Parashat Toldot (offspring) Genesis 25:19-28:9
Erev Rosh Chodesh Kislev
Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18-42
This week a friend sent me a link to a message by a pastor of a large church in Atlanta, Georgia. The pastor’s name is Andy Stanley. During his sermon he spoke about this week’s Torah portion, Toldot. The main issue in this parashah is the conflict between Esau and Jacob. It is quite common for Christian Pastors to teach that it was Jacob who was the “bad guy” in this story and Esau was, as Mr. Stanley stated, just an adolescent victim of the greed of Jacob. The issue comes down to a very important part of a Jewish family, the birthright. The first part of the passage reveals that it was G-d’s sovereign choice to have Jacob become the leader of the family. He revealed this only to Rebecca and not to Isaac.
Mr. Stanley understood the birthright as relating to two aspects, leadership and finances. Although these are indeed related to the birthright, they are not what motivated Jacob. The birthright was uniquely related to the plan and the purposes of G-d. In other words, Jacob wanted to be used by G-d to carry on the covenant that HaShem had made with his father and grandfather, Isaac and Abraham. We are told that Esau on the other hand, did not understand the importance of this birthright and despised it. Esau said, “And why is this birthright to me?” (See Genesis 25:32) and the passage concludes with the words “And Esau despised the birthright.” (Genesis 25:34)
Mr. Stanley portrayed Jacob has a young man who exploited Esau just to see what he could get from his older brother, for when Jacob saw hungry Esau, who had returned from hunting empty handed, he jumped into action, refusing to give to Esau something to eat unless Esau first sold to him the birthright. One must remember, as Stanley pointed out, that this was a wealthy family and it is reasonable to conclude that there was other food available to be eaten. Stanley stated that Jacob started out the negotiations at a high price, but it was not a matter of negotiations at all. Jacob wanted the birthright because he wanted to serve G-d and bless others (the purpose of the Abrahamic Covenant) and he knew that Esau saw no significance in the birthright, which was confirmed when he sold it for a bowl of stew. Proper Biblical interpretation does not reveal a deceptive Jacob, but a spiritually deficient Esau who did not place a proper significance of the purposes of G-d.
Another mistake that Mr. Stanley made was failing to understand that the one who possesses the birthright receives the primary blessing from the Father. The blessing was not about, as Stanley states, “who would lord over the family” in some domineering manner, but rather the blessing was a transfer of power which would be best understood as an anointing which would equip Jacob with the spiritual ability to faithfully carry out the responsibility of the Abrahamic Covenant, i.e., to bless all the families of the earth.
When the time had come for Isaac to bless the firstborn and Esau learned of this, an honest man would have confessed to his father that he had sold his birthright and therefore should not be the one to receive that blessing. Obviously Esau did not want to reveal to his father that he had exchanged this highly spiritual and important calling for a bowl of stew. Therefore, it was Esau who deceptively prepared a meal so that after Isaac ate, he could bless Esau.
Mr. Stanley, however, presents Jacob as the “deceiver” who snuck in before his father and lied when he said that he was Esau and who had even covered his body with goat skins to carry out the deception. The truth is that Jacob did not want to expose Esau’s sin to his father. Because Jacob had indeed purchased the birthright, he was now the firstborn. There is something much more significant being revealed here. This account from Genesis is studied during Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. This is when the leader of Israel, the High Priest, went before G-d in order to secure a blessing for the people. What does the High Priest use in order to go before G-d the Father, in order to be blessed and not cursed? The answer is an atonement, i.e. a covering (It is important for one to understand that the word atonement is derived from a Hebrew word which means to cover). What was the atonement / covering that the High Priest would use? The answer is two goats; the same thing that Jacob used when he prepared the meal for his father.
This passage demonstrates Jacob, going before his father in a manner that would lead to blessing rather than a curse. I do not know why so many Christian leaders present Esau as a victim and the righteous one, when both in the Old and New Covenants, HaShem states that He loves Jacob and hates Esau (see Malachi 1:2-3 and Romans 9:13).
Mr. Stanley concluded this account with praising Esau for “forgiving” that “conniving” Jacob and asserting that it was this example of spiritual behavior by Esau which impacted Joseph years later to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery. First, Esau was not sinned against by Jacob; rather, it was Esau who repented of his plot to kill Jacob. It is inferred in the Scriptures that this change in Esau was brought about by Jacob praying all night prior to their meeting. Secondly, although Esau was reunited with Jacob, which was the right action, the descendants of Esau, the Edomites, will continue to try to kill the descendants of Jacob, Jewish individuals; and in fact, the final war prior to the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom will be between Esau (Edomites) and Jacob (Jewish individuals). Sadly, all the nations will join with Esau, rather than embracing G-d’s plan and standing with Israel.
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