Nov 8, 2009

Toldot 5770: "Unbound"

Toldot 5770: "Unbound"

Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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It's always bothered me that the Torah doesn't tell us more about Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Eisav and the incredible sequence of events in Genesis, chapter 27. Why does Jacob listen to his mother and lie to his father? If he was cunning enough to get the birthright from Eisav, why couldn't he exert his will here, to his mother? If there was meat close enough for Jacob and Rebecca to get, why did Eisav need to go hunting? If Isaac clearly knew Jacob was pretending, then why didn't he end the charade? Which son's blessing is truly better?


The Torah is a script. It is our family diary. I love it. What I love about it most is not the artful blend of law and narrative, not the perplexing moral questions. What I love most is the space, for in between the verses of Torah, I find myself. This is my own reading of Genesis 27:1-18, a personal Midrash surrounding the original Biblical text. The bold text in the written form is the biblical original, and the plain font is my work. I present it not as Truth (with a capital "T"), but as a personal and fallible exercise of love.




He lay there in bed. His eyes had grown dim, but in the pale morning light creeping into the room he clearly saw his time swiftly arriving. It had been a long time since he had exerted himself to rise from his bed, and he had developed a way of signaling the member of his household whose presence was needed. This time, he signaled for his elder son.


Son entered the room, and removed his shoes noiselessly so as not to wake his mother who was lying on the farther side of the bed. Father wanted to speak with his eldest alone, which was getting increasingly difficult as his body continued to resist his will and his wife became his voice more and more. As father began to speak, son failed to notice his mother's eye blink repeatedly, as if to banish the blurry image from his father's side.


Speaking was exhausting for Isaac, but he would not be denied. He longed for his pain to end, and felt peace imminent. But before that happened, he needed to heal his child. Isaac's pain had transferred to his children. His wounds, instead of healing, had left his children empty and angry, and he needed to show them his love. He needed to end their pain before it was too late, as it was too late for him. His life would end before his father's love could heal him. He would not let his children wait that long.


Isaac tearfully said, "My son." And while his son thought: "Abbah, seeing you so weak hurts me, and I wish I could ease your pain- I wish I could do something," all that came out was, "Here I am."


Sensing his son's feelings Isaac desperately wanted to give him what he could. Eisav had foolishly sold his claim to the prized birthright, and since that point had become increasingly empty. His son wanted to do something? Fine. He could send him on a mission to accomplish something.


But he needed to make sure that his son knew what was about to happen. Wiping away his tears he told his son, "You're a grown man now. You know I'm old, and I don't know how soon I might die. Get your things, and go hunt some meat. Then cook it how I like it, and bring it to me to eat, so that I can give you my deepest blessing before I die."


After solemnly accepting his mission, Eisav left before he betrayed his usually unflappable demeanor by crying in front of his father. But unbeknownst to either of the men, Rebecca had been eavesdropping as Isaac spoke to his son Eisav. She had never approved of her elder son's habits, knew that her two sons could never coexist, and certainly didn't want Eisav to inherit the family name. So when Eisav left to hunt game to bring home, she slipped out from her tent and found Jacob, as usual, in the cooking area of the family tent.


Rebecca said to her son Jacob, "It has been so hard for me to watch your father lose his senses during these past months. I know he's been sharing less attention with you recently, but he's been very different to all of us. He sees in Eisav his old strength and is about to give your brother the family blessing, as soon as Eisav gets back with some food. But that's not the plan I have had in mind. Eisav is your older brother, but as long ago as when we learned about the soup and birthright trade, we knew he wasn't the one for the mantle of this family. And when he went and married those Hittite tramps - that just killed your father and me. He just isn't sensitive enough. The family blessing is rightfully yours.


"So listen carefully to my instructions. Go fetch me two kids your father bought, and I'll whip up a dish for your father, just how he likes it. His taste buds haven't been so great- he'll never know the difference. Then you'll take it to your father to eat, so that he'll bless you before he dies."


Jacob didn't like the idea at all. Yes, it was all too true that he hadn't received much love from his father recently, but to lie? Not only that, but to brazenly take his brother's blessing? Jacob had bought it with the bowl of lentils fair and square, so why couldn't he just be honest with his father? Was Isaac really that far gone that he wouldn't believe his own son?


But Jacob didn't know how to respond to his frenzied mother who was meanwhile gripping his arm with a fierce urgency. He blurted out, "But Eisav is such a hairy man! I'm smooth-skinned. If Abbah touches me, he'll think I'm a trickster, forget about the blessing, and give me a curse!"


But his mother responded, "Curse?! Let your curse, my son, be my worry! Just do as I say and go fetch them for me."


Jacob was trapped. He could either do the honorable thing, thereby disobeying his mother and losing his father's blessing, or he could listen to his mother's desperate plea, impersonate his brother and thereby steal the blessing which was rightfully his to begin with. Eisav was at the hunt, risking his life, and Jacob was home, risking his soul. He began to lose himself as he thought, "Where is my God now? I'm losing my future, my life. Here, my mother is going to sacrifice my future the way my father's was sacrificed by his father, and I'm been forced to betray him to save myself!


As if in a trance, Jacob rambled on as he got the food and brought it to his mother to cook. Rebecca had always stood over his shoulder in the kitchen. Eisav had always assured him that he was a good cook, but she was always so controlling. As his mother prepared his father's favorite dish, she gave Jacob Eisav's spare dress clothes, which were strewn about in the house, and made Jacob put them on. With a wild look in her eyes, she covered his hands and the hairless part of his neck with the skins of the kids, still warm and moist from the life that had filled them.


Then, as she put the food into the limp hands of her son, Jacob stepped into his father's room and accepted his fate.


Rabbi Menachem Creditor

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