Parashat Toldot 5779
Rabbi Daniela Szuster
“Esau and Jacob divided by two different visions of the world”
This week’s parashah begins by telling us that Rebecca couldn’t bear a child; Isaac prayed to God and finally Rebecca became pregnant with twins. It is written that during her pregnancy Rebecca felt that the twins were struggling in her womb. She was concerned about this.
What does it mean that “the children struggled in her womb” (Bereshit 25:22)?
According to Rashi, the Rabbis explain that the word ויתרוצצו (struggled) has the meaning of running, moving quickly: whenever she passed by the doors of the Torah (i. e. the Schools of Shem and Eber) Jacob moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth, but whenever she passed by the gate of a pagan temple Esau moved convulsively in his efforts to come to birth (Genesis Rabbah 63:6).
According to this Midrash quoted by Rashi, the infants had different visions of the world since they were in their mother’s womb. Jacob wanted to exit the womb to study Torah when Rebecca passed the school of Shem and Eber and Esau wanted to exit when she passed a pagan place of worship.
Jacob and Esau struggled with one another since they were conceived for their different visions of the world.
And then, as they grew, the Torah tells us of further differences: “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebekah favored Jacob” (Bereshit 25: 27-28)
When Jacob and Esau grew up, they chose different styles of life according to theirs beliefs and each one of the parents favored one of them: Rebecca favored Jacob and Isaac favored Esau. The parents recognized, encouraged, and exacerbated the boys’ differences.
After this, the Torah tells us the famous story about the sale of the birthright:
“Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the open, famished. And Esau said to Jacob, ‘Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished’—which is why he was named Edom. Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ And Esau said, ‘I am at the point of death, so of what use is my birthright to me?’ But Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.” (Bereshit 25: 29-33)
In this episode we can see the different visions of the world that Esau and Jacob hold.
Esau could think only about his momentary needs and desires, and not about the future. He thought only about the present. By contrast, Jacob was cunning and calculating. He thought about the future and the long-term legacy of his family and its relationship to God and its destiny.
They had different visions of the world and their parents, instead of respecting their different choices, each favored one of them against the other, creating an environment of hatred and rivalry to the point that at the end of the story, Esau wants to kill Jacob.
Nowadays, we are living in a divided society where it is difficult to have a sincere and adult conversation about the different visions we have. It is good to have different visions; the challenge is to find ways to respect each other, to look for ways of conciliation and the capacity to live in harmony and peace despite our differences.
Jacob and Esau struggled almost all their lives because of their different views of what mattered in the world and they lived separated from each other. However, as we will read in two weeks, eventually they met and cried together:
“Esau ran to greet him [Isaac]. He embraced him and, falling on his neck, he kissed him; and they wept.” (Bereshit 33: 4)
At the end of their lives, they matured, they learned a lesson and they could meet each other without hate; they were able to respect each other and to find peace despite their different visions of the world.
May God give us the wisdom to be able to respect, to find points in common, and to be able to have an adult conversation with people who think in a different way, trying to move toward a more united society.