A few years ago, I was at some sort of education workshop, and I was asked to illustrate this week’s parasha, Toldot. I am not a great drawer and I am especially bad at faces. I simply drew a belly (Rebecca’s womb) with two boxing gloves inside. I thought that even in the womb, these two brothers, Jacob and Esau, were battling it out.
Some may call this portion the sibling rivalry parasha. While it might be rivalry on Esau’s part, deception is what comes to mind when thinking about Jacob. First Esau comes to Jacob and says, “I’m hungry! I shall not live if I don’t eat something.” So Jacob trades a bowl of red soup (yes, folks, this is the red lentil soup Shabbat!) for Esau’s birthright. Is this the first documented case of really bad ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)? And Jacob takes full advantage of it. And then, toward the end of the portion, Jacob is truly deceptive (with help from his mother) in dressing up as his brother to steal their father’s blessing. Poor Esau. Is he destined to be a shlimmazel or the leader of a great nation? Is he all brawn and no brains?
If I were asked to write a headline for this portion (as I often ask students to do), it might read:
Special Needs Student is Duped by Brother!
Mother Plays Favorites!
Birthright and Blessing Stolen: Perpetrator Escapes!
Cross-Dressing Leads to Theft!
Brother Threatens to Kill Brother
These could be right out of a tabloid newspaper or reality tv. Perhaps this is the precursor to reality tv?
And what is it about brothers in the Bible? Jacob and Esau? Cain and Abel? Issac and Ishmael? Joseph versus them all? No one seems to get along. And for the women, there aren’t many stories to examine. But I can’t help wondering what kind of relationship Rachel and Leah had after Leah married Jacob.
Sometimes, you just have to wonder why these are the ancestors that we look to as our leaders, reciting their names every day in the Amidah. (Or at least we recite the ones that we see as our ancestors.) It’s easy for some commentators to lean on the “God had a plan” angle or to portray Esau as evil and not a dupe. I always wonder if the entire point is that our ancestors were human, and flawed, and still led us to be a great nation. So while we are b’tzelem Elohim, created in God’s image, maybe we are also created in our ancestors’ image. And even though we are flawed, we can also do great things.
Next week, many of us will sit down together with our families to share food, stories, and history. Will we be Godlike in our dealings with our siblings, cousins, or parents, or maybe a bit more human, like our ancestors? Will we renew old feuds or just move on? Will we bring our best food to get a blessing? Or perhaps, will we realize that the blessing will be that we are all together and it is not something to be stolen, but shared?