Parashat Toledot

December 2-3, 2016 – 3 Kislev 5777
Annual (Genesis 25:19-28:9): Etz Hayim p. 146-161; Hertz p. 93-101
Triennial (Genesis 25:19-26:22): Etz Hayim p. 146-151; Hertz p. 93-96
Haftarah (Malachi 1:1-2:7): Etz Hayim p. 162-165; Hertz p. 102-105


L’nochach ishto: Together and Apart
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty and Coordinator, Torah Sparks

The stories of the family life of the Patriarchs/Matriarchs are riveting, as full of drama and tension as any reality program. Parshat Toledot focuses on Isaac, the only weekly portion where he is the central character. Yet even in it, he is part “best actor” and part “supporting role.” Isaac is as often acted upon by others as he is the leader and initiator.

Isaac and Rivka are unique among the “first families,” the only monogamous couple and the only one about whom the Torah tells us they displayed affection one for the other – “Abimelech the Philistine king looked through the window and saw Isaac sporting (“metsahek”) with Rivka his wife” (26:8).

At the beginning of the parashah (25:21) we learn that Rivka was barren, and that Isaac pleaded with the Lord l’nochach ishto -“for his wife” (JPS 1917 and New JPS 1985). Rashi, based on the Jerusalem Talmud, explains l’nochach ishto: “he stood in one corner and prayed and she stood in the other corner and prayed.” It is hard to consider this pshat, the plain meaning of the text (which Rashi claims to explain, cf. Gen. 3:8), because there is no hint in the verse that Rivka prayed to God before she became pregnant. Some Jewish translations (e.g., Rosenbaum-Silverman) reflect Rashi’s approach: Isaac prayed “facing his wife.”

The JPS translations are more likely the straightforward, literal meaning. Isaac is praying for/on behalf of his wife “because she was barren.” Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, says it in one word, bishvil (“for”). It could also be l’nochach matsava shel ishto – for her, given her situation. Sforno suggests that Isaac was praying that Rivka bear his heir, lest he have to bear through another woman, as had his father Abraham, with Hagar. Or it could be simply that he prayed in her presence, a sign of the closeness between them and his identification with her condition. It recalls the story of Reb Aryeh Levin, the “Tzadik (saint) of Jerusalem” (1885-1969), who brought his wife to the doctor and said “Our leg hurts.”

But Rashi’s approach is also correct – marriage is a complicated affair, and the fact that there is love does not guarantee there is communication (or vice versa). The parties bring to it their individual life experiences and world views. Isaac was “carrying” the Akeda on his shoulders (or in his psyche) and Rivka the Divine revelation that “two nations are in your womb…and the older shall serve the younger” (Gen 25:23). From the text it seems doubtful that they discussed these matters. Therefore Isaac loves Esau, Rivka loves Jacob; he intends the blessing for Esau, she wants Jacob to receive it; he sends Jacob to Padan Aram (Rivka’s place of birth and family) to find a wife, she to avoid the threat of Esau. There is love between them. Communication?

L’nochach ishto – it can be a sign of a close relationship, on the one hand, and of different, even conflicting, perspectives on life on the other. Nothing is new under the sun; as the Lord God said: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make for him an ezer k’negdo” (Gen 2:18) – a “help meet” or a “counterpart.” Sometimes it’s help, and sometimes it’s counter. L’nochach ishto is a fair existential summary of the institution of marriage – the challenge of keeping the “together” and “being one’s self” in balance, and finding the right combination of love and communication.

A Vort for Parashat Toledot
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

When Rivka readies Jacob to pose as Esau in order to get the blessing from Isaac, she not only prepares the foods Isaac likes but also dresses Jacob in Esau’s bigdei ha’chamudot, his best clothes, which seems unnecessary given that Isaac was blind and would not notice anyway. The Gerer Rebbe said that Rivka had divine inspiration (ru’ach hakodesh) that Am Yisrael would assimilate in the Diaspora. Davka (especially) when comfortably wearing “Esau’s finery” there, they would need the blessing of Jacob, to remember their roots and identity. Dress British, think Yiddish!

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

In this Parasha we get a glimpse of the life of Itzhak (Isaac), our least storied patriarch. Here is also where the foundation of the relationship between the twin brothers Esau and Jacob is laid, a relationship that is viewed as a foreshadowing of some of Jewish history.

1) Yitzhak and Rivka (Rebecca) have twins, Esau and Yaakov (Jacob). Each parent seems to develop a special attachment to one of the sons (25:27-28). Who is loved by whom? What seems to be the difference between the relationships?

2) Again there is a famine in the land. Yitzhak moves westward, to the coast. At that point God intervenes. Where is Itzhak not allowed to go (26:1-6)? Why do you think that God stopped Yitzhak from going to Egypt and leaving the land, but did not stop Avraham his father from doing so?

3)  Itzhak becomes quite wealthy. What is the source of his wealth (26:12-16)? How does that differ from the source of wealth of Avraham when he was in [Egypt] a foreign land? (You can look at 12:14-13:2) Why does Itzhak’s success spur jealousy in the local population? How do they try stop him?

4) In his old age Itzhak turns blind. He wishes to bless Esau before his death (27:1-29). Rebecca, hearing about it, decides to send Yaakov, pretending to be Esau, to receive the blessing. Itzhak is surprised by the speed in which Esau returns with a prepared meal. How does Itzhak express his suspicions (27:18-24)? Why do you think that Itzhak bless him (Yaakov) if he suspected that something was wrong?

5) Following the blessing episode Yaakov is sent away by his parents to his maternal uncle’s house. Each parent gives a reason for sending Yaakov away (27:42-28:4). What are the 2 reasons? Keep your eyes open: these reasons will be influencing Yaakov’s life for the next 2 Parashot.