Moving on from strife
Tol’dot (History) B’resheet/Genesis 25:19-28:9
Haftorah Reading: Malachi 1:1-2:7
This week we study a Torah portion that is filled with intrigue and suspense. It also raises spiritual issues that are very important to each of us. Perhaps it would be best to start with the most difficult first. Who do you sympathize with when you read this portion? Who do you see as the person most at fault when you read these verses?
To get us started, was Jacob right to take Esau’s blessing disguised as his brother? Was Rebekah right in coming up with the plan and encouraging Jacob to carry it out? One way of reading this is to say Rebekah was right to propose what she did and Jacob was right to carry it out. After all, in Genesis 25:23 we read where G-d revealed to her that Jacob would continue the covenant not Esau. Also as she watched the twins grow up she saw Esau was a hunter, an impulsive man, not one prone to calm reflection. She saw how he sold his birthright for a bowl of soup. As it says in scripture, she saw how he ate, drank, rose up and left after selling his birthright. (Genesis 25:34) Esau married two Hittite women evidently with no concept of what was required of an heir to Avraham and the promises of G-d.
Was Jacob right in taking the blessing intended for Esau by tricking his father? His mother had proven herself to be kind and compassionate when she voluntarily gave Avraham’s servant food and water for his camels and himself. She may have thought this deception was the only way to assure G-d’s blessing would go to the right son.
However, there may be another way to look at this terrible family tragedy. When we read Genesis 27:33-36 and feel the anguish in Esau’s plea it moves us on a deep level. Remember, Torah is sparing in its use of words, yet here we read of the raw emotions of both father and son when they become aware of what has transpired.
But our story does not end there. Jacob had to flee his home, not able to return for more than 20 years. During this time he suffered an almost identical deception in his own life. He went to Laban’s home and fell in love with his youngest daughter, Rachel. As you know, on the wedding night Laban substituted Rachel’s older sister Leah. Jacob did not discover the deception until the next morning. Genesis 29:25-26 gives us the details of his confrontation with Laban. It is interesting that here Jacob used the same root word to Laban that was used in our portion when he, Jacob, was charged with deceiving his father Isaac (Genesis 37:35). This had to be a jolt to him as he remembered wearing his brother’s clothing years earlier and deceiving his father. One result of this deception was a strained relationship between Leah and Rachel. Also Jacob continued to live a difficult life, as we see in his answer to Pharaoh in Genesis 47:9. “Few and evil have been the years of my life.” Jacob’s actions and those of his mother, even though on some level understandable at the time, brought great grief to the entire family for generations.
As we look back at these events Isaac probably had a clearer view of his two sons that we think. How did he bless Jacob when he was deceived and thinking he was talking to his eldest son? Genesis 27:28 says, “Therefore may G-d give you of the dew of heaven, of the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine. Let people serve you, and nations bow down to you. Be master over your brethren. And let your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you. And blessed be those who bless you.” Nowhere in this blessing do we see him give him the blessing of Abraham.
Next, as he blessed Esau Isaac said, in Genesis 27:39-40, “Behold your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and you shall serve your brother; and it shall come to pass, when you become restless, that you shall break his yoke from your neck.”
And lastly, as Jacob was leaving for Padan Aram to find a wife from among his people his father blessed him again. This is where Jacob was given the blessing of Avraham. Genesis 28:3-4 says, “May G-d Almighty bless you, and make your fruitful and multiply you, that you may be an assembly of peoples; and give you the blessing of Abraham, To you and your descendants with you, that you may inherit the land in which you are a stranger, which G-d gave to Abraham.”
So, there had been no reason for the deception. When Jacob returned to Israel and met his brother Esau for the first time, he blessed his brother with the blessings he had tried to take from him years before. In Genesis 33:11 he gave blessings of wealth and power.
It is important to see that G-d’s will was still realized. Jacob was able to come to terms with what he did and sought to make amends with his brother. This is how life is, sometimes it’s messy. We all make mistakes and hopefully we learn from them. We must not envy what G-d has given others but grow and hold on to what He has given us.
Now to the names of Isaac’s wells and what they can tell us. As we live our life we encounter issues that may be similar to the names of these wells dug by Isaac. The first well was named Esek. In Hebrew this word means strife. There was strife between Isaac’s herdsmen and the local people. Sometime, in our life we meet obstacles or disagreements with others. How do we react? Isaac finished his well and moved on. Spiritually we may encounter old habits that must be changed or discarded but we press on until the issue is dealt with.
The name of the second well was sitnah or hate in English. Again hate is an emotion that if not dealt with can derail our spiritual life. Never allow hate to take hold in your life. Isaac went on, he did not stop at sitnah. It did not deter him. Finally he came to a place where he found peace from the issues he had faced in the first two wells. The name of this well was Rechovot or a broad place. This was a place to breathe.
As we persevere we can come to a place where we have spiritual depth and experience to live life free of strife and hatred. However, this is a struggle that we cannot allow to creep back into our emotions. Our life is to be lived in that broad place where we can hear the Father and walk after Him daily.
Bless each of you this week.