Parshat Hashavua: Toldot
by Debra Paul
In discussions about this week’s parsha, Parshat Toldot, the topic of Rivka is often overlooked between the story of Esav and Yaakov. Last week’s parsha describes in detail Rivka’s venture back to Avraham in order to marry his son, Yitzchak. While it is not indicated in the text, this was most likely a difficult endeavor for Rivka — to get up and leave her home and all the values with which she had been raised. However, her greatest courage lies in the fact that she was born into a family of idolatry, and somehow found a way to get up and leave that life — to abandon those beliefs and go off to a foreign land, built on a foreign belief system and marry a man she had not met.
Rivka manages to find an independent view on life and on religion. She portrays a great sense of individuality, which is frequently unmentioned in the classic Bereshit tales we study from a very young age.
This week’s parsha again accounts Rivka’s strong sense of individuality. We read about her personal struggles with childlessness, and then her difficulty with her pregnancy. These culminate in the birth of two totally opposite twins. While filled with immense respect and love for her husband — who happens to be one of the three patriarchs of Judaism — Rivka relied on her own prophecy and judgment in realizing that Yaakov was the son most deserving of the blessing from Yitzchak.
This week’s parsha tells us how she, rather than Yitzchak, was correct in her position on this matter. Rivka teaches us about strength in character and confidence in opinions, something that I hope each and every one of us Midreshet Lindenbaum students can take away from this story and apply to our own lives as young Jewish women.
The Misunderstood Brother
by Gav Mazurek
Many educated Jewish students can attest that, in our younger years, we were taught the Tanach in black and white. Characters were presented as good or evil, and events were often labeled sinful or righteous. But, most have also experienced the later revelation that the text is, in fact, more complex than they assumed in second grade. Though, it is impossible to completely shed the simplistic biases with which we were taught to address the text. Therefore, certain biblical characters are too carelessly thrown under the bus. In this week’s parsha, Toldot, Esav assumes this role.
The Torah describes Esav as, “wild,” and Chazal imply he is evil, but parts of the pshat may suggest the opposite. Esav’s devotion to his father and genuine love for Yitzchak are the first things he displays in adulthood. The key issue in defending Esav is his hatred toward Yaakov at the end of Toldot; “יִקְרְבוּ יְמֵי אֵבֶל אָבִי, וְאַהַרְגָה, אֶת-יַעֲקֹב אָחִי.” How can we praise someone with murderous intentions? However, while expressed as such, Esav’s intentions might not have been genuinely murderous, as he knew where Yaakov had fled to, and, even after Yitzchak’s death, maintained his distance.
In Esav, we can see components of ourselves. In some ways, we can relate more to him than to Yaakov. Esav’s immediate reaction when he realizes that his brother has conned him is not of anger towards Yaakov, nor of resentment towards Yitzchak for not managing to tell the difference. Esav’s response is, instead, quite natural and heartbreaking. He cries to his father and begs for any blessing, portraying raw emotion. Esav’s relationship with Yitzchak is what makes it so complicated to call him an ‘evil’ person.
Esav’s sensitivity is again palpable when his cries echo, years later, upon reuniting with Yaakov. Yaakov expects this reunion to breed animosity, but there is no resentment evident from Esav’s side. Instead, he embraces his brother and cries in his arms. Chazal interpret this as a false encounter, proclaiming Esav’s tears fake, and his intentions deceiving. But does it not seem from the text, in it’s simplicity, that Yaakov is the brother thinking of conflict, and Esav the one with his heart on his sleeve?
While Esav is quick to anger, he is equally quick to forgive. He is touchingly respectful and loving to his father, yet lacks interest in learning Torah. He clearly does not fit the model of the Avot, though it is important to understand that this shortcoming does not deem him the antagonist in the narrative of Yaakov. Esav sets a positive example with his admirable qualities, and ability to move away from conflict. He validates the possibility of being commendable despite imperfections.