Parashat Toldot

By Tad Campbell

In honor of my teacher and chaver, Rabbi Joel S. Wasser.

Travel the world, or simply look at the foreign coins mixed up with your regular change and the most obvious thing about any, whether large or small, is that each has two sides. These opposite sides feature images of the national flower or bird, musical instruments, historical events and monarchs and national leaders. These small monetary tokens can in many ways, resemble tiny, fascinating, priceless works of art.

This week’s parashah, Toldot, calls upon this idea to explain how this section of the Torah unfolds. Esau and Jacob, though twins, are not identical. Each has his own personality and mindset as well as obvious talents and abilities. Esau is far more than simply the oldest; he is the son who, in a way, resembles his father Isaac in terms of being drawn to the fields and caring for the flocks. This was where Isaac found and displayed his passion. The younger son, Jacob, is more head than heart, preferring to think rationally. Yet each is very much one part of the same coin, different sides, as it were, of the parents who brought them to know life itself.

The parashah does not tell us how Esau and Jacob are raised. Whether Isaac teaches only Esau to favor the fields, or, if both boys learn such lessons before deciding what is and is not for them. But the Torah does tell us that Rebekah favored Jacob. Isaac, Esau. Two sons. Two sides of a surprising and often confusing tale.

We all know the story. How Rebekah overhears Isaac telling Esau to go and kill game, preparing it exactly as Isaac likes. And then, Isaac will grant Esau his blessing. And so Esau departs to fulfill his father’s wishes. Flip to the other side and we find Rebekah scheming so that Jacob can be the one to receive this coveted blessing. And so the meal is prepared, Jacob dresses in the skins of the young calves and steps up to change history.

It is Jacob who receives Isaac’s blessing, not his brother Esau. Each now steps into the role they will play for years to come. And as dramatic, even treacherous as this all is, let us not forget: Jacob had a choice. He did not have to follow the deceptive thoughts of his mother, instead allowing his brother to receive what he deserved. Or, Jacob could have joined Esau before his father, using his gift of intellect in reasoning how both sons should be blessed. Again, two people, two sides, two possible outcomes. But only one path can be followed and Jacob sets his foot upon the one he deems will bring him the finest outcome. The blessing is his. But at what price?

We read Parashat Toldot and see the treachery and deception, the pangs of confusion and uncertainty. These are very much a part of our Torah. But this story has two sides. One is obvious. The other isn’t so easy to see. But if we patiently and hopefully flip the coin over, we can see a younger son trying to win over his father’s love. Jacob wasn’t the successful hunter and man of the fields his brother naturally was. Esau, the oldest, was closer to Isaac. While he certainly plays the wicked role of the younger, jealous brother, Jacob nonetheless, goes to his father looking for far more than a blessing.

Jacob wins his blessing. And it then unravels as Esau discovers this and now looks toward killing his brother. It is not revenge Esau has in mind, rather, it is equality. Ironically, the same equality Jacob had in mind when he deceived Isaac. Two brothers, born together. And as Esau dances free from Rebekah’s womb, his brother holding fast to his heal, we are offered a clue that somehow they would always hold on to one another, encouraging or perhaps deceiving, but always seeking to understand.

Like Jacob, we each have a choice, deciding carefully which ingredients to use in our recipe for either hope or deceit. Few will ever face a daunting decision such as Jacob’s. And if we do, may our quest to build a better world win. May we succeed in displaying not only one side but all the sides of the colorful world Hashem has designed. Good or bad. Hurt or healing. Working together or tearing apart. These are the sides we must encourage one another to share. We are worth far more than even the most expensive of embossed coins. For upon our hearts G-d has signed our names with the poem and the wonder of our immeasurable blessing.