Last week in Parasha Chayei Sarah, Abraham sent his senior servant to find an appropriate bride for his 40-year-old son Yitzchak (Isaac).
Abraham was acting in faith on God’s promise to give the land to his offspring (Genesis 24:6–7); finding a wife from among Abraham’s relatives to raise up offspring, rather than from among the Canaanites, became a priority as Abraham’s life drew to a close.
Abraham’s faith was not passive. He actively cooperated with God’s purposes.
This week’s Parasha is called Toldot, which means descendants or generations. The word toldot is derived from the Hebrew verb yalad, which means to bring forth or beget, as in producing offspring.
In this portion, Isaac’s wife, Rebecca, becomes pregnant after being childless for 20 years. When the babies in her womb jostle one another, she seeks the Lord for answers.
The Lord provides her with prophetic insight, telling her that two nations are within her womb and that the older will serve the younger. (Genesis 25:23)
She gives birth to twins, Jacob and Esau, and a sibling rivalry begins that still continues between the descendants of Jacob (the Jewish People) and the descendants of Esau (generally, Arab Muslims).
Esau’s name is derived from the Semitic root word seir, meaning thick-haired, since he was born hairy.
Jacob’s name means heel, since he came out of the womb holding onto his twin brother’s heel. This symbolized his tenacity and persistence in struggling for the blessing of the birthright that belonged to Esau, the firstborn.
The name Jacob can also be seen to mean crooked or deceitful. Esau makes reference to this meaning when he says, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” (Genesis 27:36)
The twins could not be more different: Esau is a hunter and Jacob is a homebody.
And Esau, it seems, also had a rebellious, foolish side.
One day, when he came home famished from a hunting expedition, he exchanged his birthright as firstborn for a bowl of Jacob’s red stew (probably lentil). Because of this, he was called Edom, a name which shares the same Hebrew root for red (adom) (Genesis 25:30).
Blessings Even During Famine
“Isaac planted crops in that land and the same year reaped a hundredfold, because the Lord blessed him.” (Genesis 26:12)
In this Parasha, a famine in the land, similar to the one that inspired Abraham to sojourn in Egypt, causes Isaac to go to Abimelek of the Philistines in Gerar, a town in southern Canaan.
There in Gerar, God confirms the Abrahamic Covenant with Isaac, promising:
“Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 26:2–5)
Isaac grows exceedingly wealthy in Gerar, so much so that the Philistines become envious and fill up the wells that Abraham had dug.
Such an action was devastating in this dry, desert land where water is precious and vital to life.
Isaac also becomes so powerful in Gerar that King Abimelek tells him to move away.
After he eventually makes his way to Beersheva, God once again reaffirms the Abrahamic Covenant:
“I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bless you and will increase the number of your descendants for the sake of My servant Abraham.” (Genesis 26:24)
In keeping with this word of comfort and encouragement, Abimelek comes to Abraham while he is in Beersheva, despite his hatred of Abraham (Genesis 26:27), and makes a covenant (brit) of peace with him.
“When the LORD takes pleasure in anyone’s way, He causes their enemies to make peace with them.” (Proverbs 16:7)
Securing the Blessing
As Isaac nears the end of his life, he seeks to entrust Esau with the job of carrying on Abraham’s tradition and to secure the succession for Esau.
He tells Esau that when he comes in with a special meal of wild game, he will pronounce over him the blessing of the firstborn.
Rebecca, who has known from the time of her pregnancy that Esau would serve Jacob, and understands the true nature of her sons, overhears her husband’s plan.
In the same way, perhaps, that Abraham took active measures to secure the promises of God, she resolves to send in Jacob disguised as Esau to receive the blessing instead.
Although Jacob is reluctant to deceive his father, he also does not want to refuse his mother.
When she takes responsibility for the act, he disguises himself as Esau and brings to Isaac the meal his mother has prepared to taste like wild game.
Though Isaac, who has difficulty seeing, is not entirely certain which of the twins is before him, the ploy works and he blesses Jacob.
Esau nurses a grudge against Jacob, and when Rebecca overhears Esau threaten to kill Jacob after his father’s death, she and Isaac send Jacob to Rebecca’s brother Laban to find a wife.