Toldot — Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

As the children of Jacob, the perennial trickster, can we act sincerely and authentically in our own lives?

In reading the account of Jacob’s behavior towards his elder sibling, Esau, whom he tricks out of his birthright blessing, Torah compels us to contemplate this dilemma in our own lives. The moment of deception leaves Esau bursting "into wild and bitter sobbing" (Genesis 27:34). There is however a deeper irony here – Jacob’s lack of sincerity and authenticity become his nemesis in next week’s reading, when his father-in-law, Laban, tricks his future son-in-law by replacing his beloved bride on the very wedding night (Genesis 29:26).

Torah challenges us to live sincere and authentic lives despite the turbulence and trickery we experience in our daily lives.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts the "two nations" that struggled in Rebekah's womb. Even in utero, Esau and Jacob were rivals. Traditional illustrations sometimes show the younger brother pulling on Esau's heel in an attempt to prevent Esau being firstborn (the name Jacob, or Yakov, is often translated as "heel-puller"). Here, the two fetuses are positioned in what doctors describe as vertex/breech position, a not uncommon arrangement for twins, and one that lends itself to a combative or dynamic interpretation – perhaps the Yetzer haRa and Yetzer ha-Tov (the “evil” and “good” inclinations). Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Toldot — Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

facebook_coverdesign_toldotWhat was the nature of the blindness that Isaac succumbed to later in life?

Commenting on Genesis 27:1 ("When Isaac was old his eyes were too dim to see"), Rashi suggests something subtle: "When Isaac was bound to the altar and his father wanted to slaughter him, at that moment, the heavens opened up and ministering angels saw and wept, and their tears came down and fell into his eyes; therefore ‘his eyes were too dim to see’."

This raises the larger question of how we embody and deal with conflict that extends beyond our immediate selves and beyond our immediate families – say, those that impact nations. Do we turn a blind eye to it or do the tears of trauma blind us from seeing what truly stands before us?

The challenge of Judaism is for each of us to continue striving to be better and truer in our relationships with both the children of Abraham and Adam, a diverse family of which we are all proud members.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: In this week's artwork, Esau's profile casts a red shadow on Jacob's face. Much Jewish polemical literature casts Esau, the ruddy, hirsute outdoorsman, as the progenitor of the Babylonians, the Romans, and, later, Christendom, all sworn enemies of the Jewish people. Jacob, the bookish younger twin, stands in for our tribe, the prototypical yeshiva bochur. Yet the relationship between the brothers, like that of all siblings, is not so one-dimensional – they are as interconnected as they are opposed, and the illustration hints at a yin and yang dynamic. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Eli Leavitt's Bar Mitzvah

LeavittThis Shabbat, we hope you'll join the CBS community as we celebrate Eli Leavitt's bar mitzvah!

A message from the bar mitzvah boy (soon to be man!) is just below.


Shalom! My name is Eli Leavitt and I am a 7th grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. My bar mitzvah is on November 14 and I am really excited.

I have been going to Beth Sholom since pre-school, and I think that having a bar mitzvah is about becoming part of the adult community by reading from the Torah. My Torah portion is Parshat Toldot, which tells about Jacob tricking Esau into giving him his birthright, and then later, through more trickery, stealing the blessing intended for Esau from Isaac.

In 5th grade, my family and I spent a year in Tel Aviv. I attended a school in Hebrew and made a lot of great friends. I also ate a lot shawarma and falafel! We ended the school year with a two-month road trip across Europe. In addition to travel, I also like ju-jitsu, design, and cars.

I think that becoming a bar mitzvah does not just happen when you read Torah. I think it happens gradually as you gain a bigger understanding of your parsha and become closer and closer to being an adult in the Jewish community. I would like to thank Rabbi Glazer for helping me gain a better understanding of my drash, and my tutor Randy Weiss for teaching me my Torah and haftarah portions.

Toldot -- Genesis 25:19-28:9

Isaak_zegent_Jakob_Rijksmuseum_SK-A-110Charles de Gaulle, the French general and statesman who led the Free French Forces in their resistance of Germany during World War II, once quipped:

How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheese?

De Gaulle's ironic observation points to a larger question about how we embody and deal with conflict that extends beyond our immediate selves -- beyond our immediate families -- and that impacts entire nations?

Rebecca is all too familiar with this question, and she quickly learns how the struggle she feels intimately in her womb becomes a struggle in the world:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your innards; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. Two nations and the younger shall prevail over the elder.” (Genesis 25:23)

Although it is lost on most modern readers, the Book of Genesis is known for its audacity insofar as it challenges and overthrows the conventions of Near Eastern literature which privileges the myth of primogeniture, namely, that the elder son is the dominant one who is expected to inherit land and legacy. Jacob eclipses Esau, his older brother, just as Ephraim eclipses Manasseh.

What can we learn from this theme in scripture of a younger child eclipsing the older one, particularly in the Patriarchal Period? After all, if this extends beyond two siblings to an eighth child, as in the case of David being chosen over his seven older brothers (I Samuel 16: 6-13), then something is clearly afoot here.

The genius of Judaism remains its willingness to contend with discrimination and to continue against all odds to find its place in a world that does not necessarily run according to its rhythms. Our contemporary challenge is to continue channeling that genius in order to better both the children of Abraham and Adam -- a diverse family of which we are all proud members.

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: “Issac blessing Jacob,” by Govert Flinck, 1638