Sedra of the week: Toldot

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Sedra of the week: Toldot

Director of operations at Tribe, Tamara Jacobson, looks ahead to this week's portion of the Torah

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

In this week’s sedra we learn how Jacob, with his mother Rebecca’s help and encouragement, disguises himself as his elder brother, the hunter Esau, before successfully gaining the firstborn’s blessings from their poor-sighted father, Isaac. As a result, the furious Esau vows to kill his brother and so Jacob’s parents instruct him to flee to his uncle Laban, in faraway Padan Aram, where he remains for 20 years.

At first glance, this seems to make sense. Jacob steals the blessing, angers his brother so much that his life is in danger and then runs away. However, the Torah also tells us: “And Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob and sent him to Padan Aram.” If Esau knew where Jacob was hiding, why did he not pursue his brother and enact his revenge?

Our Sedra teaches that Esau had married two Canaanite women, much to his parents’ displeasure. We also know that earlier, he had sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup. But what happens next perhaps shows a side to Esau many of us have not considered and it begins to answer our question. Esau hears Isaac send Jacob to Padam Aram to find a wife.

Suddenly, Esau begins to understand the pain he may have caused his parents and the damage it has caused. With this new awareness, he does not seek revenge but goes to his uncle Ishmael and marries his daughter, a grandchild of Abraham, rather than another Canaanite woman. Like Jacob, Esau finds a wife from within his family.

We picture Esau as a fierce, angry hunter, but in the aftermath of the
deception, we begin to see him as a remorseful son who shows respect for his father, whom he loves.

Nobody is either wholly good or wholly bad. We all have the ability to learn from past errors, which Esau does and shows true kibbud av v’em – honouring our parents.

  • Tamara Jacobson is the director of operations at Tribe, the United Synagogue’s young people’s department

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