Rabbi Shafir's Weekly D'var Torah
B'reyshit (Genesis)
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Toldot (Generations)

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1. Parsha Details
2. Questions (and a few observations) on the excerpts
3. Some Observations
4. Exercises
Parsha Details:Gen 25:19-28:9 (tri 27:28-28:9) [Haftorah Malakhi 1:1-2:7]
2. Questions and a few observations

Once again the Parsha is filled with so many things that one could devote much time to studying it and only begin to scratch the surface -- but that is the wonderfulness of Torah.

So let's do a tiny bit.  This Parsha tells the story of Jacob's and Esau's first forty some years and what's happening in the family.  We see little of Isaac and this is true in Torah -- Isaac is eclipsed by Abraham and Jacob.  Abraham protects him for as long as Abraham is alive -- until Isaac is about 75.

Abraham is alive for the first fifteen years of the parsha, which starts out when Isaac is forty and takes Rivka as his wife.  They are married twenty years before she gives birth to the twins.

The parsha then goes to Esau selling his birthright, Isaac's sojourn in Abimelech's Gerar and the ensuing difficulties, Esau's marriage to Judith and Bashemath, The Blessing of Jacob, Isaac's leaving for Laban's house and Esau's marriage to Mahalath.

Let's look first at the character of Isaac.  He, like his father before him, tells people that Rivka is his sister, giving us the impression that this action was not uncommon perhaps.  The next insight we get it that it is about   years after Abraham's death.  Isaac was sixty when the twins were born, and it is before they turn forty that Isaac sojourns in Gerar.  Since Esau is already a hunter, we can assume that he is at least twenty, and Abraham died when the boys were about fifteen.  So the Abimelech scene is set somewhere between 5 and 25 years after Abraham's death.

The Philistines are jealous of Isaac's wealth and they are filling in the wells that Abraham's servants dug.  And whenever Isaac's servants dig them out, there is strife and Isaac moves on to find and dig out another well.  This happens once in Gerar and several times as Isaac and his herds move farther away until finally, he is far enough that they no longer bother him. And Isaac says as he names this well: 'For now the Lord has made room for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land.'

We get a few important things out of this insight -- naming is a key ceremony and signifies ownership.  Isaac calls the wells by the names Abraham used -- out of respect?  Or out of a hope that somehow Abraham's power and prestige might help him keep these wells and be able to use them.  But without Abraham, Isaac cannot (since they strove with his servants) hold on to them and is forced to move on.  We also get the impression that Isaac cannot handle stress well -- he prefers to avoid it, fearfully, even if it means that his household must move on.  In fact, in Jacob's vision or dream, God tells him not to be afraid.

Isaac does not participate in Jacob or Esau's life in the way that Abraham did his.  And Esau selects his own wives locally -- and they rebel against the family and make life 'bitter' for Isaac and Rivka.  Midrash tells us that Esau led a dissolute life until this time and them became hypocritical and sarcastically imitated Isaac's marrying age.  But was it that Esau waited for Isaac to do something and finally tired of waiting by age forty and did something?

And then we get to the famous part of the blessing -- we know the story well, so let's look at some aspects.  Rivka is a major player in these events, directing them.  We do not hear much about Rivka at all, but she was obviously quite clever and resourceful from these events.  She tells Jacob what to do -- Jacob does not object to the deception -- he is only afraid of the repercussions IF he is found out.  Rivka teaches him what to do and helps him do it.  From the earlier verses we learn that Jacob knew how to cook simple dishes like pottage.  Rivka knows how Esau prepares the savory venison for Isaac and cooks the replacement to match for Jacob to take to Isaac.

In the tent, Jacob lies to his father, but his voice and language are his -- those of a quiet man who dwells in tents instead of the free hunter.  But a clever one.  Midrash tries hard to make Jacob cleverer and not quite lying -- more tricking and leading than lying -- but either way, the intention is to deceive and intentions are what counts. And Jacob is thinking on his feet -- he not only brings the food to Isaac to eat, but he brings wine for him to drink.  Isaac has tried to verify that the one before him is Esau -- he asks repeatedly and is suspicious.  He feels Jacobs hands, eats the food to check the flavor and hugs him to check out the smell.  Lulled by the food and wine, he blesses Jacob.

And when the trickery is obvious, he trembles and recognizes the cunning (b'mirma -- deceit, fraud) of his son.  We get no inkling if he recognizes Rivka's hand in the trickery -- it appears not, for he does not mention her at all.

And when Esau plots to kill Jacob, Rivka again acts to convince Isaac that Jacob should go to Laban to pick a more suitable wife -- and she is successful.  Now, as Rivka is talking to Jacob, she says "remain with him a few days, ... Until your brother's anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send, and fetch you from there; "  But we will never hear her fetch Jacob.  Even when he does return years later, Rivka is not mentioned.  Did she intend it to last only a brief time and it took longer for Esau to calm down than she had expected and perhaps she became ill and died in the meantime?  She knew Esau had talked about doing it in the days of mourning for Jacob -- did she think that would be soon?  Isaac must have since he conferred the blessings.  Or was Rivka allaying Jacob's fears as to how long he would need to stay away.  And did Jacob think he would die soon -- would he leave at such at a time?

Talmud doesn't talk about Rivka much -- less than a dozen references and not much substance when she is mentioned.

She was a very resourceful woman -- she ran that household quite effectively.  And she was very specific to Jacob about staying with Laban, known for his greed and forcefulness.  I don't believe much that happened around her was happenstance.  And yet, we know so little about her.

Lastly, Esau sees that Isaac sends Jacob away to pick a wife other than a Canaanite woman -- and so he takes a daughter of Ishmael -- his cousin, just as Jacob will in Padan-Aram.  Why did it take until now for Esau to know that Canaanite women were not acceptable.

3. Some Observations

White space first.  This parsha has two sections and an insert.  The first section is about the birth and goes until the selling of the birthright -- sets the scene for the remainder of the parsha.  The insert is the two verse part about Esau taking Judith and Bashemath as wives.  Other then these items. the parsha is a solid section, well integrated -- even if gaping holes exist in what we would like to know.

So the teaching in this section is intended to be intense -- it was well thought out. Soooooooo

As this parsha rolls over and over in my mind, mingling with it is a song I know -- "Who will be my children's Zayde if not me...." (for those unfamiliar with this song, it talks about Zayde making Kiddush Friday Night, dying and the family drifting from 'being Jewish' over time -- until something awakens in the man singing and he asks the title question.)  And I think about the strong character of Abraham.  I cry at that song because the Zayde does, but does not teach.

Certainly we see that Isaac does not teach his sons.  Did Abraham?  Perhaps -- Midrash certainly thinks so.

So in the song, did the Zayde just die too soon?  Was his son a simple passive type like Isaac, that he just went the path of least resistance -- certainly in today's America it is easier to be less Jewish than to be overtly active.  Did the Zayde even try to teach his son -- or was it easier to do than teach?

Midrash tells us that Abraham taught God to just about everyone he met -- and Ishmael and Isaac both died the death of the righteous, but we hear nothing about Abraham's other sons.  And of course, Abraham is quite old, even in Esau's and Jacob's youth.  Both Jacob and Esau appear reasonably intelligent -- one being quiet and the other being wilder.  And what of Rivka?  What role did she play?  Sarah, of course, was dead even before Isaac married Rivka.

Tradition usually tells us that Isaac was not a strong man, that he needed the protection that Abraham gave him -- but did Abraham make him that way?  Did Sarah?  After all, he was the baby of their old age.  Had Sarah protected him too much?  After all, she is the one who tells Abraham to send Hagar away.  Then he sends the other sons away while he lives.

Did Isaac fail to mature into all he could have been because he didn't get enough 'tough love'?  Some times it is hard to see those we love venture forth and fail or even risk failure -- but that is how we grow.  There is a fine line between nurturing and supporting and over-protecting.

Too many gifts and 'everything' a child wants does not teach him the lessons of life, the critical people skills, the ability to step back and assess and contribute meaningfully instead of 'I want'.  And it usually easier to say okay, let's not do something Jewish today, then it is to learn the reasons behind the actions and do them AND teach them.

And teach them (these words, things) yourself, diligently to your children.  And your children's children.


1. Who: If you were blind, as Isaac was -- how would you know who was there?  What does a loved one sound like, feel like, smell like.  What things other than sights make you think about them?

2. Food/B'rakha: When you eat something you enjoy -- especially if you are very hungry:  stop, pause, think about Esau, think about what the food is and where it comes from (we need to if we are to select the correct b'rakha).  Breathe.  Smell the food.  Look at its color, texture, parts.  As you start to eat, note the textures and feel as you eat.  Listen to and feel your body as it responds to first few bites.  Thank both the One who provides the food and those that raised you that you are able to enjoy the food.

3. God: How do we know when we are near to God?  What does He sound like?  How does She feel?  What can we smell?  What other senses can we attune to sense the Divine?  What does the Breath sound and feel like?

Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!

And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos)



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