On the surface,this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, illustrates the flawed relationship between two brothers, whose difficulties are intensified through sibling rivalry and parental favoritism. Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebecca, were condemned to grow up with an imbalanced relationship before they were even born. When Rebecca was pregnant, God informed Isaac and Rebecca that the older would serve the younger. The prophecy would continue as the parents respectively chose their favorite son, when Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup, and the story comes to a fateful climax when Jacob arguably stole his father’s blessing from his brother Esau by disguising himself as his older brother.
It is far too easy to read this parashah and loose ourselves in the shortcomings of our ancestors. In fact, there is so much for us to learn from the negative examples of our Biblical forebears, that is, what NOT to do. In the case of Jacob and Esau, some equal love and attention from both parents would have gone a long way to soothe the relationship between brothers. You would think that Isaac could have drawn upon his own sibling experience with his half-brother, Ishmael, and do a better job of providing both sons with similar levels of affection. Rebecca, whose kindness won over Eliezer at the well when he was tasked by Abraham to find a compassionate wife for Isaac, fails to show the same level of empathy and care for each of her children.
Then there was the blessings given out by their father before Jacob is forced to flee from his family home to save himself from his brother’s wrath. Why couldn’t Isaac find a way to bless both of his sons in a similar fashion? Why did the bequeathing of one benediction preclude the dispensing of a second that was just as special? In fact, both blessings reiterate the disparity in the siblings’ relationship. Was this really necessary? Isaac’s words to his sons could have gone a long way to soothe the strained relationship between his sons, while providing words of praise and prosperity to each one. Jacob and Esau would only see each other once more in their lifetime, decades later, sacrificing a lifetime of shared experiences with a fellow womb-mate.
It is certainly no secret that words, and even gestures, contain immense power. Just as Isaac had the ability to influence the lives of his sons, so too do each of us have the capacity to effect those with whom our lives intersect. Be it parent to child or child to parent, teacher to student, supervisor to employee, peer to peer, friend to friend, rabbi to congregant, lay leader to congregant, politician to voter, and any other form of relationship – the list is unending – our words and actions have the power to build or destroy, generate peace or war, make friends or enemies, generate trust or suspicion, cause feelings of joy or despair…
In a world filled with so much rhetoric (which inspire actual acts) of hate, violence and terror, where world, national, and local leaders stir up skepticism and xenophobia, where many of us often find ourselves believing and/or repeating things we have heard from others before checking their validity, it is all the more important that we each draw upon the coach (strength) to use our the chochmah (wisdom) and love ahavah (love) to guide the words that we speak so that we can truly do our share in making OUR world a better and safer place for everyone. Only then can we truly share in the words from Psalm 19:14: May the words of [our] mouths, and the meditation of [our] hearts be acceptable to You, Adonai, my Rock and my Redeemer.
B’virkat Shalom – With Blessings of Peace,
Rabbi Michael S. Churgel, RJE