Questions and Concepts for Parsha Toldot
(Genesis 25:19-28:9)

1. Rebecca is given great credit for not only being a righteous person, but being such even though she was from a wicked people, raised by a wicked father and living with a wicked brother. Note in verses 27:13 and 27:42-45 that Rebecca followed in the "prophetic footsteps" of Sarah.

2. Rebecca's pregnancy is "granted to her" due to her righteousness and prayer as well as that of her husband Isaac. Yet, she endures great agony during this time, and according to the Midrash, she expressed the thought that if she had known it would be so painful she would not have wished to become pregnant. It is also taught that when she would walk near a house of Torah study, Jacob would become very active in her womb, struggling to get out. However, when she walked near a house of idol worship, Esau would to the same.

3. The animosity between Jacob and Esau began before they were born. This indicates that their struggle is beyond the physical realm - it is one fought in the spiritual realm as well. The nature of Jacob and that of Esau are incompatible. Thus, when one is "up" the other will be "down." It is not possible for them both to "succeed."

4. Jacob's holding onto Esau's heel as they were born may represent several things. One of these is that Jacob's kingdom (that of Messiah) will come on the heels of Esau's (Rome/Babylon).

5. Jacob and Esau did not display significant character differences until the age of 13. After that Jacob concerned himself with Torah, where Esau went the way of wickedness. What does this teach us about "wolves in sheep's clothing" and exercising proper judgment?

6. Esau was not the only child in Scripture born with a red/ruddy appearance. Another was David who became king of Israel. This teaches us that both men were born with a strong yetzer hara (evil inclination). Whereas David learned to channel this energy into Godly use, Esau allowed his yetzer hara to rule over him.

7. Isaac was instructed by God not to leave the land of Israel. This has significance regarding his role as an "offering" to God. Just as the olah sacrifice (burnt offering) becomes invalid if it leaves the Temple courtyard, so too would Isaac lose his status if he left the Land of Israel. This again shows that Isaac was from the "side of strictness/judgment" whereas Abraham was from the side of mercy. Jacob would come and

8. The Philistines were able to stop up the wells that the servants of Abraham had dug upon the death of Abraham. Later in history, upon the death of Miriam (Moses' sister) the rock/well that followed the people also stopped appearing. As water often represents Torah and/or God's "blessings," what might these incidents be telling us about the death of the righteous?

9. Isaac was "blind" to the wickedness of Esau. Later in life, Isaac became physically blind. Is this an example of God's "measure for measure" (midah knegged midah) judgment?

10. The last verse of our parsha shows the union of Esau and Ishmael through the marriage of the former to a daughter of the latter. As we will see, Esau and Ishmael work "together" throughout history to chastise Israel.

Consider this:
If Rebecca was rewarded by God with the birth of Jacob, why did she also give birth to the wicked Esau? This shows us that all things come into this world and serve God's purpose, even that which we deem "evil." For Esau exists in this world (even today) to reprove Israel when the latter strays from God's ways. When this occurs, Esau is made strong and Israel is forced to reconsider its ways, and repent. Thus Esau (like haSatan) is an agent of God just as much as any other being that we might consider "good."

There is a saying at the feast of Purim, that "one should get so drunk that he does not know the difference between 'praised be Mordecai' and 'cursed be Haman'." The meaning behind this odd injunction is that one should reach the point of spiritual knowledge where one sees that both Mordecai and Haman serve the same purpose as they were sent by the same God. There is no "dualism" at the highest level. As the Talmud says, "Everything is under the fear of heaven except the fear of heaven." And as Sha'ul said in Romans, "All things happen for the good to those who love the Lord." (See previous notes on Adam and Eve eating of the "Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.")