Parshat Toledot

Parshat Toledot


Translations of kabbalistic texts are by Rabbi Larry Tabick, The Aura of Torah. Translations of the Torah and other commentaries are from Sefaria, except where otherwise noted.


We are introduced to the sons, Jacob and Esau, and an odd grammatical twist in the Torah. 


Bereishit 25:25-26

The first one emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they [וַיִּקְרְא֥וּ] named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so he [ וַיִּקְרָ֥א ]named him Jacob. 


Moshe Hayyim Efraim of Sudylkov, late 18th century, grandson of the Baal Shem Tov

You ought to understand this difference: Regarding Esau, Scripture says, “they called his name”, but with regard to Jacob, it says, “he called his name,” in the singular. Now, the exposition of the sages is well known, and there are some who say, by way of a hint based on the midrash mentioned above, that Esau [esav] represents vanity [shav] and lies, and that this is hinted at in the verse [in the word] vayikr’u, an expression of pulling and gathering, that is, that the crowd is drawn after lies and vanity. But regarding Jacob, who represents the attribute of truth, based on the verse, “You will give truth to Jacob” (Micah 7:20), vayikra’ in the singular is written because this one represents a small minority, or even one in a city, who approaches the truth.

Moreover, you may say that falsehood [results] in separation, based on the verse, “a whisperer separates a close friend [aluf]” [Proverbs 16:28], that is, one. Thus, “and they called his name,” which represents the separation [brought by a] lie, which is called Esau, as mentioned above, for he causes separation. But truth is the opposite, for it binds and unites in perfect unity. Therefore of Jacob it is written that he is truth, and “he called” is in the singular.

On the other hand, you may say that “he called his name Jacob’ hints that he [Isaac] called upon the name of the Holy One.  [Which raises the question]: Who is able to call the name of the blessed God? “Jacob,” that is, one who is on the level of truth, as it is written, “The Eternal is close … to all who call God in truth” (Psalm 145:18). Understand.


Think about the associations:


Falsehood and vanity = crowds, divisive, separating

Truth = alone, singular, unifying, connecting


Do these make sense when you look at your own experiences?


How is truth alone and yet at the same time unifying? How are lies and vanity, characteristic of crowds? (What might our experience with celebrity culture teach us here?)


Isaac travels the land digging wells and setting up boundary markers.


Bereishit 26:15-22

And the Philistines stopped up all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of his father Abraham, filling them with earth.  … Isaac dug anew the wells which had been dug in the days of his father Abraham and which the Philistines had stopped up after Abraham’s death; and he gave them the same names that his father had given them. … He named [a new well] Esek [discord], because they had contended with him. And when they dug another [new] well, they disputed over that one also, so he named it Sitnah [hatred]. He moved from there and dug yet another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he called it Rechovot [open spaces].


Simcha Bunim of Pshicshe

It appears [that] the interpretation is [as follows]: Any path that people make toward God must have an internal life force within it, and if it does not, it will not ascend. Now the Philistines wanted to walk in the paths of our ancestor Abraham, so they would act like our ancestor Abraham did, only without the internal life force in those acts. And this resulted in the stopping up of the path. Understand!

Now Isaac, our ancestor, wanted to dig this well, even though he had other paths to God from his own side. Nevertheless, he was not prevented from [re]digging the wells of his father, as it says. Afterward he himself dug wells, for every Israelite who approaches the service of the blessed God must dig a well with their own essence by which they may cling to the blessed and exalted Creator.

At first, this well will not be perfect from our soul’s [point of view], for it will still [contain] good mixed with bad, from [within] yourself, and this is called “discord because they contend with[in] him”. Later, when you move on from this level where you have no hindrance from within yourself, then you are on the level of Hatred, where Satan opposes and confuses you. Later still, you are at the level of Spaciousness, called Rechovot, in accordance with the saying: “When the Eternal is pleased with a person’s conduct, God turns even enemies into allies”. This is the secret of the wells.


What do the wells represent?


Can you use somebody else’s well? What may happen if you do? 

What is the process you will go through when you dig your own well?


Why is this a secret?


Bereishit 28:9

So Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife, in addition to the wives he had, Machalat the daughter of Ishmael, son of Abraham, sister of Nebaioth.


Mordechi Leiner of Izbica-Radzyn

It says in the midrash: “[She was called] Machalat because the Holy One had forgiven [machal] all his transgressions.” The point here is that Esau’s character was murderous and Ishmael’s character was adulterous, but look here: all the deficient qualities that exist in the world have a good side. For example, the root of anger: even though it is evil, nevertheless it has its good side, because you might also become angry against those who transgress the will of the Blessed God. And the root of adultery, although it is also evil, nevertheless it has its good side, for the flaw with adultery is that you are doing good in a place where it is not the will of the Blessed God [that you do so]. Therefore, it has a good side, because the good have permission to do good.


Good and evil is not as simple as we may think. What are the circumstances and situation under which a behavior or emotion takes place?