Shabbat Shalom with a Heart-Healthy Dose of Torah – Toldot
Here is a throwback to my youth. One of the great Modern jazz/adult alternative albums ever produced was “Twin Sons Of Different Mothers,” by Tim Weisberg and the late Dan Fogelberg. Tim is an amazing rock fusion flautist. Dan was a folksinger. The album spawned only one chart topping hit (great album, though): “The Power of Gold.” First, my disclaimer … I have no reason to believe they were thinking anything biblical when writing/performing this piece. That said, the first verse of the song screamed at me last night, as I was listening to music, preparing to write something meaningful ( I always hope) for Shabbat.
“The story is told of the Power of gold
And its lure on the unsuspecting
It glitters and shines It badgers and blinds
And constantly needs protecting.
Balance the cost of the soul you lost
With the dreams you lightly sold Are you under
The power of gold?”
Hearing those words, I thought about the rivalry between the twins Jacob and Esau. One of the most famous stories in the Bible tells us of the time that Jacob bought the birthright from his older twin brother Esau for only a bowl of vegetable soup. Esau sold his birthright, and Jacob sold his soul … the power of gold. Ok, so Jacob pulled one over on his brother, big deal! It was, after all, Esau who was famished … so famished that he was willing to give up his future fortunes. The gold meant nothing to him. He did not give up the blessing, he went out doing his father’s bidding to get that blessing (which Jacob also stole … with mom’s help).
Tradition casts off Esau for being a ruddy man of the field. Esau is simple, the text is clear to paint him in that light. In his simplicity, even while he decided that the money was meaningless, he ultimately honored his father in working to seek the blessing. At least on the simple reading, Esau is the son of faith But–Esau marries two Hittite women (and later a daughter of Ishmael), he raises an army against his brother, and the nuances of his story lead the sages to see him as the progenitor of Rome … the empire that destroyed the Temple and tried to destroy everything Israel.
Jacob is revered as the patriarch. His name “Israel (one who God wrestles)” is literally synonymous with the word “faith.” Our Messianic hopes revolve around the universal sense that Israel is about all faiths and that the world, in faith (even through different lenses) is at peace. Yet, we see a man who steals and cheats – a man more beholden to his mother than his father, a man who has no respect for tradition … and he is the patriarch.
Torah, is never simple, and we are taught that it never provides answers. Rather, it spawns conversations, and specifically does not lock a reader into a hard and fast dogma (in spite of what some commentators seem to think).
Jacob’s journey is far more instructive to us, than is Esau’s. Jacob’s biography teaches us to grow, while there is no reporting that Esau’s character did anything of the sort. The Biblical goal is not to lead us to perfection; it is to help us figure out faith … to give us tools through which we can engage the world in ways of peace.
Stories of Jacob show that he never figured it all out. Each of his stories leaves him morally lacking in the eyes of readership … except for the one where he will eventually wrestle with the angel (stay tuned). At that moment he will become Israel. Israel is not a name of perfection; it is a designation of one who struggles … with faith.
Jacob is the patriarch because, even while he never gets it right, his life mirrors the real world. It is not our goal in life to be perfect. Pirke Avot teaches us that it is not on our shoulders to complete the task of healing the world, but we are required to work towards that goal. Our job is to grow; to take the best of the generation before us, and make it better for ours and for the next. Jacob taught us to struggle to grow in faith.
Every day, we put intentional effort to make better sense out of the real world. We face challenges that we can ignore and from which we can walk away, or we can engage them to seek resolve. Some of these challenges are to overcome hardship while some of them are to find ways to better appreciate the blessings that fill our lives. In studying we learn from the past and learn to plan for tomorrow. In the midrashic work of Genesis Rabbah (circa 450 c.e.), the sages even teach that Jacob studied Torah in the yeshiva (house of study) run by Noah’s son, Shem (the timeline does work out). Esau did not.
Two brothers, identical starting points, but one chooses to grow and one does not. Committing to study is committing to grow … that is my prayer. Shabbat Shalom.