This week we are in that reading of generations, Toldot. Isaac and Rivka wait many years before she becomes pregnant, but her pregnancy is difficult – she is having twins. She is told by God, “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.
In this reading we have another set of brothers in which the second-born achieves precedence over the first-born – not what we would anticipate, even today. First Ishmael and Yitzhak, and now Esau and Ya’akov, two sets of brothers vying for their father’s blessing – a blessing that will change the course of our history. Emotion charges Esau’s words in Toldot when he realizes he is too late:
“Then Isaac trembled with a very great trembling, and said, “Who then was it who hunted game and brought it to me and I ate it before you came and I blessed him?—and he will be blessed.” When Esau heard his father’s words, he cried an intensely loud and bitter cry, and said to his father, “Bless me, me too, my father!” (Gen. 27:33-34).
We too feel Esau’s depths of pain through his words. A blessing, a recognition or favour given by parent to child is invariably longed for, and often, but not always, given. What can feel like a greater rejection than a parent repudiating a child or clearly favouring one child over another? What are we to learn from this reading in Torah? Do we trust that our parents might have a meta-story guiding their hands, their decisions?
In Toldot, Rivka trusts what God has told her, prior to giving birth – she enables an outcome, even as she knows her eldest son will be hurt. We wonder if she confided such a Divine revelation in her husband Isaac. Was Isaac truly deceived by goatskins and goat-stew – or did he too understand that this was no mere play, this was the Theatre of Torah, the Theatre of Living Revelation?
Toldot always reminds us to try and read our hurt into a larger story, and to then transform our story into that of our people. We are each unique and yet, as God demanded of us, we are also a people.