Toldot (Genesis 25:19 – 28:9)

Previously, in the Book of Genesis…

Isaac and Rebecca seemed headed for a peaceful, loving marriage.  Maybe it was at first, at least for Isaac, but we only read that Isaac loved her (24:67), not the reverse.

This week’s portion, Toldot, picks up after 20 years of childlessness.  Isaac pleads with the Lord on behalf of Rebecca, and she conceives twins, whose rivalry begins in the womb.  Rebecca, though not Isaac, is told that they will give rise to two nations, and the elder will serve the younger.  The sons are opposites in appearance and temperament.  Firstborn Esau is ruddy, hairy, very physical, and a hunter.  Jacob is smooth, a homebody, and a thinker.  Rebecca favors Jacob and Isaac favors Esau. Sadly, we never read that either parent refers to “our sons.”  It’s usually his son or her son.   Next thing we know, Esau sells his birthright to Jacob for lentil stew.  The birthright identifies the firstborn as head of the family, particularly with respect to sacred duties regarding service to the Lord, so Esau’s lack of value for this is not surprising.

Isaac re-enacts episodes from the life of Abraham.  He passes off his wife as his sister to Abimelech (same name, likely different king) when famine forces them to go to Gerar (not to Egypt, per the Lord’s explicit instructions).  The jig is up when Isaac is caught “playing with” his wife (26:8).  And Isaac too has a run in regarding wells and Philistines; he opens the wells from Abraham’s time that had been stopped up, digs new ones, and, with water enough for all, concludes a pact with Abimelech.

Now back to Jacob and Esau.  Esau marries two Hittite women, upsetting his parents.  Jacob and Rebecca trick Isaac into blessing Jacob while Esau is out getting venison for stew at Isaac’s request, by disguising Jacob as Esau, wearing Esau’s clothes and goatskins for arm hair, and substituting goat stew for venison.   Esau is justifiably angry, the blessing being a much bigger deal than the lost birthright, and promises to kill Jacob after Isaac’s death.  Rebecca persuades Isaac to send Jacob to her family to pick out a wife so he won’t marry a Hittite like Esau’s wives.  Jacob flees, and Esau marries a daughter of Ishmael to mollify his parents.

I find the story of the stolen blessing troubling and ambiguous, not just because it was a mean trick to play on one’s old, blind father.  Look how coldly Jacob responds to Rebecca’s scheme.  Not a single protest, just an analytical identification of an operational flaw in it.  The traditional commentators go to great lengths to excuse the subterfuge, though that diminishes Isaac’s stature as a patriarch.  They also make Esau out to be utterly evil, equating him with Rome, explaining that Isaac loved him because he pretended to be pious as well as being a good cook (at least, of venison), even that Isaac became blind because he looked at wicked  Esau so much (Megillah 28a 51).

What does Isaac see in Esau?  Esau spends time with him, hunts for him, makes him tasty meals from fresh game, and apparently loves him.   We see no interaction between Jacob and Isaac.     In the text, Esau is a simple soul, driven by physical needs and desires, impulsive, and superficial.  What you see is what you get.  And perhaps Isaac clings to Esau because Rebecca has taken Jacob.  Or maybe Jacob reminds Isaac too much of Abraham.  Esau certainly doesn’t.  Clearly, Esau’s physicality is attractive to his father.

The whole blessing incident emphasizes Isaac’s senses rather than his sense:  his lost sight is key, he yearns for the taste of the stew, he hears the voice of Jacob, he feels what he believes are the hands of Esau, and he contentedly inhales the scent of Esau’s garments.  Isaac is sharp enough to recognize “the voice is the voice of Jacob” yet he gives in to his physical senses.  Perhaps Isaac intellectually recognizes this is Jacob, giving him three chances to identify himself (27:18, 21-22, and 24).  Perhaps he realizes that the blessing should go to Jacob but emotionally wants to reward Esau, so he convinces himself this is Esau in front of him.

Next week: Jacob moves in with Uncle Laban, and what goes around, comes around.

Shabbat shalom,


Speaking about trickery…

Dai is at the car boot sale when an American tourist comes by. Pointing to a skull on display in Dai’s car, he says: “Whose skull is that?”

“That,” says Dai profoundly, “is the skull of Owain Glyndwr (Welsh nationalist, c. 1349-1416).  It’s yours for £10.”

“Incredible,” says the American. “I’ll take it.”

Some weeks later, Dai is at the car boot sale when the same American walks past and notices a much smaller skull for sale.

“Whose skull it that?” asks the American.

“That,” says Dai in a practised voice, “is the skull of Owain Glyndwr.”

“Hang on,” says the American. “You sold me the skull of Owain Glyndwr a few weeks ago.”

“Aye,” says Dai. “This is when he was a boy.”


Like father, like son

tph like father like son


Two men were sitting next to each other at a bar. After a while, one guy looks at the other and says, “I can’t help but think, from listening to you, that you’re from Ireland.” The other guy responds proudly, “Yes, that I am!” The first guy says, “So am I! And where about from Ireland might you be?” The other guy answers, “I’m from Dublin, I am.” The first guy responds, “Sure and begora, and so am I! And what street did you live on in Dublin?” The other guy says, “A lovely little area it was, I lived on McCleary Street in the old central part of town.” The first guy says, “Faith & it’s a small world, so did I! And to what school would you have been going?” The first guy gets really excited, and says, “And so did I. Tell me, what year did you graduate?” The other guy answers, “Well, now, I graduated in 1964.” The first guy exclaims, “The Good Lord must be smiling down upon us! I can hardly believe our good luck at winding up in the same bar tonight. Can you believe it, I graduated from St. Mary’s in 1964 my own self.” About this time, another guy walks into the bar, sits down, and orders a beer. The bartender walks over shaking his head & mutters…”It’s going to be a long night tonight, the Murphy twins are drunk again.”


Twins Sayings and Quotes

There are two things in life for which we are never truly prepared: twins.     — Josh Billings

I may be a twin, but I am one of a kind.     — Jerry Smith

I wish I had a twin, so I could know what I’d look like without plastic surgery.     — Joan Rivers

I may be a twin but I’m one of a kind.     — Jerry Smith

A good neighbor will babysit. A great neighbor will babysit twins.     — Anonymous


Jack Yufe dies at 82; he was raised Jewish, his identical twin as a Nazi (abridged) Fascinating story. IGP

Jack Yufe, left, and his identical twin brother, Oskar.   (Robert Lachman/Los Angeles Times)

Elaine WooContact Reporter

It sounded like a tabloid headline: Identical twins separated after birth. One grew up Jewish, the other a Nazi.

But the story of Jack Yufe and his brother was not just about their stark differences.

“They were a great example of how twins, despite different environments, ended up being very much alike,” said Cal State Fullerton psychology professor Nancy Segal, who studied the brothers as part of a well-known Minnesota research project on separated twins.

Yufe, a San Ysidro businessman, died Monday in a San Diego hospital from stomach cancer, his family said. He was 82.

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Jan. 16, 1933, they were 6 months old when their parents split up.  Oskar went to Germany with his Catholic mother, Elizabeth, and grew up as the Nazis rose to power.  He was warned by his grandmother to never let on that his father, Joseph, was Jewish. As an act of survival, Oskar joined the Hitler Youth movement.

Years later, he confessed that he had dreamed that he shot down his twin in an aerial dogfight. Jack had a similar nightmare about killing Oskar with a bayonet.

For Jack, however, the war was a distant threat. His childhood was difficult in other ways. “As a white, red-headed boy in a predominantly black and Indian culture, he stood out a lot and was beat up a lot,” said his son, Kenneth. “He was constantly having to prove himself.”

Jack knew he was Jewish but didn’t feel the weight of that identity until he was 15 and was sent to Venezuela to live with an aunt who had been in Dachau and was the only European relative on his father’s side to survive the Holocaust.

She urged Jack to move to Israel and his father agreed that it would be good for him. Jack reluctantly emigrated at 16 and served a stint in the Israeli navy.

In 1954, before heading to the United States where his father had settled, he decided to stop in Germany to look up his brother. They were 21.  The reunion did not go well because of the language barrier and Oskar’s worry about anti-Semitic family members finding out their Jewish heritage.   But there was something more upsetting than their differences.  When they met at the train station, Jack and Oskar were chagrined to find that not only did they have the same neat mustaches and receding hairlines, they were wearing similar wire-rimmed glasses and matching, light-colored sports jackets.

“We had identical clothes. I got mine in Israel and he got his in Germany. Exactly the same color, with two buttons,” Yufe recalled in a 1999 BBC documentary. “We didn’t like the fact we looked so identical.”

They went 25 years without seeing each other again.

In 1979, the Minnesota researchers jumped at the chance to include Oskar and Jack and invited them to Minnesota for a week. Yufe and Stohr became the seventh set of twins to enter their study.

“Jack and his brother clearly have the greatest differences in background I’ve ever seen among identical twins reared apart,” Thomas J. Bouchard Jr., the University of Minnesota psychologist who headed the study, told The Times in 1979.  They were strikingly similar in temperament, rate of speech and other characteristics.

Although the brothers got to know one another much better through the study and subsequent visits, their relationship never lost its prickly edge. Oskar had the same competitive nature, and the rivalry between them “was just nonstop,” Jack’s son Kenneth Yufe said Tuesday, recalling the time the two men even battled to see who had the best technique for cleaning a dirty car window.

“They had an extraordinary love-hate relationship,” said Segal.  “They were repelled and fascinated by each other. They could not let go of the twinship,” she said.

Stohr, who spent many years working in mines, died from lung cancer in 1997.

Segal once asked Yufe if he loved his brother. He replied: “Love each other? We don’t even know if we liked each other.”


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