“And these are the generations [toldot] of Yitzchak [Isaac], Avraham’s [Abraham] son: Avraham begat Yitzchak.” (Genesis 25:19)
In our last Parasha (Torah portion), the son of Sarah and Abraham, Yitzchak (Isaac), carried on the legacy of his parents’ faith and obedience to Adonai. After his mother died, Abraham sent his servant to bring home a wife for Yitzchak from among Abraham’s kinsmen.
At the well where the women of the town would soon appear, the servant prayed for God’s help in locating the perfect wife for Yitzchak. Just then, Rivkah (Rebecca) arrived at the well to provide water for him and his camels. Yitzchak was 40 when he married her.
Prayers Bring Blessings
“Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was childless. The LORD answered his prayer [atar], and his wife Rebekah became pregnant.” (Genesis 25:21)
In this week’s Parasha, we discover that Rivkah is barren; in fact, according to Jewish tradition, she was born without a womb. She is one of seven women in the Torah who have difficulty conceiving but finally come to bear children by the grace of God, in this case, in answer to her husband’s prayer.
It is traditionally believed that he prayed for 19 years. Moreover, it is also believed that he prayed in unity with Rivkah.
Just because we pray once and do not receive an answer does not mean we should not continue praying! God wants us to bring our requests to Him in the unity of faith.
The Hebrew expression used in Genesis 25:21 for prayer (atar עָתַר), which can also mean to dig, is related to the Hebrew word for pitchfork (eter). The Talmud (Jewish Oral Law) explains the connection: “As a pitchfork turns the sheaves of grain from one position to another, so does the prayer of the righteous turn the dispensations of the Holy One, blessed be He, from the attribute of anger to the attribute of mercy.”
Yitzchak’s prayer penetrated the foundation of heaven, and just as grain is turned over with a pitchfork, so too was God’s judgment of barrenness upon Rivkah “turned over” and reversed by God’s mercy because of prayer.
Of course, the Bible makes it clear that we are to be fruitful and multiply; however, though seed is sown, it is God who opens the womb.
“Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; they shall not be ashamed, but shall speak with their enemies in the gate.” (Psalm 127:3–5)
Sarah, Abraham’s wife, came up with her own solution for her barrenness—she suggested a surrogate mother—Hagar. In her own efforts, she received Ishmael. Hannah, another barren woman, went to the Temple and cried out to the Lord for a child and she received the prophet Samuel.
Rikvah did neither. Instead, she turned to her husband who was her spiritual covering to entreat the Lord on her behalf, and God answered Isaac’s prayers for the miraculous gift of new life. Rivkah found herself pregnant with not just one child—but twins—a double portion!
Birthrights Bring Blessings
“And the boys grew; and Esau was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.” (Genesis 25:27)
The twin boys grew up with distinctive character traits, which are reflected in their names. Yaacov (Jacob’s Hebrew name) is related to the word eikev means the heel of the foot. He was so named because he grabbed his brother’s heel at birth. This shows Jacob’s tenacity to win the birthright and carry forward the spiritual blessings that God promised to his father Abraham.
Esau, however, was named Esav, from the Semitic root, seir, meaning thick-haired. He was also nicknamed Adom, the Hebrew word for red, since he was born “red and hairy.” Adom is also related to dam (blood) which conveys Esau’s love of hunting and thirst for blood.
While Jacob had a quiet, seemingly spiritual-minded nature, Esau’s had a carnal one, as shown in the way he so easily trades something of eternal spiritual value (his birthright) for something that satisfies his physical hunger (a bowl of lentils). To him, they were equal.
“’Look, I am about to die [of hunger],’ Esau said. ‘What good is the birthright to me?’” (Genesis 27:32)
Birthrights come with responsibilities as well as blessings, and Jacob receives great blessings bestowed upon him by his father Isaac, coupled with leadership of the nations.
“May God give you heaven’s dew and earth’s richness—an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you.” (Genesis 27:28–29)
Esau, however, receives curses:
“Your dwelling will be away from the earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother.” (Genesis 27:39–40)
Through all the drama and even trickery, it is Jacob who received his father’s firstborn blessing; for it was pre-ordained according to God’s will who said, “Jacob have I loved; but Esau I hated.” (Romans 9:13)
The Descendants of Curses Bring More of the Same
Just as Cain’s jealousy turned into a murderous plot to kill his brother, Abel, Esau plotted to kill Jacob, but without success.
This struggle between the brothers did not suddenly appear. Even in Rivkah’s womb, the boys jostled with each other. Rivkah sought wisdom from the Lord, who revealed to her a truth that continues to this day:
“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
Rabbis over the centuries have compared the jealous, hate-filled character of Esau to the perpetual struggle between the descendants of both brothers.
Jacob’s descendants were birthed out of obedience to his father Isaac who told him not to marry a Canaanite woman, and he did not.
Esau, on the other hand, married two Canaanite women. One of Esau’s Canaanite offspring was Amalek who became an archenemy of pre-state Israel by attacking Moses and the Israelites while in the wilderness (Exodus 17). They also invaded Israel during the time of the Judges:
“Whenever the Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country.” (Judges 6:3)
Many try to link the genealogy of Esau and the Amalekites to the modern enemies of Israel. While this might be accurate to some degree, the truth is that the spirit of Esau and the Amalekites to destroy the heirs of blessing has remained alive among many nations.
We saw this hatred in modern pre-state Israel in the expulsion of Jews from England, the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition, and the genocide of six million Jews in the Holocaust.