My notes on Toledot

Parashat Toledot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

Genesis 25

25:34          Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.

Comment: Although birthright is not material like food or drink,  gold or silver, it is in fact a status of a person, which is more important. In fact here we are talking about a very special birthright: the status of a firstborn in the Abrahamic family that is under a covenant with the Creator. It is possible that a firstborn in such a chosen family is destined to have a special role in serving Gd (see, e.g. Exodus 13:2, Numbers 3:41). 

The Bible uses a contracted form of the Hebrew word for “birthright” בכרה, which is a transposition of the word “blessing” ברכה. This hints to me that the two are related: there is a special blessing that comes with this special birthright. Essau despised this special birthright, it is natural that he would eventually lose the corresponding blessing (Genesis 27).

 

Genesis 26

26:22          And he removed from thence, and digged another well; and for that they strove not: and he called the name of it Rehoboth; and he said, For now the LORD hath made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.

Comment: “they strove not” : The Philistines disputed about the wells dug by Isaac before. Now they have stopped disputing.

This story is very dear to me. Many years ago, a colleague “took away” from me a PhD student, whom I had already spent quite some time mentoring. My wife encouraged me with this story of Isaac digging wells. She also prayed for me to have other good students. Soon, a very talented student came to work with me. He told me that he spent quite some time but failed to work out well with a very famous professor. Then he changed to another good professor; but this second professor suspected that his field may not be really interesting to this student, and recommended him to hurry to work with me instead.  Baruch HaShem (Blessed is the L-RD), for about the following 10 years until the COVID-19, the number of PhD students that I mentored was the most in my department.

 

Genesis 27

27:20          And Isaac said unto his son, How is it that thou hast found it so quickly, my son? And he said, Because the LORD thy God brought it to me.

Comment: Jacob is religious and uses Gd’s Name in answering Isaac’s question. He sees the food as ultimately brought by Gd, even if it has been technically prepared through human hands.

 

27:21          And Isaac said unto Jacob, Come near, I pray thee, that I may feel thee, my son, whether thou be my very son Esau or not.

Comment: “whether thou be my very son Esau or not”: Why does the near-blinded Isaac suspect that the person in front of him may not be Esau? 

Esau doesn’t usually speak in such a religious way. This religious style of speech is “Jacob ‘s voice”, which seems to have led to Isaac’s suspicion. (My comments are developed from Rashi’s comments on this verse and on v.22.)

 

27:22          And Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.

Comment: This may be understood as an inadvertently-stated blessing. “Jacob’s voice:” Jacob is religious and uses his voice in prayer and faith-related conversations. “hands of Esau:” hairy and strong, able to hunt wild animals, and fighting victoriously with a sword, as Genesis 27:40 says “And by thy sword shalt thou live”, and Genesis 25:27 says:    “And the boys grew: and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a plain man, dwelling in tents.”

May we be like Jacob to be strong in faith-related things, to have “Jacob’s voice” in prayers, in Bible study, in proclaiming and teaching our faith; whereas in action-related things, may we have “the hands of Esau”: skillful, tough and strong hands . 

(Related articles:

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/synthesizing-the-physical-and-the-spiritual/

https://hebrewcollege.edu/blog/the-voice-of-jacob-the-hands-of-esau/

https://www.jewishaz.com/we-have-jacobs-voice-and-the-hands-of-esau/article_70b81b2a-4070-5ff3-a6ab-9c3d426ce22b.html )

 

Genesis 28

28:9          Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.

Comment: “the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife”:  Why does the Bible care to mention the girl’s brother with her marriage, when according to the custom a girl is married away by her father? 

 A Jewish tradition says that this marriage happened when her father Ishmael died, and this is used to time important events in Jacob’s life. Although Ishmael agreed to his daughter’s marriage shortly before his death, it was the girl’s brother who finally gave her in marriage to Esau. It can be computed that Jacob was 63(=137-14-60) years old at this time, when his half uncle Ishmael died at age 137 (Genesis 25:17)[1]. Jacob spent the next 14 years (from 63-77 years old) [2] studying Torah in the Academy of Eber [3], before leaving for Haran to find a wife, according to the Jewish tradition.

What does this sophisticated timing of Jacob’s life intend to teach us?

This intends to teach us that Bible study is a tradition for the Israelites, since they are all descendants of Jacob. [4]

 

Footnotes:

[1] Ishmael was 14 years older than his half brother Isaac (Genesis 17:24-25, 21:5), who is 60 years older than his son Jacob (Genesis 25:26).

[2] Jacob arrived in Haran at age 77 to find a wife.  See Rashi’s commentary on this verse, based on a very sophisticated derivation: https://www.sefaria.org/Rashi_on_Genesis.28.9.1?lang=bi

[3] This is the Eber (Heber), born before the dispersion of Babel (Genesis 10:25,11:14), who can be proved to be still alive at Jacob’s time. 

[4] The Bible at that time was not put in written form yet, but some knowledge about Gd and how to sacrifice to Gd (or more generally how to serve Him) was obviously known to Noah (Genesis 8:20), and was likely passed down through the generations in an oral tradition.

These surprising perspectives can be found in Rashi’s commentary on this verse, linked above.