Thursday, October 31, 2013

Some Babies Are Hairier Than Others

29 Cheshvan 5774 / Nov. 1-2, 2013

This week’s portion, Toldot, begins with us learning that like her mother-in-law before her, Rebecca is also having problems getting pregnant.  Isaac, who has a tight relationship with God, pleads on her behalf, and ultimately, she conceives.  She has twins in her belly – and they fight with one another constantly.  Rebecca learns from God that the sons contained within her will eventually be the leaders of two great nations – but that “the older will serve the younger.”  The twins are born, and we’re thus introduced to Esau (who is the hairy one) and Jacob.

Shortly after their birth, we learn that Isaac favors Esau while Rebecca favors Jacob.  Oy.  Parental favoritism is always a good thing, right?

After a long day in the field, Jacob convinces Esau to give up his birthright in exchange for bread and lentil stew.  Trickstery? Mean spirited? Or maybe teaching Esau a lesson?

For some reason, there always seemed to be famines in that part of the world.  Isaac and Rebecca wander a bit in search of food, ultimately heading to a place called Gerar, where Isaac, like his father Abraham had twice done with his wife Sarah prior, tells others Rebecca is his sister so that the townsmen won’t kill him off in order to get with Rebecca (she was apparently quite attractive – and to their credit, the townspeople seemed to respect adultery laws…).  Like father like son!

And yet, Isaac, being the rambunctious and handsy type, ruins the plan by groping Rebecca in public, and is seen. 

Years later, Isaac sends Esau hunting, as he wants to give him his blessing before passing on.  We learn that Isaac’s eyesight had deteriorated significantly, and unfortunately Warby Parker didn’t deliver b/c Isaac and Rebecca only had a P.O. Box to ship to.

Rebecca overhears this interaction and encourages Jacob to steal Esau’s blessing, saying that any resulting curse will be upon her if he’s found out.  So Jacob, a lover of costuming, dresses in Esau’s clothes and puts goat skins on (remember – his brother was HAIRY). 

When Jacob approaches Isaac, Isaac is suspicious (don’t forget – he can’t see). The turnaround time seemed a bit quick, and the voice didn’t seem to match up.  When he asks, “which son are you?” Jacob replies, “I’m Esau, your first-born.”  

Isaac gives Jacob the blessing (in which he says, “your brothers will serve you”), Jacob departs and Esau arrives.  When Esau figures out what has gone on, he is enraged. Rebecca learns of Esau’s desire to murder Jacob and sends him away, with Isaac’s permission, to her family in Charan, in order to get married to one of her kinsmen.  Isaac actually offers Jacob a blessing before he departs, never mentioning the fact that he knew what Jacob had done.

In the meantime, Esau takes a third wife.

And scene.

Needless to say, there’s quite a bit of action in this week’s portion.

Some of the major takeaway points:

*Some babies are hairier than others.

*Human beings are imperfect, and parents (and our ancestors especially), often play favorites, to the detriment of their families.

*Problems conceiving are not a new thing, and we cannot and should not take the ability to have children for granted, or somehow assume / judge others who happen to not have children.

*It takes a pretty special wife to be willing to risk herself for the sake of her husband’s life…

*Public Displays of Affection can lead to some unfortunate consequences…

*Sometimes lying to your parents works out.  Teenagers across the world rejoice!

* Warby Parker should start delivering to P.O. Boxes.  But more seriously, our ancestors believed blessings carried great powers. 

What else would you take away from this portion?

Are you intrigued by how human (and flawed) our Biblical ancestors were?

What does it say about our tradition that we readily admit the flaws of those we look up to?  Are we ready to admit our own shortcomings when they present themselves?

This Shabbat, reflect on what it means to be human.  Acknowledge that while we each contain a Divine spark, we are all imperfect beings.  Commit to the lifelong process of self-improvement, learning from our mistakes and the mistakes of others, so that we can truly be the best forms of ourselves that we can be.

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