Parasha Toldot (Generations): Does God Choose Favorites?

Toldot (Generations)    תּוֹלְדֹת

Genesis 25:19–28:9; 1 Samuel 20:18–20:42; Malachi 1:1–2:7; Romans 9:1–13;

Parashah Name  – 06 Toldot, תּוֹלְדֹת

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.

Before Isaac sends Jacob on his journey, he passes the torch by pronouncing the blessings of the Abrahamic Covenant over him:

“May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.  May He give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now reside as a foreigner, the land God gave to Abraham.”  (Genesis 28:3–4)

Jacob Reaps What He Sows

The fact that Jacob took advantage of the vulnerability of his blind, elderly father to receive his blessing is an act that the Torah neither condemns nor justifies; however, it seems that Jacob did not entirely escape the consequences of this deceit.

In subsequent chapters of Genesis, Jacob tastes the bitterness of deceit when Laban tricks him into marrying Leah, rather than Rachel whom he loves, proving the principle that we will sow what we reap.

Jacob also suffers for 20 long years under the exploitation of his father-in-law, who tries to cheat him out of his wages several times.

Despite all this hardship, Jacob presses in for the blessing and eventually has great success.

He fathers the 12 sons who would become the foundation of the 12 tribes of Israel!

Preferring One Another

“Be devoted to one another in love.  Honor one another above yourselves.”  (Romans 12:10)

Contenders for a throne, leadership position or job don’t need to be embroiled in hostile rivalry as Jacob and Esau were.

In the Haftarah (prophetic portion) for Shabbat Machor Chodesh, King Saul’s son Jonathan would have been in line for the throne.

David, however, is obviously favored by God and extremely popular with the people.  It seems to be clear to both Saul and Jonathan that David will be king.

Saul, therefore, seeks to kill David.  And while Jonathan remains true to his father, he also remains true to David and protects him by sending him away as a friend and a brother.

Instead of succumbing to envy and jealousy, as Esau did, he does not covet the throne and chooses to maintain his friendship with David instead:

“Jonathan said to David, ‘Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’”  (1 Samuel 20:42)

God’s Love for the Children of Jacob

“Yet I loved Jacob, but Esau I hated [soneh].”  (Malachi 1:2–3)

In the regular Haftarah of Toldot (Malachi 1:1–2:7), God affirms His love for the children of Jacob and confirms the reckoning that the children of Esau, who have mistreated their cousins, will face.

He declares through the prophet Malachi: “I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”  (Malachi 1:2–3)

The Hebrew word that is translated hated here is soneh, which is often used in the comparative sense.

Though it does mean hate, that English word does not carry the full meaning; soneh has more of a sense of to love less or to reject.

It is similar to the preference that Jacob had for his wife Rachel over his wife Leah.

Also, this Hebrew word soneh is likely behind Yeshua’s statement recorded in Luke:

“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be My disciple.”  (Luke 14:26)

The idea here is that we must love our family members less than the Lord.

This does not diminish the love that we must show them; it elevates and prioritizes the love that we must have for God.

Perhaps this also explains Jonathan’s behavior: he remained loyal to his father, but did not cooperate with his murderous plans against David.

Of course, we can offer no such explanation for why God chose David over Jonathan, who would have been the expected heir to the throne after Saul’s death.  Although God gives no explanation of His preference for Jacob, we might assume it is because Esau grew to be carnal—a man given to hunting and killing; whereas Jacob embraced spirituality as his highest purpose in life.

Although we might take offense toward God over His choosing one person over another, asking, “Why should he prefer Jacob over Esau?  Doesn’t God love all His children equally?” we need to understand that God in His mercy is carrying out a plan for our welfare.

He has, indeed, ordained some people, even from before birth or before the womb, for special purposes and destinies.

The prophet Jeremiah was one of these.  The Lord said to him, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.  Before you were born I set you apart.  I ordained you as a prophet to the nations.”  (Jeremiah 1:5)

The Brit Chadashah (New Testament) portion also addresses this issue, making it plain that the children of promise are Abraham’s children!

Who can fathom the ways of God?  He has called out from among both Jew and Gentile those prepared beforehand for glory to be vessels of mercy.

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