Parshat Toldot

Isaac feeling the hands of Jacob on his deathbed.

Bereishit 25:27-28
When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. Issac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob.

This can be read as a difference in parental preference. What are your thoughts and experience about parents having favorite children?

Another reading based on the structure of the statement is that Issac’s love was conditional — “for the game that he brought him” — while Rebecca’s love of Jacob was unconditional. What about Issac and Rebecca’s personality might lead them to express love differently?

Esau takes on a gendered role and identity consistent with bearing the birthright in a patriarchal system: He is a hunter, ruddy and hairy; he is outwardly strong, representing gevurah. In contrast, Jacob is depicted as a quiet tent-dweller, content with domestic life: a mama’s boy. We will quickly see that these characterizations are superficial. Esau is shallow, while the simple Jacob is both cunning and determined. Might this also be speaking to cultural perceptions shared in 21st century America about strength? Or about the deceptiveness of appearances?

Bereishit 25:29-35
And Jacob prepared a stew and Esau came from the field, and he was famished. And Esau said to Jacob, “Let me gulp down some of this red red stuff, for I am famished.” Therefore is his name called Edom. And Jacob said, “Sell now your birthright to me.” And Esau said, “Look, I am at the point of death, so why do I
need a birthright?” And Jacob said, “Swear to me now,” and he swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob. then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and he drank and he rose and he went off, and Esau spurned the birthright.

If Esau puts such little value on his birthright, is deception and untruth acceptable to rescue the birthright?

Bereishit 27
[In this chapter Rebecca conspires with Jacob to deceive Issac, so that Issac gives Jacob the blessing intended for Esau. Part of the deception involves making a dish of food — reflecting back on the previous scene of red lentil stew.]

Bereishit 27:2-4
And he [Issac] said [to Esau], “I am old now, and I do not know how soon I may die. Take your gear, your quiver and bow, and go out into the open and hunt me some game. Then prepare a dish for me such as I like, and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die.”

What are the parallels with the story of Cain and Able?

Bereishit 27:21-25
And Issac said to Jacob, “Come close, pray, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are my son Esau or not.” And Jacob came close to Issac his father and he felt him and he said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob and the hands are Esau’s hands.” But he did not recognize him for his hands were, like Esau’s hands.”

Taking this at face-value, what does this say about Issac’s perceptions? Some commentators argue that Issac really did know that it was Jacob. Why might Issac play along with the deception?

If the rule of the land is that the birthright goes to the eldest son, and Issac is a person who lives by strict justice, what kind of conflict might this create if Esau is not deserving of the birthright? Are there other ways to resolve the conflict other than by deception? What is the price that the family has to pay for using deception to “fix” this problem?

Jacob, who was a tent-dweller, now is forced to flee, to cross boundaries. Why is crossing boundaries necessary for growth? One of key mussar lessons in Jacob’s story is that growth comes from challenges provoked by the yetzer hara. How is this reflected in the parshah?