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