Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah–Toldot

This week, Torah introduces us to two brothers. Jacob and Esau are twins literally born together as Jacob emerges from the birth canal holding on to his older brother’s heel. Torah tells us that each of these young men is unique. Jacob is the home-body, and Esau is the outdoors type. Tradition has not been kind to Esau. Tradition posits that Jacob was the chosen son. While the boys are still in the womb, God tells Rebecca (mom) that Jacob was destined to rule over his brother.

For some reason (most likely because we all stem from Jacob’s line) tradition paints Jacob in the more saintly role of patriarch and dismisses the validity of Esau’s dignity or firstborn status. Here are the charges against him. Yes, Esau will sell the birthright double inheritance for a bowl of stew. So, we now condemn him for not wanting wealth. Passively, we slap Jacob on the wrist for being so money hungry that he is willing to take advantage of his own brother. Later on, we learn that Esau marries women from outside of the tribe. Tradition labels him as a heretic for inter-faith marrying. Certainly, in this day and age, we know that for so many Jews married to non-Jews, their families thrive as vibrant parts of our Jewish communities. It is only the myopic fundamentalist that can still maintain the notion that the boundaries of religion are the most important (and sometimes only) element of a legitimate relationship.

Then Isaac (dad) cheats Jacob out of the blessing due the firstborn. Ok, we know that mom facilitated the deception of dressing Jacob up like his brother to fool the blind Isaac. We know that Jacob willingly participated in the fraud. Volumes of commentary argue and debate over whether or not Isaac knew that he was complicit (I think he knew). So, poor Esau, whose only crime was loving his father enough to want to prepare for him a gourmet meal, receives only condemnation from all. Even after the fraud is discovered … even after Esau in rage and emotional pain threatens to finally do away with his brother, when they meet years later, Esau welcomes his brother with hugs and kisses.

Prophecies are not always blessings. That God told Rebecca about the boys’ status does not mean that this was God’s desired choice. It only means that God understood that this was going to happen. The rest of the story tells the full truth. Tradition claims that the Roman empire descends from Esau. We teach that Rome became the eternal enemy of Israel as it bore responsibility for destroying the Temple and sending us into a 2000 year exile from the land.
Torah teaches us that the sins of the fathers pass on to future generations. Esau always maintained a love for his brother. That love got lost over generations, as Esau’s grandchildren and great children had no reason to love Jacob’s descendants. They only held memories of the way in which they were cheated from their rightful inheritance and blessing. It does not take God to predict that the memories of abuse pass through the generations. There is always a price to pay for the hurts we cause each other. The saddest of tragedies is that the retribution for our bad acts most often falls on the shoulders of those who, by accident of birth or situation, happen to be in the lineage of the wrong doers. We can dishonestly reap benefits on the backs of others, but tradition and history both tell us that this myopic approach to gaining wealth and power creates the greatest obstacle for peace for generations yet unknown. What we do matters … for a long time. Make this and every day forward one that brings blessings today and also blessings for our future. Shabbat Shalom.