2 Nisan 5777
29 March 2017
search site
LSJS
London School of Jewish Studies

Toldot

  • Subject: Book of Genesis
  • Date:
  • Teachers/Presenters: Maureen Kendler,

and Rebecca heard when Isaac spoke to Esau his son…” (Gen 27 v 5)

When we were first introduced to Rebecca in last week’s parsha she seemed remarkable: independent, active, generous, a role model.

Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, spotted her at the well, he was struck by her willingness to be helpful, her energy and determination to provide water for Eliezer and his camels. When asked if she wanted to go with Eliezer to marry Isaac, she asserted: “I will go” Rashi says this means she will go even if her family do not want her to and Rashbam’s interprets her readiness to depart to mean she requires no to delay to “adorn herself.” Rebecca endears herself by being a comfort to her husband and  the brief insight we are given into her marriage to Isaac is a positive, loving one.

But in this Parsha we see a very different Rebecca. What has marriage and motherhood done to her?

Here we see her eavesdropping on Isaac, her blind ailing husband, as he tells his preferred son

Esau to go and bring food, after which he will give him a blessing. We can only assume Rebecca feels that Isaac has lost his good sense together with his sight, and is about to give Esau the patriarchal blessing that she intends for her preferred son, Jacob.

She springs into the action we associate with her younger self, and persuades a reluctant Jacob to take part in her elaborate plan. In a frenzy she produces a substitute meal and concocts Esau-like clothes for Jacob to trick Isaac.

But- there is no evidence that Isaac was as confused and helpless as Rebecca assumes him to be, that he was going to give the all-important covenantal blessing to Esau.

In the blessing that Isaac gives to Esau (mistaking Jacob for Esau) he offers material things, abundance and dominion (Gen 27, v39) but does not mention the Abrahamic legacy, the land, the seed. When the ruse is uncovered, Isaac blesses the real Jacob again, with “the blessing of Abraham….inherit the land of his sojournings.” (Gen 28 v 3)

It seems Isaac knew who was destined to inherit the work of the patriarch after all. He may have been blind, but his inner sight was clear.

Rebecca pays dearly for her scheme, as a result of which she loses her beloved Jacob, who is forced to run away to escape the wrath of Esau. When Jacob returns from exile, Rebecca is dead.

In all the frantic action, speeches and activity of this Parsha, what is missing is communication between husband and wife. We are told that Isaac loved Rebecca, but he chose not to share his deathbed plans for their children with her. She must resort to listening behind doors and her mistaken confidence and wrong assumptions mean she must act quickly to save the day and does not consult with her husband.

What disasters could have been averted by an honest conversation between Isaac and Rebecca? What went wrong?