Parashat Toldot Torah Reading: Genesis 25:19-28:9
The more I study Torah the more the divine source of the text proclaims itself. There is one moment in this week's Torah reading in which the Torah's insight into the human soul offers us a key to one of life's most difficult challenges . . . moving past the hurt someone has done to us.
Towards the end of the parashah, we witness a key moment towards the end of Isaac's life: the moment when he blesses his progeny and, in a sense, appoints the son who will carry the responsibility for sustaining the covenant with God. Through a ruse (justifiable or not, pre-ordained or not), the younger twin, Jacob, secures the blessing that by birth order should have come to his brother Esau. When Esau comes to his father's bedside to receive his blessing, he learns that his brother Jacob has maneuvered him out of his rightful blessing and Esau begs his father for a blessing for himself.
The words of Isaac's blessing are a bit cryptic. He begins by declaring that Esau will prosper, that he will live by his sword and that he will serve his brother until he . . . and then there's a word that is open to interpretation . . . at which point he will throw off the yoke of his brother.
One interpretation of this word is "restive" . . . when you grow restive you will throw off the yoke of your brother. Someone else interprets it as "humble". Yet another interpretation seems to be "troubled."
What impresses me about Isaac's blessing to Esau is that the yoke of Jacob, the resentment and hurt that will chain Esau to his brother in a relationship of "servitude" will be broken when something in Esau changes. When you hit bottom and are tired of carrying this weight around in your heart, Isaac seems to be saying, you'll finally be free of the yoke of your resentment.
Because our narrative follows Jacob rather than Esau, we do not meet up with Esau again until many years later (in another week's Torah reading!) when Jacob is on his way home and is anxiously protecting his family and possessions in anticipation of a reunion with an angry Esau. But when the brothers do come face to face again, we see that Esau steps forward to embrace his brother Jacob . . . Esau has achieved his father's blessing after all, has moved past the hurt Jacob saddled him with and embraces him free of the yoke of resentment.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.