It’s great to be a twin – take it from me – as long as you get along, that is!
I am a twin – an identical twin. Yes, there is another just like me, directly across the river. And, since you are wondering – he’s five minutes older than me. And, yes, since I am the second twin, my Hebrew name is, indeed, “Yaakov.” Funny how that turns out. It is great to be a twin – as long as you get along.
But the first Yaakov – Jacob – did not have it so great. We read in this week’s Torah portion (Parashat Toldot, Genesis 25:19-28:9) that the twins struggled with one another not only from birth, when Esau emerged first, yet with Jacob grabbing onto Esau’s heel, but even from the womb. We read of Rebekah’s pregnancy, “The children struggled against each other inside her,” and that the two would always contend, “One people shall prevail over the other, and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Gen. 25:22-23)
The two were destined to not get along. Not only were they awful brothers, competing for their places in the family and for their father’s affection, but insofar as they were forebears of two peoples – the Hebrew and the Edomite – their contention also would initiate an ongoing near-eternal stress between two contending, neighboring peoples.
It is tragic when two people – or two peoples – who live so entwined or adjacent to one another, cannot get along. Such is the case for the descendants of Jacob and Esau who live, respectively, in Israel and in Jordan or other areas of the Arab near east. Yet, no less is it often true of individuals in a neighborly community, or even a family.
The Torah, therefore, portrays for us a vital lesson in relationships and in relational awareness. Getting along is an important value. Sometimes it is dependent on birth order or other circumstances, but most often, it is dependent on our own will and awareness.
The world is simply a better place when we get along. Period. Go ask any twin!
Rabbi Douglas Kohn