Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9, Parashat Hashavua for Shabbat, November 18, 2023

What is the value of living honestly and what is the cost of lies and manipulation to get what we want? In this week’s Torah portion we read about the life of Isaac, Abraham’s son, through his marriage to Rebekah, the birth of his twin sons, Esau and Jacob, their rivalry and ultimate estrangement from each other. The story climaxes with Jacob deceiving his father, with the help of his mother, to gain Isaac’s blessing which should go to Esau. When Esau comes to him, after Isaac has blessed Jacob, we read, “Isaac was seized with very violent trembling.” (Genesis 27:33). Commenting on this verse, Rashi (11th C. Germany) wrote, “The Midrashic explanation (Midrash Tanchuma, Toldot 11) is that he saw Gehinnom opening beneath him (Esau).” Rabbi Michael Dolgin (21st C. America) expands on this idea, “In rabbinic literature, Esau represents Rome: the empire that conquered the Jewish people, desecrated our holy places, and destroyed the Temple. In this passage, we can discern the roots of our conflict with the civilization that surrounded and dominated us. The issue is fundamentally the lack of honesty in this biblical family.  Esau and Jacob (who represents Israel)  maneuver and deceive rather than interact truthfully.” Think about how in personal, political and national conflicts each side is willing to manipulate the conflict narrative to achieve their own ends. How much better off might we be if we faced each other honestly, admitted our flaws and shortcomings and the validity of each side’s narrative. We might have less conflict and suffering in the world.