FROM THE TORAH
Sedra Toledot continues the narrative of Abraham’s family through the second generation: Isaac and Rebecca. They become the parents of twin boys, a pair of contrasting types. Even though only one is qualified to succeed to the values of his parents, filial love follows its own natural course. Esau’s misguided sale of the birthright to his brother Jacob and Isaac’s conveyance of his blessing to the non-intended son Jacob also reflect the role of overriding destiny against conventional expectations. The sojourn of Isaac and Rebecca in Gerar and Isaac’s treaty with Avimelech at Beersheba reflect the role of Isaac as his father’s successor (cf. Genesis 20:1ff). The matriarchal circle is completed with Jacob’s flight to his mother’s family in Charan.
Jacob and Esau
THE ETERNAL BLESSES ISAAC AND REBECCA WITH TWINS
And these are the “Generations” (Toledot) of Isaac, whom Abraham begat. Isaac was 40 years old when he took Rebecca daughter of Bethuel the Aramean, from Paddan Aram, sister of Laban the Aramean, to be his wife (cf. Genesis 24:50-67). Isaac entreats the Eternal regarding his wife, as she is barren. The Eternal answers his prayer. Rebecca his wife conceives. But the children inside her struggle, so much so that Rebecca wonders if she can survive.
She goes to inquire of the Eternal, and He says to her:
Two nations are in your womb,
two peoples will separate from inside you:
one will be stronger than the other,
and the older shall serve the younger.
When her days are fulfilled, there are twins in her womb. The first comes out red, all of him like a hairy mantle, and he is named Esau (“Done”). Then emerges his brother, his hand grasping the heel of Esau, for which they name him Jacob (“Supplanter”). Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.
As the lads grow up, Esau becomes a skilled hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob, a gentle man, is a dweller in tents. Isaac loves Esau for the game in his mouth, while Rebecca loves Jacob.
ESAU SELLS HIS BIRTHRIGHT TO JACOB
Jacob is cooking a stew when Esau comes in from the field, exhausted. Let me just swallow down some of that red stuff, he demands, as I am tired. For that they called him Edom (“Red”). Jacob says: Sell me your birthright right now. Esau says: Here I am on the verge of death, what good to me is a birthright? Jacob makes him swear an oath, and his birthright is sold to Jacob. Jacob then gives bread and lentil stew to Esau, who eats, drinks, gets up, goes off, and thus discounts the birthright.
ISAAC IN GERAR
There is a famine in the Land, apart from the first famine that occurred in the days of Abraham (cf. Genesis 12:10-20). So Isaac goes to Gerar, to Avimelech king of the Philistines (cf. Genesis 20:1ff.). The Eternal appears to Isaac to warn him not to go down to Egypt, but to remain in the lands which He promised to Abraham to give to Isaac and his descendants. “In this land I shall be with you and I shall bless you. I shall make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed through your offspring. This is because Abraham obeyed Me to keep My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My teachings.”
Isaac remains in Gerar. The local men ask after his wife, and he tells them that she is his sister, being afraid that if he acknowledges that she is his wife, “they will kill me for Rebecca, as she is pleasing of appearance.” After they were there for a while, Avimelech, through the window, espies Isaac being familiar with Rebecca his wife. He demands of Isaac why he said that she was his sister. Isaac explains his fear that he might die because of her. But Avimelech remonstrates with Isaac that one of the men might have become intimate with her, “your wife,” and thereby impose guilt upon us. So Avimelech commands all of the people: Whoever abuses this man or this woman shall be put to death!
Isaac’s planting in the land is rewarded by the Eternal a hundredfold. He becomes very wealthy. He acquires flocks and herds and a cadre of servants, but the Philistines envy him. All of the wells which the servants of his father Abraham had dug are filled up with earth by the Philistines. Avimelech sends Isaac away “because you have surpassed us exceedingly.” But Isaac proceeds to the Wadi of Gerar, where he encamps and settles and re-digs those water wells which the Philistines had filled up after the death of Abraham. He renames them with the names that his father had given them. (Cf. Genesis 21:25-32)
In the Wadi they find a well of fresh water. The shepherds of Gerar quarrel with Isaac’s shepherds to claim the water for themselves. Isaac names that well Eysek (“Contention”) because they contended with him. They dig another well, and there also they quarrel over it. He gives it the name Sitnah (“Hostility”). Moving elsewhere, he digs another well and encounters no quarrel, so he names it Rechovot (“Open Spaces”), “for now the Eternal has given us open space for us to be fruitful in the Land.”
TREATY WITH AVIMELECH AT BEERSHEBA
From there he goes up to Beersheba (cf. Genesis 21:22-34). In a night vision the Eternal assures him of His blessing, against fear, for the sake of Abraham His servant. He builds an altar there and calls upon the name of the Eternal. He spreads his tent there, and Isaac’s servants dig a well. Avimelech comes to him from Gerar, together with Achuzzath, his trusted friend, and Phichol, captain of his army. Isaac questions their intentions in view of their previous enmity and expulsion of him (cf. Genesis 26:16). They acknowledge, “The Eternal has been with you,” and they seek to establish a treaty with him, “that you will not do us any harm, as we have not harmed you but sent you away only in peace.” “Blessed of the Eternal,” they call him! He makes a feast for them. In the morning they promptly exchange oaths. Isaac sends them away, and they depart from him in peace.
On the same day Isaac’s servants report that they have found water in the well that they dug. He calls it Shiv’ah (“Oath”). Therefore the name of the city is Beersheba (“Well of Shiv’ah”) to this day.
ESAU MARRIES HITTITE WOMEN
At the age of 40 years, Esau marries Judith, daughter of Be’eri the Hittite, and Bosemath, daughter of Eylon the Hittite. They are a source of sorrow for Isaac and Rebecca.
ISAAC CONVEYS HIS BLESSING
Isaac, old and blind, summons Esau, his older son. “My son,” he says to him; and he says to him, “Here I am.” “I am old and do not know when I will die. Take your quiver and your bow, hunt game for me, prepare it the way I like it, and bring it to me to eat, in order that my soul may bless you before I die!”
Rebecca is listening as Isaac speaks to Esau his son. When Esau departs for the field to hunt game to bring back, she tells Jacob her son what his father said to Esau. “So now, my son, listen to what I tell you, to what I command you: Bring me two choice kids from the flock, and I will prepare them in the way that your father likes. Serve them to your father so that he blesses you before he dies.” But Jacob reminds Rebecca his mother, “Esau my brother is a hairy man, while I am a smooth man. If my father feels me, I will be contemptible in his eyes and bring upon myself a curse instead of a blessing!” His mother responds, “Let any curse be upon me, my son, just do as I say and bring me what I tell you.”
Jacob brings the animals to his mother, and she prepares the food as his father likes. Then Rebecca takes some of her older son Esau’s favorite clothes that are with her in the house, and dresses Jacob her younger son, the kids’ skin upon his hands and the smooth part of his neck. She places the delicacies and the bread which she has made into the hand of Jacob her son. When he comes in to his father, he says, “My father?” and he answers, “Here I am, who are you, my son?” Jacob says to his father, “I am Esau, your firstborn; I have prepared what you told me. Now sit up and eat from my game, in order that your soul may bless me.”
Isaac asks his son, “But how did you manage to prepare this so quickly, my son?” “The Eternal your God caused it to come about,” he answers. Isaac says to Jacob, “Come close, that I may feel you, my son, to know if you are my son Esau or not.” Jacob draws close to Isaac his father, who feels him and says, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau!” not recognizing him because his hands seem like the hands of Esau his brother, hairy, and so he blesses him.
Isaac questions him, “Are you indeed my son Esau?” He responds, “I am.” He bids him, “Serve me, that I may eat from the game of my son, in order that my soul may bless you!” He serves him, he eats, he brings him wine, and he drinks. Isaac his father tells him, “Come close, and kiss me, my son.” He comes close and kisses him. He smells the scent of his clothes and blesses him:
“See, the scent of my son
is like the scent of a field
which the Eternal has blessed.
“May God grant you
the dew of heaven
and the richness of earth,
an abundance of new grain and wine.
“Let peoples serve you
and nations bow to you;
be master of your brothers,
may the sons of your mother
show obedience to you.
“Cursed shall be those who curse you,
and blessed shall be those who bless you!”
ISAAC CONSOLES ESAU
No sooner does Jacob receive his father’s blessing and leaves than Esau his brother returns from hunting. Esau then also prepares the delicacies and brings them to his father. “Let my father sit up,” he says, “and eat of his son’s game, in order that your soul may bless me!” Isaac his father questions who he is, and he answers, “I am your son, your firstborn, Esau!” Isaac is gripped by a terrible fear. Trembling, he asks, “Who then was it who hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it before you came, and as I blessed him, he is the one blessed!”
Hearing his father’s words, Esau cries out loudly, bitterly, and begs his father to bless him also. But he could only answer, “Your brother came in deception and took away your blessing!” Esau reflects: Isn’t his name Jacob because he has supplanted me (cf. Genesis 25:26) these two times: first by taking my birthright and now by taking my blessing! “Have you not reserved a blessing for me?” he asks his father. “But I have made him your master, all of his brothers his servants, and I have supported him with grain and wine, so what can I do for you, my son?” “But, my father, have you only one blessing? Bless me, too, my father!” Esau lifts his voice and sobs. Isaac his father answers him with these words:
“Behold, your abode shall be
from the richness of the earth
and from the dew of heaven above.
“By your sword shall you live,
and your brother shall you serve,
but when you grow restless,
you shall throw off his yoke
from upon your neck!”
JACOB IS SENT TO CHARAN
Now Esau resents Jacob for the blessing that his father gave him, and he promises himself that he will kill Jacob when the days of mourning for their father arrive. When Rebecca learns of it, she summons her younger son and urges him to flee to her brother Laban in Charan and to stay with him until Esau’s wrath subsides and she signals for him to return. “Why should I be bereaved of both of you on the same day?”
To Isaac, Rebecca expresses her anxiety over the possibility that Jacob might take a wife from the daughters of Heth “like these” (cf. Genesis 26:34-35) of the local women: “What good would be my life?” So Isaac summons Jacob and blesses him, instructing him not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. Rather, go to Paddan Aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and there take for yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. God Almighty will bless you and increase you to an assembly of peoples! He will convey to you and your offspring the blessing of Abraham, whereby you may possess this Land of your sojourning which God gave to Abraham. Isaac dispatches Jacob to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, father of Rebecca, mother of Jacob and Esau. (Cf. Genesis 24:1ff.)
ESAU LEARNS FROM ISAAC AND JACOB
Esau sees that Isaac blessed Jacob and that he sent him to Paddan Aram to take for himself a wife from there. He also observes that, as part of his blessing him, he charges him not to take a wife from the daughters of Canaan, and that Jacob listened to his father and mother and went to Paddan Aram. Seeing that Isaac his father disapproves of the daughters of Canaan, Esau goes to Ishmael and takes Machalath, daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, sister of Nevayot (cf. Genesis 25:13), as his wife, in addition to his first wives (cf. Genesis 26:34-35).
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Toledot
Is Israel befitting of God’s love?
Malachi carries the word of the Eternal to Israel:
I love you, says the Eternal.
In what way?
Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?
and I love Jacob!
Esau I hate,
and I shall make his mountains
If Edom should try to rebuild,
thus says the Eternal of hosts:
They may rebuild,
but I shall destroy.
They shall be known as
the wicked country!
Your eyes shall see it,
and you shall declare:
Great is the Eternal
beyond the border of Israel!
A son should honor his father,
a servant, his master.
If I am a father,
where is My honor?
If I am a master,
where is the fear of Me?
The Eternal of Hosts is speaking
to you, O Kohanim,
scorners of My Name!
for the defiled food
that you serve on My altar:
animals blind and lame and sick.
If you were to offer it to your governor,
would he be satisfied with you?
would he show you favor?
It would be better for you
to close My doors
than to kindle fire
on My altar
for no good purpose.
I have no desire for you
and do not wish
to accept your gift!
From the rising of the sun
to its going down,
great is My Name among the nations!
Incense is offered in My Name,
as is brought pure offering!
But you profane it
as you think
the table of the Lord
can be defiled,
and you treat it as a burden,
and you blow it away,
and you bring the stolen,
the lame and the sick
Do you think
I desire that from your hand?
says the Eternal.
Cursed be the deceiver,
with a perfectly good male in his flock,
who vows and sacrifices instead
a mutilated animal to the Lord,
for I am a great King,
says the Eternal,
and My Name is held in awe
among the nations.
If you, O Kohanim,
do not heed this, My command,
if you do not lay it to heart
to give honor to My Name,
then I will send a curse upon you
and turn your blessings into curses.
I will throw dung upon you,
the dung of your festival offerings!
Know that I have issued this command to you
so that My covenant with Levi can endure—
says the Eternal of Hosts.
My covenant of life and peace was with him,
and he stood in awe of Me and My Name:
The Torah of truth was in his mouth,
no unrighteousness was heard on his lips;
in peace and in faithfulness
he walked with Me,
and he turned many away from sin.
Yes, the lips of a Kohen should be guardians of knowledge,
and Torah sought from his mouth,
for he is the messenger of the Eternal of Hosts.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Tanchuma Toledot 1,6
Shalom vs. Suspicion
“And these are the generations of Isaac son of Abraham;
Abraham begat Isaac.”
As the verse states, Isaac is the son of Abraham,
so why does it repeat, “Abraham begat Isaac?”
Many Rabbis have taught the preeminent value of Shalom as underlying laws and narratives of the Torah. Such an example is found in the suspicion harbored among foreign nations about our mother Sarah. After all, she was taken to Pharaoh (cf. Genesis 12:10-20), then to Avimelech (cf. Genesis 20:1-18), and then she becomes pregnant with Isaac (cf. Genesis25:19-26)! Could Abraham, at the age of 100 years, be the father of Isaac? They thought that the father must have been Avimelech or Pharaoh. Even Abraham, for his part, was unsettled.
So the Holy One, blessed be He, directed the angel who was responsible for embryonic formation to make Isaac entirely in the image of his father. Thereby would everyone see for themselves that Isaac was the son of Abraham. This is the Talmudic implication of the otherwise redundant words, “Abraham begat Isaac,” as the very words that were said by anyone who witnessed the appearance of both Abraham and Isaac!
Thus was the problem of Sarah’s reputation and her husband’s suspicion resolved for the sake of Shalom between husband and wife and Shalom between Israel and the nations. But then, as is often the case, the solution of one problem led to another problem. Since Abraham and Isaac bore identical appearances, people were unable to distinguish son from father! Abraham appealed for another solution. Whereupon the Master of the universe created the distinction of old age between them, “Abraham became old…” (Genesis 24:1), and then people could recognize with confidence that it was “(Old) Abraham (who) begat Isaac” (Genesis 25:19)!
(See below, Genesis Rabbah 65:9,
for the related view of old age
as a blessing initiated by Abraham.)
Tanchuma Toledot 4
The Merit of the Children
“And these are the generations of Isaac son of Abraham;
Abraham begat Isaac.”
The double perspective, son from father and father toward son,
is reflected in the following:
“The crown of [ateret] the elderly is their grandchildren,
and the glory of children is their parents.”
Interpret “crown” [atarah] as “protection” [atarah]:
The righteous are protected [mitat’reen] by their grandchildren,
as are children protected [mitat’reen] by their parents!
How so? Abraham was protected by the virtue of his grandson Jacob when Nimrod threw Abraham into the fiery furnace (cf. Genesis Rabbah 38:13 in Sedra Summary Noach) and the Holy One, blessed be He, came down to rescue him. The ministering angels objected, “Master of the universe, You bother to rescue that man? He will give rise to any number of wicked descendants (presumably through the children of Hagar (cf. Genesis 16:12; 25:12-18), Keturah (cf. Genesis 25:1-4), and Esau (cf. Genesis 26:34-35; 28:6-9)!” But the Holy One, blessed be He, replied, “By virtue of his future grandson Jacob do I rescue Abraham,” as the prophet said, “Thus says the Eternal to the House of Jacob: As He redeemed Abraham, so shall Jacob not be disappointed…” (Isaiah 29:22), which Rabbi Berechia read, “Thus says the Eternal to the House of Jacob who redeemed Abraham…”: Jacob (by his virtue and the virtue of his descendants) redeemed his grandfather from the fiery furnace, and so you have it that grandparents are protected by (virtue of) their grandchildren!
Now whence do we have it that children are protected by their parents? After Jacob extricated himself from the sphere of Laban, Laban pursued him (cf. Genesis 31:21-23), whereupon the Holy One, blessed be He, appeared before Laban on the road. He warned Laban, “Take care not to threaten Jacob in any way” (Genesis 31:24)! In their subsequent exchange of words (cf. Genesis 31:26-41), what did Jacob say to Laban? “Were it not that my father’s God, the God of Abraham and the Fear of Isaac, was with me, you would have sent me away emptyhanded” (Genesis 31:42); in other words, it was the merit going back to Abraham that delivered Jacob! Indeed, “the glory of children is their parents” (Proverbs 17:6), and “Isaac son of Abraham” (Genesis 25:19a)—Isaac was protected by his father Abraham—and “Abraham begat Isaac” (Genesis 25:19b)—Abraham was protected by his son Isaac!
Genesis Rabbah 63:6
“But the children inside her struggle…”
Rabbi Yochanan: Each one—Esau and Jacob—was trying to kill the other.
Resh Lakish: Disputes were flaring between them
regarding the laws of idolators versus the laws of Israel.
Rabbi Berechia in the name of Rabbi Levi: So that you should not think that Esau was connected to him when he emerged from the womb of his mother; rather, while he was still in the womb of his mother, he shoved his fist at him! This is what is written: “Defiant are the wicked from the womb” (Psalms 58:4).
When Rebecca was in the vicinity of a beit keneset (house of worship) or a beit midrash (house of study), Jacob would struggle to get out. Thus it is written: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5)! When she would pass by an idolatrous temple, Esau would struggle to get out. Thus it is written: “Defiant are the wicked from the womb” (Psalms 58:4)!
Genesis Rabbah 25:8
Right or Might?
“When Rebecca’s days are fulfilled,
there are twins in her womb.
The first comes out red,
all of him like a hairy mantle,
and they call him Esau.”
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana interpreted “red, all of him”: All of him red, completely a spiller of blood! Similarly, when Samuel first saw David, David “was red with beautiful eyes (I Samuel 16:12),” so Samuel feared that David would be a spiller of blood like Esau. But since the Holy One, blessed be He, had added the words, “with beautiful eyes,” Samuel understood the difference between Esau and David: Esau slayed of his own volition, whenever he wanted, whereas David killed “with beautiful eyes,” in the sense of “appropriate eyes,” that is, legally, in accordance with the Sanhedrin, who are called “the eyes of the congregation” (Numbers 15:24).
This distinction between Esau and David may be found even within a single person, like the Roman emperor Diocletian. At first he was a swineherd in the vicinity of Tiberias. One day, when he was walking past the Beth Midrash of Rabbi, some children came out and bullied him. When, many years later, he became the emperor, he dispatched a royal order on the eve of the Sabbath in the vicinity of Tiberias: I command that the Rabbis of the Jews should appear before me on Sunday morning! He instructed the messenger not to deliver the order to them until just before sunset on Friday night.
As Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman was entering the Mikveh in preparation for the Sabbath, he saw Rabbi standing in the Beth Midrash, his face full of grief. He asked him: What grieves you so? Rabbi explained that he had received a disturbing summons for all of the Rabbis from the emperor Diocletian. Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman said to Rabbi: Come and bathe, for your Creator has prepared miracles for you!
When Rabbi entered the bath house, a water sprite started playing and dancing before him. Rabbi wanted to drive it away, but Rabbi Samuel bar Nachman said: Leave it alone, because sometimes it augurs miracles! He said to the water sprite: Your master is in pain, and you play? It responded to them: Go out, eat, enjoy a good Shabbos, for your Creator shall create miracles for you, and I shall take you on Sunday morning to the place that you wish!
After the Sabbath, following the morning prayers, the water sprite fetched the Rabbis and stood them in front of the gates of the emperor’s headquarters. The guards announced them to the emperor, but the emperor instructed that the gates be locked. The sprite then took them up to stand atop the city wall. The guards dutifully reported the Rabbis’ relocation. Thereupon the emperor ordered the baths to be heated continuously for three days, after which the Rabbis were to bathe in them before appearing before him.
Accordingly the baths were heated up for three days continuously. But the water sprite added cold water to them, so that the Rabbis were able to bathe in the cooled water and then safely appear before the emperor.
Here is what Diocletian said to them:
Because you know that your God performs miracles for you,
do you feel entitled to denigrate the emperor?
Here is what they replied:
We denigrated Diocletian the swineherd,
but of Diocletian the emperor
we are subjects!
Then Diocletian left them with this advice:
Even so, do not spurn even a minor Roman citizen or a minor Roman soldier!
(Here concludes the aggadah as if the lesson, good or otherwise,
were the advice to the Rabbis of a Roman emperor!)
Talmud Pesachim 113a
Our Rabbis taught: The following three things should not be denigrated—a minor gentile, a tiny snake, and a junior disciple. Why? Because their kingdom stands behind their ears! Rashi: Lest, when they develop into maturity, their resentment grows and they seek revenge upon you.
Talmud Sanhedrin 105b
Rav Yosi bar Choni taught: One may denigrate anyone except his son and his disciple…. Maharsha (Samuel Edels, 16th-17th cent., Poland): Disciple here refers to one’s own disciple of any status, whom he should never denigrate (analogous to his own son in the teaching and in the category of Moses and his own disciple Joshua as is cited in the Talmud), even though there is no fear of revenge. However, the junior disciple referred to above is the disciple of another teacher, from whom there is fear of revenge in the future, as from the other two, a minor gentile and a tiny snake!
Genesis Rabbah 63:10
“As the lads grow up…”
Rabbi Levi taught: They may be compared to a myrtle and a rose bush which grow side by side. Once they have matured and blossomed, one produces its scent, and the other, its thorns.
Similarly, for thirteen years both of the boys go to school together and come home from school together. But at the end of thirteen years, only then does the difference between them become apparent, as one of them ascends to schools of Torah while the other goes down to places of idolatry.
Says Rabbi Elazar: A man should attend to his son during the first thirteen years of his life. For after that he must say, “Blessed is the One who has exempted me from punishment (responsibility) for this one’s sins.”
Genesis Rabbah 65:6
No Kind Words for the Wicked
“He who justifies the wicked
as well as he who condemns the righteous—
both of them are an abomination to the Eternal!”
Said Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: It was not because Rebecca loved Jacob more than did Isaac that she directed Jacob to receive his father’s blessing. Rather, she thought: Let Esau not enter and mislead the old man into justifying the wicked—“an abomination to the Eternal!” Already, because he coddled wicked Esau, “when Isaac was old, his eyes were dimmed from seeing” (Genesis 27:1). Rebecca sought to prevent Isaac from making things worse by justifying wicked Esau through his blessing.
Genesis Rabbah 65:7
Inference Against Bribery
“Isaac, old and blind, summons Esau, his older son…:
‘Hunt game for me, prepare it the way I like it,
and bring it to me to eat,
in order that my soul may bless you before I die!’”
“Do not take a bribe,
because bribes blind the eyes of the wise!”
Said Rabbi Isaac: Isaac the father was soliciting a bribe from his son for the reward of a blessing. But in this case Esau, as the firstborn son, was already obligated to sustain his father in his old age. Since, in this case, “Isaac’s eyes became blind” (Genesis 27:1), how much more do “bribes blind the eyes” when the object of the bribe, unlike Esau, does not already have an obligation to provide the demanded favor!
Genesis Rabbah 65:9
“As Isaac grew old,
his eyes were dimmed from seeing…”
Rabbi Judah son of Rabbi Simone taught:
Abraham asked for old age: Master of the universe, when a man and his son come in to a place where they are not known, the people of the place know not whom to honor, the father or the son, because You have not crowned the father with old age. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin! From the beginning of the Torah to here, there is no mention of “old age,” but here, in response to Abraham’s request, He granted him old age: “Abraham was old, advanced in years, and the Eternal blessed Abraham in everything” (Genesis 24:1). Old age was part of Abraham’s blessing!
Isaac asked for afflictions: Master of the universe, when a person dies without suffering, judgment is aimed against him. But if You would attach suffering to death, a man could use suffering as a means of atonement before death and thus avert the judgment that would otherwise await him. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin! From the beginning of the Torah to here, there is no mention of afflictions, but here, in response to Isaac’s request, He granted him affliction before death: “As Isaac grew old, his eyes were dimmed from seeing…”(Genesis 27:1), then “Isaac dies and is gathered to his people, old and satisfied with his days…” (Genesis 35:29). His affliction is part of the satisfaction of his old age!
Jacob asked for a final illness: Master of the universe, when a person dies without the prelude of a final illness, he has no time to gather his children around his death bed. But if a few days of illness were to precede his death, he would have time to gather his children and resolve his testament for them. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin: “The days of Israel drew near for him to die…and Jacob sent word to his sons: ‘Gather around and I shall tell you what will befall you in the end of days” (Genesis 47:29; 49:1). “When Jacob had finished providing testaments for his sons, he gathered his feet upon the bed, he expired and was gathered to his people” (ibid. 49:33). Thus Jacob died in his final illness, allowing for his final testament!
Rabbi Levi added to the teaching:
Abraham initiated old age, Isaac initiated affliction, and Jacob initiated final illness. But King Hezekiah initiated illness that could be followed by health. If You allow healing after illness, he argued, then, however many times, a man may repent of his sins. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: You have made a good request, and from you shall it begin: “A letter to Hezekiah, king of Judah: Although he is sick, he shall recover from his illness” (Isaiah 38:9). “Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Eternal: Consider how I walk before You in truth and with a perfect heart, doing that which is good in Your eyes; and he wept with great feeling” (ibid. 2-3).
Genesis Rabbah 65:20
Two Kinds of Domination
“The voice is the voice of Jacob,
but the hands are the hands of Esau!”
“The voice is the voice of Jacob…”: Jacob’s influence is through his voice; “…but the hands are the hands of Esau”: Esau dominates only by means of his hands!
Said Rabbi Berechia: When Jacob suppresses his voice, the hands of Esau dominate, as is written, “The people complained against Moses…” (Exodus 15:24), thereby putting Moses on the defensive and trying the Eternal (Exodus 15:25-17:7), effectively suppressing “the voice of Jacob,” followed immediately by, “Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8), “the hands,” as it were, “of Esau!” But when “Jacob” magnifies his voice, the hands are not the hands of Esau, the hands of Esau do not dominate.
Genesis Rabbah 67:3
Protective Limitation of Freedom
“Isaac is gripped by a terrible fear and trembling…
he says (to Esau), ‘Your brother came in deception
and took away your blessing!’”
Said Rabbi Isaac: Isaac was ready to curse his son Jacob, but the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Be careful, for if you curse him, you are cursing yourself, as you said in your blessing to Jacob, ‘Cursed shall be those who curse you!’” (Genesis 27:29)
Said Rabbi Levi: Six organs serve a person, three voluntarily and three involuntarily. The eye, the ear, and the nose, serve him involuntarily: he sees what he doesn’t want to see, he hears what he doesn’t want to hear, he smells what he doesn’t want to smell. While the mouth, the hand, and the foot, are subject to his will:
The mouth: If he wants, he can engage in Torah study; if he wants, he can engage in slander; if he wants, he can insult and reproach.
The hand: If he wants, he can perform a mitzvah; if he wants, he can steal; if he wants, he can kill.
The foot: If he wants, he can go to the beit keneset or to the beit midrash; if he wants, he can go to the hippodrome or to the circus (places of idolatrous performance).
At the moment when a person is otherwise worthy, the Holy One, blessed be He, may turn that which was in the person’s control into an involuntary organ. For example, “His hand, which he put forth against him, became rigid, and he was unable to draw it back to him” (I Kings 13:4): the hand of King Jeroboam, which he apparently intended to employ against the man of God, became frozen as an involuntary organ! Another example, “My son, do not walk with them, restrain your foot from their path, because their feet run to do evil…” (Proverbs 1:15-16): you can voluntarily restrain your foot, while the feet of those sinners (cf. Proverbs 1:10) have been made involuntary organs to do evil! Finally, we come to the mouth of Isaac, as he recapitulated events to Esau, “As I blessed him (Jacob), he is the one blessed” (Genesis 27:33): when Isaac discovered Jacob’s deception, he wanted to curse him, but God intervened and allowed Isaac to characterize the mouth that provided Jacob an unintended blessing as an involuntary organ!
Pesikta Rabbati Hosafa 1 193b
Tanchuma Ki Tetze 4
“Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?
and I love Jacob!”
“Give thanks to the Eternal…whose mercy is everlasting…
for dividing the Red Sea…
and bringing Israel safely through it…
while casting Pharaoh and his army into the Sea!”
I drowned their pursuers into its midst!
The Holy One, blessed be He,
always loves those who are pursued
and hates those who pursue.
Ishmael pursued Isaac his brother. “Sarah sees the son of Hagar the Egyptian (Ishmael), whom she had borne to Abraham, ‘playing’” (Genesis 21:9). He was “like a madman who casts firebrands, arrows and death…and says, ‘I was only playing’” (Proverbs 26:18-19)! Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, loved Isaac:
When God said to Abraham our father, “Take now your son” (Genesis 22:2), Abraham responded: Master of the universe, I have two sons; You gave me Isaac and Ishmael! He said to him, “Your only son” (ibid.), to which Abraham responded: They are both only sons, Isaac is the only son of Sarah, and Ishmael is the only son of Hagar! He said to him, “The one whom you love” (ibid.), to which Abraham responded: Is there a limit to the love of a father for his children? I love both of them! He then said to him, “Isaac” (ibid.)! I love Isaac because he is the pursued!
Similarly was Esau against Jacob “in his pursuing his brother with the sword and that he suppressed his mercy” (Amos 1:11). “Edom (Esau) said to him: You may not pass through my territory, lest I come out against you with the sword” (Numbers 20:18)! Rashi: “You (Jacob) are fortified by the voice that your father bequeathed you, as you said, ‘We cried out to the Eternal, and He heard our plea’ (ibid. 16). But I (Edom, viz. Esau) shall come out against you with what my father bequeathed me: “By your sword shall you live” (Genesis 27:40)! Moreover, Rabbi Judah taught that when Esau came out of his mother Rebecca’s womb, he cut her cords so that she could not conceive more children, as “suppressed his mercy [shicheyt rachamav]” (Amos 1:11) can be construed as if written, “destroyed his womb [shicheyt rachamo]!” Rav Huna derived that Rebecca was intended to be the mother of 12 tribes, as “the Eternal (repeatedly) reassured her: Two [2=2] nations are in your womb, and two [2+2=4] peoples shall be separated from inside you; one [2+2+1=5] people shall be stronger than the other [2+2+1+1=6] people, but the elder [2+2+1+1+1=7] shall serve the [2+2+1+1+1+1=8] younger…there were twins [2+2+1+1+1+1+2=10] in her womb…the first one [2+2+1+1+1+1+2+1=11] came out…then came out his brother [2+2+1+1+1+1+2+1+1=12]” (Genesis 25:23-26)! Therefore Esau pursued Jacob by precluding the twelve tribes that were supposed to emerge from his mother’s womb. Says the Holy One, blessed be He: I love the one pursued, and I hate the pursuer!
“I hate Esau, and I shall make his (Edom’s) mountains a desolation…” (Malachi 2:3), “…but I love Jacob (ibid. 2)!” Why? God prefers the pursued. David was pursued, and Saul was the pursuer (cf. I Samuel 18:1ff.). Said the Holy One, blessed be He: I love the pursued, and I hate the pursuer. “Samuel said to him (Saul), ‘The Eternal has sundered the kingdom of Israel from you this day and has given it to your fellow (David), who is better than you’” (I Samuel 15:28). God prefers the pursued!
Whence do we know that the Holy One, blessed be He, loves the pursued among people in general (apart from certain heroic examples)? This may be understood from the clarification which He provided to Moses: “If one’s burnt offering to the Eternal shall be of birds, then let it be of turtle-doves or young pigeons” (Leviticus 1:14). For when the Holy One, blessed be He, first instructed Moses concerning the offerings, Moses thought that he was to offer expensive birds like peacocks, pheasants, and geese, so the Holy One, blessed be He, had to disabuse Moses from such a thought and explicitly limited the choice of birds to “turtle-doves or young pigeons” (ibid.) and no others! Said the Holy One, blessed be He: Because they are prey (pursued), from them I prescribe the offering, and this applies as well to the larger animals: “Cattle or sheep or goats…” (Leviticus 22:27). And this applies as well to all people. God prefers the pursued.