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B'nai Mitzvah of the Week

Daniela Schneider & Aaron weinbach

November 18, 2017

Parshat : Tol'dot Genesis 25:19 - 28:9

Rebekah has twins, Esau and Jacob. (25:19-26)
Esau gives Jacob his birthright in exchange for some stew. (25:27-34)
King Abimelech is led to think that Rebekah is Isaac's sister and later finds out that she is really his wife. (26:1-16)
Isaac plans to bless Esau, his firstborn. Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac so that Jacob receives the blessing. (27:1-29)
Esau threatens to kill Jacob, who then flees to Haran. (27:30-45)

For more information and resources on this portion, click here.

Daniela's Interpretation

The torah portion I read in Hebrew today was titled Toledot. Toledot is the story of Esau and Jacob, two brothers who were basically polar opposites. While in Rebecca's womb, the boys struggled with one another causing a difficult pregnancy. The way my brothers fight, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rebekah gave birth to triplets named Dylan,Tyler and Jayden. Anyway, she begged God for mercy and he replied “There are two nations fighting in your womb...the older will serve the younger.” When the twins were born, Esau came out first, followed by Jacob clutching his heel. Rebekah favored Jacob, who was more intellectual while Isaac favored Esau who liked to hunt. Once Jacob was home cooking a stew. Esau came back feeling famished and said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff!”“First, swear your birthright to me,” replied Jacob. Esau thought “What good is a birthright to me if I die of hunger?” Thus Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for some bread and lentil stew.

As the years went on, their father Isaac became old and “his eyes were too dim to see”. He called for Esau. He told him to go out and hunt for him then prepare a dish for Isaac to eat so that he may give Esau his innermost blessing before he dies. Rebekah overheard their conference and told Jacob. She covered him in sheepskins for Esau was very hairy. I wonder, would my brother Tyler be willing to cut off his hair to look like Jayden? Probably not. He’s very proud of his curly locks that took years to grow. Back to the story, Rebekah also prepared a dish for him to give his father and take the blessing for himself. When Esau came back and their plan had been carried through, he was very angry.

After studying this series of stories about Jacob and Esau, I started to wonder: How much did Isaac know when Jacob stole the blessing? Was he totally tricked, was he truly blind, or did he play along with Rebekah's plans?

I believe that Isaac had a vague idea that the son standing before him was Jacob and not Esau. I think that Isaac trusted that God would alert him if it wasn’t God’s will that the person in front of him should be blessed. Rabbi Gunther Plaut supports this theory. He says “ Isaac looks for ways to deceive himself in order that he might carry out Gods design.” After reading his point of view, I thought that maybe Isaac deceived himself so that he would have an excuse and attempt not to harm the feelings of Esau. Rabbi Norman Cohen relates the text to current day life. He poses the question “Even though we have different feelings for each of our children, can we respond to each in a meaningful way?”Being in a family with four children has it’s ups and downs. For one, you always, and I mean always, have someone to hang out with. But that also means you sometimes have to do things you don’t want to. Both my brothers and I have different relationships with each of our parents. Clearly I’m the favorite. But that aside, each of our problems are different. My dad, who likes sports, somehow finds a way to make me feel better when I didn’t get the part I wanted when I performed at NYPAC (New York Performing Arts Center). My brothers, who play sports, are really different then I am therefore our relationships are different. Nevertheless, my parents always try to help us and relate to what we are going through.

Isaac was deceived into believing he had only one blessing to give. But, after Esau cried 3 times in his presence Isaac’s heart opened and he found a blessing for both of his sons he did not know was there. Even though Jacob received the blessing, he was there for Esau as well.

Daniela's Mitzvah Project

For my mitzvah project, on October 15, I organized a collection drive for the Humane Society of Westchester located in New Rochelle. I collected dog and cat food and toys and cleaning supplies. I chose this mitzvah project because of my rescue dogs who we adopted almost 4 and 5 years ago. The Humane Society of Westchester is a no kill shelter and I love animals and want to do whatever I can to make sure they look their best and can be adopted into loving homes.


Aaron's Interpretation

Toldot means generations and in my opinion is about sibling rivalry. We all know sibling rivalry is siblings being rivals, I mean it’s in the name. But this rivalry is different, for one, because it’s in the Torah. Also it’s full of trickery, like how Jacob takes advantage of Esau's (the older one’s) stupidity, takes his birthright and steals his special blessing. What I think makes Toldot an interesting portion is that it has a good story with a lot of different interpretations, and today I'm going to share mine.

But before I share my ideas, let me tell you what happens in Toldot. There are twin brothers: Esau, the older son, and Jacob, the younger. Their mother, Rebecca, favors Jacob, and their father, Isaac, favors Esau. The twins are pretty much exact opposites. Esau is a very skilled hunter, and he’s hairy. Jacob likes to stay at camp and cook, and doesn’t have a lot of hair. One day, Esau comes back from a hunting trip starving and says he’s so hungry he is about to die. Jacob is at camp and is making lentil soup, and he says to Esau, “I’ll give you some soup if you give me your birthright.” Esau agrees, and just like that, Jacob has Esau’s birthright.

A few years later, Isaac, the twin’s father, is old and close to dying. He’s also growing blind. Isaac tells Esau to go hunting and to prepare him a dish in order to receive his special blessing before he dies. Esau runs off to obey his father. Rebecca overhears the conversation, but remember that she likes Jacob better. She persuades Jacob to put on Esau’s clothing and wear hairy skins in order to trick their father into thinking he is Esau. Jacob obeys his mom and Jacob gets meat and brings it to his mom to make a dish. Dressed as Esau, he brings it to his Isaac. The disguise works and Isaac gives Jacob his special blessing, saying, “Let people serve you and nations bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, blessed be they who bless you.” When Esau returns, he finds out what his brother did and is so angry that he vows to kill Jacob. Rebekah sends Jacob to go live with her brother to stay safe from his brother’s wrath.

In my opinion, the most interesting question from the story of Toldot is ‘why is Jacob considered the good guy when he basically deceives his father and steals his brother’s birthright?’.

To answer this question, I first researched different opinions on this topic. The famous rabbinic commentator Rashi had his own interpretation to explain why Esau sold his birthright to Jacob. Rashi thinks (and I agree) that maybe Esau couldn't handle the responsibility of following all of God's many many laws. He definitely didn’t want the extra responsibilities that came with being the first born son and having that special birthright. He maybe feared the consequences, including punishment by death. So I can kind of get why Esau might not want all of that pressure, and why he quickly jumped at Jacob’s offer to buy the birthright. Rashi’s theory is that maybe Jacob did the right thing, because it was Esau's will to sell his birthright to avoid all of those responsibilities that came with the special status.

Another commentator, Rabbi Gunther Plaut who was a more recent rabbi in Toronto, suggests that Jacob thought that he was more suited than his brother Esau for the great task of carrying on the religious heritage of his ancestors. Therefore, Jacob did the right thing by not letting his “boorish and indifferent brother stand in the way.” Rabbi Plaut also suggests that perhaps Isaac wasn’t really fooled, because he knew at least subconsciously that Jacob was better suited to lead because of his study of Torah. Basically, it was for the long-term benefit of the people that Jacob and Isaac deceived Esau.

To be honest, when I first read the story of Toldot I thought Jacob was the bad guy. I wondered why the rabbis and God seem to like Jacob better, even though he did all those awful things to Esau. I mean he tricks his own brother into giving him his birthright and then practically steals Esau’s special blessing! Maybe it is just an example of history being written by the people who succeed, who tell their version of the story.

As I spent more time thinking about it though, there are a few reasons why I think the accepted interpretation of Jacob as the good guy might be right. One is that in the beginning of Toldot it mentions Rebeca asking God for guidance and God saying that the younger will prevail over the older. So maybe Rebecca and Jacob were just enacting God’s plan, and maybe this was God’s plan for a reason. Jacob seems better suited than Esau to lead the Jewish people. Israel and the Jewish people might not even exist today if it were not for Jacob. If Esau were the leader, we might have become warriors like the Spartans versus the peaceful-ish people we are today. So even though Jacob lied and stole, it was for a good reason and created a good outcome.

Maybe the real message of Toldot is that things aren’t always as they seem. You might need to dig a little deeper and be a little patient to fully understand something or someone before you pass judgment. Or maybe the lesson of Toldot is that we shouldn’t only be judged by decisions we make when we are young men and women. As we read more about Jacob in the weeks to come, we will learn that he does regret his behavior and grows from it. I know a lot about my relationship with my younger sister will stay the same in the years to come, including how my parents give her a bit more attention, but I also know that our relationship will change as we grow up. I wouldn’t want our fighting over who needs to feed the dog to be the final story told about us.

Aaron's Mitzvah Project

For my mitzvah project I did a couple of things to raise awareness and money around food allergies which involved EAT, End Allergies Together and FARE, Food Allergy Research and Education. I chose this because I have food allergies and they have been a big part of my life. I grew up with a lot of them including milk, eggs, soy, tree nuts, and peanuts just to name a few. Luckily I have outgrown some.

I volunteered at the FARE walk in early October helping out at the sponsor table and passing out information about allergy friendly foods. Also, I wrote a letter to the mayor asking if I could set up an information table during the Ragamuffin Halloween parade. She said yes, so I created a table and handed out information on food allergy awareness and sold Aaron's Thinking Putty to raise money for EAT.