Toldot – “Generations”

Our parasha for this week is Toldot, which means “generations” and covers Genesis 25:19-28:9.  In this parasha we see the destruction playing favorites brings and the dangers of being too clever for our own good.

We pick up in Genesis 25 with the birth of Jacob and Esau to Isaac and Rebekah.  Before they were born, Rebekah was given a prophecy by Adonai that the two brothers would each lead a nation and that the younger son would serve the older.  The older brother was born red and hairy and so was named Esau.  The younger brother was birthed grasping the heel of Esau and so was named Jacob.

While the two brothers were twins their personalities were definitely very different.  Esau was a strong man, an avid hunter, and not a bad cook when it came to wild game.  Jacob though was not a hunter and preferred to stay inside.  Isaac loved Esau more than Jacob because of his delicious hunted meals, while Rebekah preferred Jacob.  This favoritism from their parents would be part of a pattern that would harm not only Jacob and Esau, but Jacob’s future family as well.

The Torah continues and tells us that one day Esau came in from hunting without any animals to show for it, something many hunters know all too well, and then an interesting purchase took place.  We find this story in Genesis 25:29-34:

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom.) Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” “Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?”  But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob  Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright.

So, for the small price of some bread and a bowl of soup, Esau sold to his brother his inheritance as the first-born son.  We see at the end of the chapter the statement that Esau despised his birthright.  This is because of how casually and cheaply he sold it away.

Chances are he was not so hungry he was about to die. This small story gives us a very big insight into Esau’s character.  It tells us that he was a man focused on the world and on the moment in front of him. Jacob in contrast was focused on bigger and more spiritual matters even if he went about it in a scheming way.

Chapter 26 tells us more about Isaac’s history.  Isaac and Rebekah go to the land of the Philistines because of a famine.  Isaac is then worried that because of how beautiful Rebekah is they will kill him to have her as their wife.  Can you guess the plan he comes up with next?  He decides to pretend she is his sister so they will not hurt him!

Fortunately, king Abimelek realizes this fact before anyone tried to sleep with her.  Isaac and Rebekah were unharmed and allowed to stay in his land until they became too rich to stay.  After leaving Isaac traveled to several places before finally settling in Beersheba so he would not be harassed by any neighbors.

The chapter ends with Esau taking two wives from the Hittites.  Once again, the Bible shows that polygamy never ends well.  Both women are recorded as being sources of grief for Isaac and Rebekah.  Bad in-laws are not a modern concept and it probably didn’t help that these were pagan women as well.

Chapter 27 records the incident that would end up tearing this family apart.  At the end of Isaac’s life his sight was very bad.  He called Esau to see him and instructed his son to go hunt for him a nice meal.  After that he would give his blessing to Esau.  While Esau left to do as his father had asked, his mother Rebekah who had heard what had been said had plans of her own.  Rebekah had her favorite son Jacob bring her goats from the flock to prepare for Isaac the meal he wanted so that Jacob would receive the blessing instead.  They also covered him in coarse goat hair skins so that he could better fool his father who would be expecting the hairy Esau and not the smooth Jacob.

Jacob, wearing the skins and carrying the food went to see his father.  While his father was a bit suspicious, the subterfuge lasted. Jacob lied to his father several times that he was Esau and eventually Isaac gave him the blessing.  Literally moments after leaving, Esau went to see his father.  After realizing the scheme that had been pulled Esau was furious.  He said this was the second time Jacob had taken advantage of him, first with the birthright and now with the blessing.  He of course forgot to mention that he had foolishly sold the birthright for stew and knew exactly what he was doing.  Weeping bitterly Esau pleaded for his father to bless him.  Isaac could not undo the blessing he had given Jacob, but blessed Esau saying he would live by the sword and be restless but would serve his brother.

Esau was so furious he was ready to kill his brother for his scheme.  Rebekah was told Jacob’s life was in danger and so plotted to have him sent away to Laban to find a wife that was better than the Hittite women Esau had married.  Her plan worked and Isaac permitted Jacob to leave and find a wife.  The parasha ends with Esau taking a third wife from Ishmael’s family after realizing how much his parents hated Canaanite women.

Parasha Toldot has several lessons for us today.  First, while we might sympathize with Esau for being on receiving end of several schemes he is not without blame.  His willingness to throw away his birthright for a bowl of soup and just go about his day shows us the dangers of just “living in the moment”.  He is described in Hebrews 12 as a “godless man”, this is because he had a casual disregard for the things of God.  We need to learn from Esau’s example and not place focus on the moment in front of us, but rather in the things unseen, the things that God values not the world.

Second, while Jacob was promised to lead his brother he went about it in a clearly destructive manner.  Jacob and Rebekah were caught up in the moment and didn’t realize there was still plenty of time for the Lord to act.  Had Rebekah and Jacob trusted in the Lord to provide what He had promised their family would have probably been spared a lot of pain.  Their desire to “help things along” resulted in huge consequences.  The Lord works in his time and we have to respect this fact.  To try and force things will only lead to disaster like we read in this parasha.

So as we end parasha Toldot may the Lord enable us to trust and have patience that He will see His will done.  May each of us correctly value the things of God and not let temporary sufferings stop us from pursuing eternal treasures.