Commentary for Toldot

1 Nov

Most tests of faith in the Bible are physical. Someone is put in a situation where they must do something that is contrary to all common sense. He or she must put himself or herself in a position where all logic and science says that he or she will come out of the situation gravely wounded or dead, but, through the protection of God, they come out all right.
Other tests of faith are matters of internal struggle. Sometimes someone is put in a position we he or she must do something that is so very against that person’s nature. These tests receive a lot less attention from Biblical commentators, as having to tell a fib seems much less impressive than allowing yourself to be thrown into a fiery furnace rather than bowing down to a gigantic golden idol. Many times, though, these internal tests are what shape who we truly are.
Jacob and Esau were very much opposites. Jacob was a studious young man, who sat in his tent and learned all day, while Esau was a hunter. Jacob coveted his older brother’s birthright. Fortunately for Jacob, Esau did not care much for the birthright, and they worked out a trade: Jacob, who cared about spiritual aspects of life, would receive Esau’s birthright, and Esau, who cared much more for the physical pleasures of life than he did for that spiritual mumbo-jumbo about some invisible God, would receive a bowl of lentil stew.
Another major difference between the two brothers was their dedication to the truth. Jacob strove to tell the truth at all times, while Esau would say whatever would suit his needs at the time. When Isaac is laying upon his deathbed and he asks Esau to bring him a meal so that he may bless him with his birthright, Esau neglects to mention to his father that he sold the birthright to Jacob, and instead goes off to make Isaac a meal, thinking that he will get away with both the birthright and that old bowl of soup from years ago.
Rebecca hears of this, and quickly springs into action. She has been undergoing her own test, having to keep secret from her family the prophecy she received when her sons were still in her womb (Gen 25:23), that the younger was to be the one who carried on the mission of Abraham and Isaac, and she springs into action. She fetches Jacob, cooks a meal for Isaac, and orders Jacob to impersonate Esau, bring the meal to their nearly-blind father, and ask him for the birthright of the firstborn. While Jacob knows that he rightfully purchased the birthright from Esau, he is very uncomfortable about deceiving his father. He goes through with the plan anyway, though, and Isaac does indeed confer upon him the birthright of the firstborn.
When Esau returns and finds out what happens, he flies into a rage, and after securing a blessing of from his father, promptly starts to plot to kill Jacob so that he will be Isaac’s sole inheritor and receive all of his property when he dies. Learning of this, Jacob, acting upon instructions from his parents, heads off to stay with his uncle in Padan-Aram.
Although he knew he was only ensuring that he received the birthright he had fairly and rightly acquired, Jacob is still very bothered by having lied to his father, and even his father’s tacit approval of the act by not rebuking him for it in anyway (and, indeed, by blessing him again), does not comfort him. It haunts him so much that it keeps him awake at night, and even after a dream from God tacitly approving his actions at the beginning of next week’s parshah, Jacob is still bothered by his actions. He rededicates himself to the truth, and is honest, in some ways to a fault. Though it was a terribly negative experience for him, this test shapes Jacob, and helps him resolve to become the pillar of truth he is lauded as throughout Jewish literature.

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