A Tale of Bitter Rivalry (Toldot)

A Tale of Bitter Rivalry (Toldot)

Enemies’ promises were made to be broken. -Aesop

Isaac and Rebecca have twin sons: Esau and Jacob. They’re very different physically and in temperament. Esau is a hairy hunter. Jacob is a smooth-skinned dweller of tents. Isaac loves Esau. Rebecca loves Jacob. The Bechor Shor in the Torah portion of Toldot gives a somewhat different reading of events than what many might be familiar with, from the more popular commentaries.

According to the Bechor Shor, Esau, the eldest, shows up at Jacob’s tent after an unsuccessful hunt, literally starving to death. He is so weak he can’t even feed himself. Jacob sees his brother, his bitter rival, and says to himself: if I do nothing, he dies of his own fault, my rival will be gone by his own doing and I will inherit everything. Esau understands well his predicament. Jacob offers Esau a deal: I’ll feed you and save you in exchange for the eldest’s part of our inheritance. Esau accepts, but in the back of his mind, counting on being his father’s favorite, he expects Isaac to gift him his portion before he dies. Once Isaac would die, a legal inheritance would then be in force and Esau would need to abide by his agreement with Jacob, and let Jacob get the major portion of their father’s wealth (a wealth that we are told previously is vast).

True to Esau’s instinct, Isaac, as he approaches old age, informs Esau that he wants to bless him, which the Bechor Shor understands to mean, to bestow the majority of his wealth as well as leadership of the family upon Esau BEFORE his death. Isaac is willing to do this despite the fact that it will contravene the agreement Esau hade made with Jacob.

Isaac informs Esau of his decision and sends him to hunt for some food and prepare a celebratory meal to seal the deal. Rebecca, wanting to sabotage Isaac’s and Esau’s workaround of the firstborn sale, suggests Jacob present himself to blind Isaac in Esau’s place. Isaac is fooled and bequeaths his possessions as well as the family leadership upon Jacob (the ultimate rightful recipient, based on his agreement with Esau) in an irrevocable form.

Esau, understandably furious that his treachery was neutralized, plans to kill Jacob at his earliest opportunity, BEFORE his father dies, thereby getting that entire inheritance. Jacob, under the legitimate pretense of going to find a bride from Rebecca’s family in Haran, escapes, taking nothing with him, to travel quickly and lightly, and so Esau won’t suspect his prey is planning an escape.

More than two decades later, the brothers meet briefly, each prepared for war. Battle is averted. The brothers are affectionate and civil to each other and then part ways never to meet again, with Esau renouncing his claim to the inheritance of Isaac and leaving the land of Canaan permanently. However, the descendants of these two brothers, who would go on to form two different nations, would rarely know peace between them.

Some rivalries are not so easy to overcome.

Shabbat Shalom,



On the engagement of our niece, Leora Spitz, to Sammy Landesman. Mazal Tov!

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