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Toldot – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

This week (and next Shabbat as EMS) are asked to celebrate “EcoShabbat” recognizing potential environmental threats. However, we should also remember that next Tuesday is the anniversary of Kristalnacht”, 9th November 1938. The approaching tragedy of the Shoah was being unveiled. That real and immediate threat to our people was never addressed by the world at that time.

Two of the three patriarchs have a change of name. Abram became Abraham and Jacob will become Israel after they both meet God. Isaac by contrast is quiet; characterised as someone who digs wells. This is relevant today, looking for sustainability as well as looking for a peaceful existence. However, the first wells are rejected and filled in by the local inhabitants who are fearful of us and so they destroy them. In the mediaeval world Jews were accused of “poisoning the wells”.

It is easy to focus on Jacob and Esau the twin brothers; living in the shadow of a prophesy made at the time they were born.

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.

What is not examined is what kind of parents were Isaac and Rebecca.

We read

Isaac favoured Esau, because he [Esau] put game in his mouth, but Rebecca favoured Jacob.

Rebecca loved both her sons, but she recognised that they were different characters. Esau was prepared to sell his birthright and had already married two Hittite women. When she hears that Esau plans to kill his brother once Isaac was dead, she cries out

Why should I lose you both in a single day?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch makes the point that

The striking contrast in the grandchildren of Abraham may have been due not so much to a difference in their temperaments as to a mistake in the way they were brought up

Isaac never understands that each of his children needed an upbringing that took into account their own personalities. No two children are the same, just as no two people are the same. This is the great challenge of parenthood. The approach of “let the child lead” may seem wise and caring but that is not enough. As parents we try our best, but we too are only human.

We never discover whether or not Esau forgives his mother or Isaac forgives Jacob. All we can hope for is that our own children come to understand that whatever happens and whoever they become we will always love them.

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