March 8, 2021 |

Parshat Toldot: Walkthrough

Loyalty to the literal text, with a modern voice [All editorializing in brackets]

We start this week’s parsha with the same formula we started Parshat Noach: “Here’s the story of Isaac (Avraham’s son).”

Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rivkah (his cousin). He prayed to God alongside his wife, who was barren (family theme, more to come), God answered, and Rivka became pregnant.

The children struggled within her, and she thought “With all this struggle, what’s the point?” and she went to check in with God.

God told her that she had 2 nations (to-be, that is) in her womb, and they are destined to struggle with each other and the older one will serve the younger.

When the time comes she gives birth to twins – the first covered with red hair they called Esav, and the second grasping the heel of the first he called Yaakov. At the time, Isaac was 60 years old (so they had been married for a full 20 years).

The boys got older, with Esav becoming a hunter and Yaakov more of a home-body. Isaac loved Esav since he was a capable hunter, and Rivka loved Yaakov.

Now Yaakov had prepared a stew, and Esav was coming back from the field, exhausted. Said Esav: “Please give me some of your red stew, since I’m tired!” (which is why they called him “Edom” meaning “Red”). Yaakov: “Sell me your birthright.” Esav:” I am mortal, why do I need the birthright?” Yaakov: “Swear to me.” And so he did, selling the birthright to Yaakov. And Yaakov gave him the stew he had asked for – and Esav resented the birthright.

Meantime, there was another famine, and Isaac returns to Avimelech the king of Gerar [on the way to Egypt]. God appears to him and tells him NOT to go down to Egypt, and gives him the same promises of land inheritance and children that he gave to Avraham. Isaac stays put.

The locals were curious about Rivka, so Isaac tells them [NO, not again!!] that she is [wait for it] his sister. After they had been there awhile, Avimelech looks over & sees Isaac “metzachek” [that word keeps popping up about Isaac, as a play on his name] with Rivka, in other words behaving more like a married couple than as siblings. He is (again) miffed, and tells Isaac to come clean, which he does.

In the meantime, Isaac (like his father) was enormously successful [famines tend to be good for the family’s luck, see story of Joseph in a few weeks], until he is finally pushed out of Gerar. He finds all the wells that Avraham had dug and that the local Philistines had covered up, and he reclaims them in the name of the family. This leads to strife with the Gerarite shepherds, until he finally finds a well that they don’t fight over.

From there they go to Beer Sheva [much of the Torah centers on the events around wells]. At this point Avimelech comes to Isaac and says, “We can see that God has been with you – let’s stop fighting and make a treaty.” And so once again, Beer Sheva is named for an oath (shevua) that was sworn to get along.

(Esav at 40 years old marries 2 Hittite women [recall the family preference for not marrying the locals], and they gave much grief to their machetunim.)

Now Isaac was old [doing the math – he’s 60 years older than Esav so figure he’s at least 100 by now], and he became blind, and he called Esav over saying “I’ve gotten old, I don’t know how much time I have left. Can you go on a hunt & make me my favorite dish, and then I’ll give you a blessing?” [Again, a blessing in exchange for food.] Rivka overheard this (meanwhile, Esav heads out to start hunting), and she brings in Yaakov, telling him what’s going on and that he must bring in 2 goats from the flock, which she will prepare as Isaac likes, all before Esav returns. “Mom: he’s hairy and I’m smooth, Dad will feel my arms and immediately know I’m faking, and he’ll curse me instead of blessing me!” Said his mother, “If he curses you, it’s on me [the first truly Jewish Mother line in the Torah], just do what I’m telling you.”

So Jacob does as Rivka asks of him, and she puts Esav’s clothes on him and does her best to dress him up as his brother. He goes into Isaac [who is blind, remember], saying “Father!” Isaac: “Over here – who are you, my son?” Then Jacob says to his father “I am Esav, your firstborn, I did what you asked of me. Come eat, so that I can get the blessing.” Isaac: “Wow, that was fast!” Jacob: “The Lord your God helped me out.” Issaac [perhaps smelling something fishy with the God comment]: Come close so I can feel you, to see if it’s really you, Esav.” Jacob approached, and Isaac thought, “He sure sounds like Jacob, but his hands feel like Esav.” “Are you sure it’s my son Esav?” he asks again. “Right here.” answers Jacob.

Finally Isaac sits down to eat and drink, and he kissed him, smelling the distinctive smell of Esav’s clothing, “Yes, yes, it must really be Esav, he certainly smells like him,” he thought. And he blessed him with plentiful crops of wheat and wine, other nations will bow before him and he will be master over his brother. Those who bless him will be blessed, and those who curse him will be cursed [same as God’s blessing to Avraham at the start of parshat Lech Lecha].

Just as they are finishing up and Jacob leaves, Esav arrives from his hunt & preparations. “Who are YOU?” Isaac asks. “I am your firstborn son, Esav.” At this point Isaac fairly freaks out, saying “But – but – but – who was that other guy, I ate all his food and then I blessed him – I can’t take that back.”

When Esav heard that, he screamed a terrible bitter scream, and asked for a blessing from his father as well. Isaac told him that his brother had come in deceit and taken the blessing. Esav said, “First he steals the birthright, and now the blessing – didn’t you save a blessing for me?” Isaac: “I don’t know – I kinda gave him everything.” “Something? Anything?” and Esav [big hunter] began to cry. So Isaac found something: “You will do well, living by the sword, serving your brother. But someday you will be able to come up on top.”
Esav despised his brother over this episode, and muttered “Someday my father will die, and when the mourning period is over, I will kill my brother.”

Rivka heard this and told Jacob that Esav was planning on killing him. “Go to Lavan my brother in Charan, until your brother calms down. If you stick around, I could lose both of you in one day.

So Rivka approached Isaac, and told him “The local Hittite women are gonna push me to an early grave [remember her daughters-in-law] – if Jacob marries one of them, what will I have to live for?”

So Isaac calls Jacob to him and tells him to go back to Rivka’s house in Aram [recall, back to where Avraham came from originally], and marry one of Lavan’s daughters. And God will indeed bless you and the blessing of Avraham will continue through you. And so Jacob listened to his father and mother and departed for Aram, as Isaac had instructed him [at Rivka’s suggestion, behind the scenes].

And Esav saw that his father really didn’t like the local women, and so we went and married Ishmael’s daughter [perhaps hoping to score some points by marrying within the family for a change].

[So the parsha ends, having covered at least a half a century and most of Isaac’s documented life, with yet another patriarch looking for a wife back in the country that Avraham was told to leave a few parshiot ago. Who would have thought that “lech lecha” meant “go, then come back for a wife, then go again, then come back again for a wife, then go again...”]

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Jack Kustanowitz

Joined: July 15, 2007

Jack is an Internet professional living in Silver Spring, MD. He is a proud alum of the Frisch School in Paramus, NJ as well as Boston University, where he was active at BU Hillel.

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