Toldot (Genesis 25:19 – 28:9)

Isaac, Rebecca, Esau, and Jacob: the prototypical dysfunctional family.  Sibling rivalry, blatant parental favoritism, a breakdown of communication between husband and wife, taking advantage of the infirmity of an old man.  And lots of scheming.

This portion should be Isaac’s, with stories of his own life and development.  But a lot of it seems to be a re-working of his father Abraham’s adventures: In this portion, Isaac seems to be re-living his father  life, including having a long-barren wife; passing his wife off as his sister to protect himself; settling a dispute over wells with Abimelech (probably a different person though, “Abimelech” being a title like “Pharaoh”); and eventually having two sons, the elder an outdoorsy hunter and the younger a quiet homebody whose mother recognizes him as the more deserving heir. 

Rebecca has no children for 20 years, followed by her sole, very difficult pregnancy with twins.  She receives a divine message: they are two nations, and the elder will serve the younger.  Isaac is apparently not told this by either God or Rebecca; or maybe he just doesn’t accept it.  In fact, in the text, Rebecca only speaks directly to Isaac to tell him she’s sending Jacob to Haran to find a nice monotheistic girl to marry (leaving out the minor detail that Esau has threatened to kill him). 

Even though Rebecca was God’s choice for Isaac’s wife, they are, or have become, a mismatch.  Isaac seems generally passive and meditative.  Rebecca is much younger, more adventurous, and ready to do whatever is needed to ensure the “right” son inherits.  And they never seem able to communicate effectively with each other.

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin explains that the rift began when Rebecca first saw Isaac: “So awesome was the sight of Isaac transformed by prayer that she was literally knocked off her feet. Compared to the lying and cheating world of her father, Betuel, and her brother, Laban, Isaac projected a purity with which Rebecca had no previous experience.

“When Eliezer revealed the man’s identity, she took the veil and covered herself, not only as a sign of modesty, but as an expression of her unworthiness. From that moment on, the veil between them was never removed. She felt she could never speak to her husband as an equal. She never felt that she had the right to offer a dissenting opinion. But why was Isaac unable to bridge the gap?

“The harrowing experience of the Akedah left Isaac in a permanent state of shock. … After the Akedah the traumatized Isaac became silent, non-communicative, leading Elie Wiesel to call Isaac the first survivor.”

I wonder what would have ensued had Rebecca not been told “the elder will serve the younger”?  Would she still have favored Jacob as much?  Would she have tried to civilize Esau, to groom him to be the future head of the family?  Would there have been a little more respect among family members for each other?  We see clearly that Jacob doesn’t respect Esau, e.g., when he offers to give a famished Esau some lentil soup in exchange for his birthright (this isn’t the blessing but a formal designation as future head of the family, which came with priestly duties) and certainly when he pretends to be Esau to steal the blessing.  Esau doesn’t respect his birthright or Jacob.  Rebecca and Jacob, scheming to get Jacob Isaac’s blessing, respect neither Isaac nor norms of behavior to respect the aged and not take advantage of the (physically or figuratively) blind. 

Why does Isaac favor Esau?  Esau pays attention to him, even makes him venison stew. Perhaps Esau reminds him of Ishmael, in a good way.  Perhaps he sees in Esau traits that he admires but lacks, such as Esau’s outward focus, fearlessness and ability to take care of himself.  Perhaps he favors Esau because Esau needs his attention more than Jacob does.  In the end, as Nehama Leibowitz pointed out, the blessing intended for Esau (27:28-29) is concerned only with material wealth and power, while the blessing Jacob is finally given before he leaves home concerns the legacy of Abraham and the covenant with the Lord.  Perhaps Isaac understood more of what was going on than his family realized.

What about Rebecca?  Her behavior is consistent with her upbringing, as we’ll see in next week’s reading.  Her determination to see that Jacob unseats Esau is praised by many commentators as carrying out God’s plan.  Further, as Alan Dershowitz wrote in The Genesis of Justice, there was no settled legal system to call upon.  Life was dealt with by physical force or guile.  Esau used force.  Jacob and Rebecca used guile, guile being “the great leveler between the physically unequal.”  But justice is symmetrical. Rebecca is punished for tricking her blind husband and Esau in that she never sees Jacob again. 

Shabbat shalom,










The Twin Sisters (lightly edited for length)

A fellow and his wife were blessed with the birth of twins, two identical girls. These twins were born on the 4th of July, and the father, being patriotic, said to his wife, “We will name them Liberty and Justice, after the pledge of allegiance”.

His wife said, “Are you nuts? We are going to name them regular girl’s names like Mary or Jane.”

Well, compromise was reached. They would each name one of the girls. The man chose Liberty and the wife picked Elizabeth.

As the girls grew, they were so identical, they kept pulling tricks on people who couldn’t tell them apart.

Finally, when they were about 18, a young man took interest in them. He would take one out on a date, but he was never sure which one he was with. He decided he would marry one of them, but he wasn’t sure which.

He went to the girls’ father and explained his quandary. “I love your daughters and want to marry one of them, but I can’t tell them apart, so I will leave it up to you…

Give me Liberty or give me Beth.”

(Hey, I could have given you the one with the punchline, “when you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”)











(7 of) 17 Funny Quotes About Dysfunctional Families (That are So True)

August 16, 2014 by Krissy Brady

If your family’s been driving you… well, nuts, here are funny quotes about dysfunctional families to make you feel better. (Don’t mention it.)

Families are like fudge – mostly sweet with a few nuts. -Unknown

Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city. -George Burns

I think a dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it. -Mary Karr

When I was ten, my family moved to Downer’s Grove, Illinois. When I was twelve, I found them. -Emo Phillips

Apparently, one in five people in the world are Chinese. And there are five people in my family, so it must be one of them. It’s either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother, Colin. Or my younger brother, Ho-Chan-Chu. But I think it’s Colin. -Tim Vine

To encourage my little kid to eat something, I’d sometimes say: “Just pretend it’s sand.” -Anonymous

Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern… like bad wallpaper. -Friedrich Nietzsche


Ridiculously Smart Simpsons Jokes You Haven’t Been Getting for the Last 20 Years

3. Paul McCartney’s Hidden Lentil Soup Recipe

Paul and Linda McCartney guest starred in the episode “Lisa the Vegetarian” in 1995. While visiting with Lisa, Paul mentions that if you play the song “Maybe I’m Amazed” backwards, you’ll hear a recipe for a delicious lentil soup. The song plays over the episode’s ending credits and true to their word, if you play it backwards, you will actually hear Paul read a recipe for lentil soup.

This version of the song was created specially for the show. For those interested:

·         One medium onion, chopped

·         Two tablespoons of vegetable oil

·         One clove of garlic, crushed

·         One cup of carrots, chopped

·         Two sticks of celery, chopped

·         Half a cup of lentils

·         One bay leaf


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