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Torah Commentary - Toldot

                                                                                                                                           *Commentary courtesy of Menahem Me-Zahav

Our Sidra is named so after its first words “Ve’eile Toldot Yitzchak - And this is the life story of Isaac.”  

It is Isaac, representing the second generation of the Jewish people, to whom our Sidra is fully dedicated. While at the Philistine city of Gerar (in today’s Negev) Isaac digs several wells, all of which are forcibly seized by the Philistines except one, which he names Rechovot (roomy area). “And he (Isaac) called it Rechovot, saying: Now God has made room for us to grow in the land of Israel” (26:22). Today, Rechovot is located ten miles south of Tel Aviv. Founded in 1890, it was named so as an expression of hope that it “will grow in the land of Israel.” The city today numbers over 120,000, served as the seat of the first president of Israel, Chayim Weitzman, and is home to the world-renowned Weitzman Institute of Science. 

Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebecca (Rivka), the granddaughter of his uncle, Nachor. After 20 years of marriage to Isaac she becomes pregnant with twins. It is a difficult pregnancy, as the twins are struggling within the womb, signifying the future tumultuous relationship between the two brothers and their descendants. The first-born is red, hairy, and named Esau (Eissav, since he was hairy as essev, or grass).  The second-born is named Jacob (Ya’akov) since he was grasping Esau’s akev (heel). 

The two brothers are radically different: Jacob is scholarly, studying all day long; Esau is a hunter, a man of the wilderness. Jacob is mild-mannered and polite; Esau is wild, uneducated, and crude. Isaac favors Esau, but Rebecca loves Jacob best.  

According to Midrash, Jacob spent most of his time in the Torah School of Shem and Ever (Noach’s son and grandson). Jacob’s life is later saved by staying at the school, when Esau seeks to kill him for stealing Isaac’s blessing from him. 

Nezid Adashim - Dish of Lentils 

Esau comes home one day from his hunting and he is very hungry. He sells his birthright to Jacob for a mere dish of lentils (Nezid Adashim) that Jacob happens to be cooking. The Torah tells us Esau did not value his birthright since he exchanged it for a worthless item; the use of Nezid Adashim to imply that something is worthless can be found quite often in contemporary Hebrew literature.  

Some forty years later, the 100-year old Isaac, who is nearly blind, asks Esau to prepare a meal for the two of them, at which Isaac will give Esau the birthright blessing. Esau then rushes out to hunt an animal. Rebecca overhears Isaac’s request and, knowing that Esau doesn’t deserve Isaac’s blessing, convinces Jacob to disguise himself and steal Isaac’s blessing. Jacob complies and is blessed by Isaac; when Esau returns, he begs Isaac to bless him as well. Isaac blesses Esau too, but adds that he “will live on the sword, and shall serve his brother” (27:40). Soon, the enraged Esau decides “after Isaac’s death, he will kill Jacob” (27:41). Jacob, upon Rebecca’s urging, leaves for Haran, Rebecca’s birthplace. 

Haftarah: Malachi 1:1 – 2:7, page 163  

Our Haftarah is taken from the prophecies of Malachi, the last of the prophets. He lived around the time when the second Temple was being built, circa 450 BCE. Although the nation has been enjoying newly found peace and prosperity, Malachi’s heart nevertheless refuses to overlook some of the inequities that has become a part of the Jewish people’s life. Malachi begins with a proclamation that is meant to reaffirm God’s eternal commitment to his chosen people: “I have shown my love to you, says The Lord, but you (Israel) are saying: how have you (God) shown your love to us? (And God answers) Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? And yet I loved Jacob and I have rejected Esau” (1:2). This divine announcement, that serves as a linkage to our Sidrah, echoes the blessing of Jacob by Isaac; a blessing initially intended for Esau and God transformed it into a blessing for Jacob.  

Malachi confronts the Kohanim, who have transgressed by not adhering to the proper order of the rituals in the Holy Temple, which they are committed to follow (1:7-8). He seems to accuse the Kohanim for the misdeeds of the Israelites who do not respect God, as sons respect their father and servants their master (1:6). The way to escape God’s wrath is in the hands of the Kohanim: “And now, ask God’s forgiveness and He will be gracious to you…For the lips of the Kohen are full of knowledge, and the Torah is sought from his mouth, for he serves as God’s angel (messenger)” (1:9, 2:7). 

Sat, November 26 2022 2 Kislev 5783