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Toldot – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

The Parashah this week opens with life, listing the תּֽוֹלְדֹ֥ת, (“Toledot”), the “generations”, of Isaac and includes a threat of death.

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו בְּלִבּ֗וֹ יִקְרְבוּ֙ יְמֵי֙ אֵ֣בֶל אָבִ֔י וְאַֽהַרְגָ֖ה אֶת־יַֽעֲקֹ֥ב אָחִֽי
Esau said to himself, "Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Jacob”

It is not easy to be a parent. Where did this strife between brothers begin? Rebecca had already been warned “Two nations are in your womb”

Both parents loved their children: differently rather than equally. Rebecca, growing up with Laban, could recognise family differences when she saw them. Esau lived for the day and would sell his birthright for immediate gratification.

The breaking point for both Isaac and Rebecca came after they went down to Gerar. God appeared to Isaac reiterating the covenant. In Gerar, like Abraham, they encounter Avimelech. Re-digging his father’s wells Isaac rediscovers his inheritance. He grows wealthy and makes his peace. A simple man, following the customs of the time, he expected to bless his first born, Esau. Esau, however, married out.

And Esau was forty years old, and he married Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. And they were a vexation of the spirit to Isaac and to Rebecca

Rebecca saw that the future would be with Jacob. Isaac, although deceived, does not remove the blessing he had given to Jacob but gives an alternative blessing for Esau. He then instructs Jacob, using the same words Abraham used when he, Isaac, was to marry:

לֹֽא־תִקַּ֥ח אִשָּׁ֖ה מִבְּנ֥וֹת כְּנָֽעַן:
You shall not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan

It is not easy to be a good and obedient child, a good brother or sister. It takes understanding. Rabbi Shimon bar Yocĥai, said love and hate make us do things we would not do otherwise. Jacob became Israel and Esau would later be identified as “Edom”, an adversary. Eventually Esau welcomes Jacob home and forgoes the threats made in anger.

Resentments that endure poison our lives. Recognising our differences, in love, not hate, is a pathway that strengthens not just our families but our communities and, eventually, our whole society. It secures our “Toledot”, our generations to come.

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