Parashat Toldot: Spirit defeated strength

For thousands of years, the Jewish nation has treasured Abraham’s values, Isaac’s blessings, and Jacob’s spirit.

December 1, 2016 11:30
3 minute read.
Gustave Doré

Painting by Gustave Doré – Isaac Blessing Jacob). (photo credit: GUSTAVE DORÉ)

Spirit defeated strength In this week’s parasha, we meet Isaac’s and Rebekah’s sons: Jacob and Esau, the famous twins that were so different from one another that there was a difficult rivalry between them.

From the time of their birth, they were different.

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“And the first one emerged ruddy; he was completely like a coat of hair, and they named him Esau,” while Jacob attested that he himself was smooth.

Their occupations were very different as well: “And the youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27).

But it was not just these differences that created the rivalry. It stemmed mainly from what is described in the following verse: “And Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebekah loved Jacob.”

This is the story of twins born after years of anticipation, but there was a tear in their background.

Their father loved one of them while their mother loved the other.

We tend not to look upon the nation’s leaders as standard people. Isaac’s love for Esau, Rebekah’s love for Jacob – neither stemmed from simple feelings, but rather from a deep and ideological concept of Abraham’s family’s great purpose.

Abraham and Sarah, Jacob’s and Esau’s grandparents, merited a promise that a nation would come of them. They knew, and Isaac and Rebekah knew as well, that this nation would need to represent justice and lawfulness as the father of the nation – Abraham – had done. When Jacob and Esau were born, it was clear that one of them would be the ideological heir to God’s path, and from whom the nation would come.

But which one? Who was more suitable and worthy? Isaac and Rebekah could not agree on this. Isaac understood that in order to form a nation, one needed strength, the ability to act, to create, to conquer and to build. Rebekah understood that in order to create a nation one needs spirit, depth, the ability to observe, to dream, to believe and to hope. The problem was that neither of the twins had all these qualities. Isaac saw Esau as the one who could create a nation while Rebekah saw Jacob as the one with the spiritual capability to provide significance and spiritual content to a nation.

Ultimately, a decision was made. Isaac was about to bless Esau, but Jacob, sent by his mother, tricked Isaac into blessing him instead. The blessings were not just a way to express love, but acted as a prophecy and determination of who would carry the torch forward. The fact that Jacob got the blessings taught Isaac that he had been mistaken, that God wanted Jacob and not Esau to continue Abraham’s path. Isaac internalized the message and blessed Jacob again, this time willingly: “And may the Almighty God bless you... And may He give you the blessing of Abraham…” (Genesis 28:3-4) The message was clear – spirit defeated strength. God does not want a nation which is strong and successful yet devoid of values. He wants a nation which is ideological and faithful even if at times it lacks strength.

It might mean that the path is harder, the route more winding, but the aim would be reached: Jacob would father a nation with faith at its core, and based on that faith, it would build a way of life and inner strength.

For thousands of years, the Jewish nation has treasured Abraham’s values, Isaac’s blessings, and Jacob’s spirit.

The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites.

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