Shabbat Table Talk
Parashat Toledot– Erev Shabbat 17th of November 2017
Week of 12th-18th of November 2017
Torah portion: Genesis 25:19-28:9 Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
Parashat Toledot is the sixth parashah into the Torah as we begin the new cycle of readings. The word, “Toledot,” means “generations.” It contains the story of the lineage of Isaac and Rebekah with them serving as a link between Abraham and Jacob, who would later become the father of the Twelve Tribes which is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham and Sarah. The most prominent content of the parashah is the story of the twins, Esau and Jacob.
Since Jacob will later enjoy a good number of chapters and verses, I would like to expound on Esau and his characterization in the parashah. Esau, as we already know, came out first from the womb of Rebekah. He was described as reddish and hairy, thus, the origin of his name. He was also called “Edom” associating him with the red stew which he exchanged with his birthright. [Gen. 25:30] Esau and Jacob were fathers of two nations, Edom and Israel. So, we might also regard the story as an etiology of the enmity of Israel and Edom. This enmity is expressed in Malachi 1:2-5 where God showed preference to Israel over Edom. Edom, the descendants of Esau, is an archenemy of Israel, the descendants of Jacob. It is indeed a wonder why this turned out to be so considering that there were no violence that happened between the twins when they met each other later. They even buried their father Isaac together. [Gen. 35:29] Esau’s lineage was even recounted in Gen. 36:1-40!
Now, let’s deal closely with Esau, the character in the parashah. He was described as an adult as “a skillful hunter, man of the field” in contrast with Jacob who was a “quiet man, living in tents.” [Gen. 25:27 NRSV] In the description alone, one can surmise the raw, masculine and wild energy of Esau. One is not surprised with his action of exchanging his birthright with a bowl of stew and some bread. The narrator comments, “Thus Esau despised his birthright.” [Gen. 25:34] The next time we hear again of Esau was when he took as wives two Hittite women which caused life to be bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. If he was to be the clan leader, he was supposed to be a bit choosy regarding the mothers of his children. We are reminded of the concern of Abraham in finding a wife for Isaac; that she should not be from Canaan. We note that Esau realized his mistakes after he witnessed Isaac blessing and instructing Jacob when he was about to leave for Paddan-aram. [Gen. 28:6] He realized that Isaac “looked with disfavor at the daughters of Canaan,” so, Esau then went to take as his wife the daughter of Ishmael, Mahalath.
Generally, there was really no sympathy for Esau in the parashah. The most gut-wrenching scene was when he begged his father for blessings, “Have you only one blessing, father?” Esau turned out to be the unfavored child due to his characterization in the parashah. One is repulsed by him immediately.
Although there was no explicit condemnation of what Jacob did, the succeeding events in his life seem to indicate that he reaped what he had sown beginning with enmity with his twin, Esau. He was deceived by his uncle by giving him Leah instead of Rachel and he was also deceived by his sons regarding Joseph. [Plaut, 182]
The characterization of Esau is similar to how we, at times, demonize the ones we consider as ‘the other.’ The story that we carry in our minds color our perception of others. A non-dualistic thinking leads us to respect the opposites without judgment but embracing both with the eyes of compassion.
Reflection and Discussion: In what ways can we cultivate compassion in our hearts that would make us capable of embracing the opposites?
Bibliography: Plaut, The Torah, Modern Commentary (UAHC New York 1981)
This week’s teaching commentary was prepared by
Sr. Petite Lao, RNDM, Bat Kol alum 2010, 2014
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