Parashat Toledot – Erev Shabbat 17 November 2023 (5784)
Week of 12-18 November 2023
Torah portion: Genesis 25:19 – 28:9   Haftarah: Mal.1 :1-2 :7
Theme : God is with us in life and death

he Torah A Women’s Commentary gives the title “Shaping Destiny: The Story of Rebekah” to this parasha. The outline is as follows: I. Rebekah becomes a mother of twins; II. Favoritism and the selling of the birthright; III. Isaac and Rebekah ‘visit’Abimelech; IV. Esau marries Canaanite wives; V. Rebekah ensures the transfer of the Covenantal blessing to Jacob.

     Rebekah’s name and action appear in three of these five sections. The first is as the ‘initiator’ of the rest of this parasha. When she was pregnant “the children pressed against each other and inside her. So she went to inquire of the LORD” (25:22). There seems to be a special relationship of women with the LORD when it concerns pregnancy and caring for children. I recall Genesis 4:1, at the birth of Cain, Eve says: “Both I and the LORD have made a man.” In Genesis 4:23 at the birth of Seth, Eve exclaims: “since God has given me another offspring in place of Abel”. In Genesis 21:15-16 Hagar leaves her crying child so that she does not have to see him die of thirst but God steps in (vv. 17-19) by calling Hagar: “What is troubling you, Hagar? Have no fear for God has heard the cry of the lad where he is. Get up, lift the boy and hold him with your hand, for I am going to make of him a great nation.” God brought a well to Hagar and her son. It strikes me that each of the above stories is about life and death: “In the midst of life we are in death” (‘Book of Common Prayer’, Antiphon in Night prayer during Lent). Job 14 describes it in detail.

     So back to our parasha: the second section speaks about the favoritism of the different sons by Isaac and Rebekah, and how Esau sells his birthright to Jacob. Esau replies to his brother’s request: “Here I am going to die, what good is the birthright to me?” Death or life?

     Thirdly, in this section (26:1-33), Isaac says his wife is his sister “Lest the local people kill me on account of Rebekah, since she is so good looking.” The digging of the wells and the closing of them was also a matter of life and death as was their presence among the people who “drove me away from (their) midst” (26:27). Abimelech declared: “We see clearly now that the LORD has been with you, so we thought: pray let there be a sworn treaty between us …” (26:26-28). So life at this point will at least continue in peace. 

     Fourthly, Esau marries Canaanite wives – an unwise and disobedient choice which ‘cut’ him off more from his ‘rightful’ leadership.

     Finally, we see Rebekah as described in the poem from “I know Four” by Amy Blank:

I stole a blessing,

I sent Jacob to Haran,

I saved Esau from Cain’s sin.

Though I( yearn for Jacob

And tremble for his return

I am still strong enough

To draw this life together.

The tent cords must not slacken;

I will hold taut.           
And so life continues!

For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What have some of your moments of life and death been? How has God intervened?

Bibliography:  Eskenazi, Weiss: The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York: 2008).

This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Bernadette Teresa Chellew, South Africa, Bat kol Alumna 2008


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