Parashat Toledot

Parashat Toledot – Erev Shabbat 29 November 2019
Week of 24-30 November 2019
Torah portion: Genesis 25:19-28:9 Haftarah: Mal. 1:1-2:7
Theme: Rebecca’s relationship with G-d

Parashat Toledot opens with the sentence, “This is the line of Isaac.” One might think, therefore, that the story is all about Isaac. I think, however, that the parashah portrays a compelling picture of an extraordinary matriarch. Within the family circle Rebecca is a potent force, she directs the destinies of both her husband and her sons. Does Rebecca act as a mother who has the best interests of her sons at heart? Knowing their strengths and weaknesses provides the key to her ability to control them. From her perception the deceit to steal Esau’s blessing furthers G-d’s plan of continuing the heritage passed down from Abraham. G-d gives Rebecca the freedom to do what she thinks is right for both G-d and her sons.

In Rebecca one finds a dynamic woman who does not seem to be confined by a culture that requires women’s submission. Isaac had grown up in a household with powerful parents and in Rebecca he finds a mother substitute (Plaut, p. 191). Isaac appears to be a weak, easily deceived man. Early in their relationship, he tells Abimelech, king of the Philistines, that Rebecca is his sister [26:6-10]. Later Isaac does not act on the suspicion he senses when Jacob steals Esau’s blessing.

Rebecca’s personal relationship with G-d eliminates the need for a male intermediary when approaching G-d. “She went to inquire of the LORD, and the LORD answered her” [22a]. Rebecca and G-d have a special relationship, she speaks directly to G-d. In The Women’s Torah Commentary Rabbi Singer states that Genesis gives intimate details of Rebecca’s pregnancy and of giving birth in a conversation with G-d [p. 176]. G-d prophesies to Rebecca that her sons will be the founders of nations. G-d does not indicate which son would be the mightier. Rebecca thinks that she can change the outcome of the firstborn’s blessing because she wants Jacob to receive the blessing.

What are the consequences of these actions? Looking at Jacob’s life, there seem to be many. Jacob receives the blessing, but has to leave his home, his land, and his family. Later, he himself becomes the victim of deception at the hands of Leah and his own sons. Rebecca ensures the continuation of the destiny promised by G-d to Abraham, but there is also sorrow. One never hears that Rebecca ever sees her beloved son, Jacob, again.

For Reflection and Discussion: [1] How did Isaac and Rebecca contribute to the sibling rivalry of Esau and Jacob? What does Parashat Toledot teach us about relationships within our own families and with G-d? [2] Where do we, as parents, fall into the trap of trying to control our children’s destiny? How are we perceptive to what G-d has in mind for our children and us? [3] How have we experienced G-d’s freedom in allowing us to make our own decisions? [4] How can we reflect on our life using Rebecca’s actions and relationship with G-d as a guide?

Bibliography: Berlin and Brettler, ed., The Jewish Study Bible (Oxford, 1999); Fox, The Five Books of Moses (New York, 1995); Goldstein, ed., The Women’s Torah Commentary (Vermont, 2000); Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereshit Genesis (Jerusalem, 2010); Plaut, The Torah: a Modern Commentary (New York 1981).

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Gretchen Tickle,
Bat Kol Alumna: 2004, 2006
[Copyright © 2019]

PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Parashah commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the ISPS-Ratisbonne, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of ISPS-Ratisbonne Bat Kol-Christian Center for Jewish Studies. The commentaries, along with all materials published on the ISPS-Ratisbonne Bat Kol-Christian Center for Jewish Studies website, are copyrighted by the writers, and are made available for personal and group study, and local church purposes. Permission needed for other purposes.  Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.

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