessing the child he thinks is Esau, Jacob leaves his father. Later Esau returns from his hunt and brings a venison stew to his father. “Father, come eat of my venison, that your soul may bless me.”
“Who are you?” Isaac asked.
“I am your son, your first-born, Esau.”
Immediately great terror seizes Isaac. “Who, then, is the one who already brought me hunted venison and I blessed?”
When Esau hears the words of his father, he cries out with an exceedingly loud and bitter cry, and says, “Bless me, also, O my father!”
“Your brother Jacob has come with deceit to me,” said Isaac. “He has taken away your blessing.”
“Jacob he has already gone behind my back twice,” says Esau. “He took away my birthright and now he has taken away my blessing as well! Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
Isaac replies, “Esau, I have made Jacob a master to you and all your brothers. I have sustained him with corn and new wine.”
Esau cries, “Is this the only blessing you have? Bless me too my father!”
Isaac creates a blessing for Esau, “Esau, the fat places of the earth will be your dwelling place. You will live upon your sword and you will serve your brother. Only when you humble yourself will you loosen his yoke from your neck.”
Esau hates Jacob because of this blessing. Esau says in his heart, “Let the days of mourning for my father draw near and then I will kill my brother, Jacob.”
When Rebecca finds out Esau’s plan to kill Jacob, she says to Jacob, “Go to my brother, Laban, in Haran. Stay with him until your brother’s wrath has subsided. Then I will send for you, for why should I lose both of you in one day?”
Rebecca approaches Isaac to tell him that she doesn’t want Jacob to take a wife from the local women. She tells Isaac that it would be best for Jacob to go to her brother Laban’s and find a wife from among the women there.
Isaac agrees. He calls Jacob and blesses him and commands him not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. “Arise and go to your mother’s brother and take a wife from among his daughters. God, the all-sufficing, will bless you and make you fruitful. You will multiply into a great nation. God will give you the blessing of Abraham so that you and your children may inherit the land which God promised my father Abraham.” Thus Jacob is sent away to his mother’s brother, Laban’s house.
Esau soon hears of his father’s order that Jacob not marry a Canaanite. Knowing that the daughters of Canaan are displeasing to his father, Esau goes to the family of Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, and takes one of Ishmael’s daughters for a wife.
Parashat Toldot Discussion Questions
1) What is a birthright? Why do you think Jacob asked Esau to trade his birthright for food? Why do you think Esau agreed? What is your birthright?
2) How do you feel about Rebecca, a mother, asking her son, Jacob, to lie to his father? Do you ever lie? Is it ever right to lie? How do you feel about yourself when you lie?
3) Esau hates his father and his brother for taking away his blessings. Is it okay to hate? Do you hate anyone? Why?
Reprinted with permission from Jewish Family & Life!