Parshat Toldot contains one of the most disturbing and least understood stories in the Torah—Jacob and Esau—the birthright and the blessing. I do not think that I can add much to the understanding, but I did read a beautiful insight to share.
The Torah tells us that Isaac loved Esau and Rebecca loved Jacob. Genesis 25:28. The question is asked, “How could anyone, love an Esau who some Midrashim characterize as a murderer, rapist, idolater, feared hunter and tyrant?” Looking at the story from a distance and thinking of these characters as strangers, the question could be asked. Indeed, how could Isaac love such a person as Esau?
First, we need to understand that the evil attributes of Esau are detailed in Midrash so it is not clear how much is literal truth and how much is the result of an effort to understand or justify Jacob’s behaviors. After all, we revere Jacob as a Patriarch carrying on the traditions of Abraham and Sarah, so we naturally would like to see him in the most favorable light. So, perhaps Esau was not quite as bad as some of the Midrashim make him seem.
Second, and perhaps most important, we are talking about the love of a parent for a child. Can any father or mother be criticized for loving a child and loving them unconditionally?
The Torah does not tell us that Isaac and Rebecca did not see the faults in their children, that they never offered criticism or rebuke or that they did not feel pain from their children’s behavior. These are all things that Isaac and Rebecca experienced, but that did not mean that they should not love them.
Perhaps Isaac truly was estranged from his own father after the incident of the binding. Perhaps Isaac saw the pain his own father Abraham experienced from sending Ishmael away. Isaac would do anything to maintain his relationship with both of his sons.
Perhaps Isaac saw in Esau some of what he felt was missing in his own life—a personal toughness and ability to fight. Perhaps Isaac foresaw that future generations of Jews would need to have Abraham’s warrior skills to perpetuate their peoplehood and not merely Abrahams attributes of kindness. Perhaps Isaac believed that Esau could one day learn Torah, but the mild mannered, tent dweller Jacob would be unlikely to become the tough warrior.
Isaac’s love for his son Esau was unconditional. He was not uncritical. Isaac was tireless in his love and hope for his children. Hopefully the love we have for all of our children is thus.
This Shabbat we are privileged to learn with Rabbi Jason Miller who will take a deeper dive into the Parasha looking at the differences between Jacob and Esau. It is somewhat remarkable how children within a household can be so different from their parents and their other siblings. It is especially interesting how different even twins can be from each other. Rabbi Miller will examine how the commentators differentiate between Jacob and Esau in both traditional and modern Midrash. He will also talk about how we can use the story of Jacob and Esau to show how each child needs to be treated differently and educated in unique ways.
9:45 a.m. in the Shiffman Chapel. Come as you are. Stay as long as you like. We finish in time for the Rabbi’s sermon.