Shabbat Toldot: The Unraveling

This Shabbat we read parashat Toldot. Two boys are born to Rebekah and Isaac. Esau and Jacob are twins, born together – Jacob’s name reflects the fact that he is born holding on to his brother’s heel. Surely they will grow up to be close.

But they grow up very differently. Esau loves the outdoors, and learns to track and hunt. He is most alive when immersed in the natural surroundings of their lives. Jacob, the Torah tells us, is a quiet young man who “dwells in tents”, someone who cooks with his mother. Surely, though, their differences need cause no distance between them.

The Torah’s narration of their early lives emphasizes their differences, though, and it seems inevitable that the conflict will occur, as it does. The blessing of the first born can only be given to one of them, and when Jacob manages to steal it from his brother, older by about two seconds, Esau swears to kill him. And so this family is rent asunder, for Jacob must leave home, and Esau is left bereft not only of blessing but of his companion, his twin.

How does this unraveling occur? How might they have stopped it from happening? And what can we learn from this story, so as not to repeat it?

We in this United States of America have long been taught that we are all brothers and sisters, twins so to speak in the opportunities that lie before us, the glowing horizon that beckons us. Why is it that we end up at odds with those who should be our companions? How is it that we end up stealing blessings from each other? Is there not another way, a way in which we might demand that there is enough blessing for all?

In these days as winter closes in and we withdraw to warm dwellings (and may we not forget to look after those who have no place to get warm!), there is much to keep us contemplative and thoughtful. Soon enough we will be called to act – many of us are already active in one way or another. Now is a good time to not only gather together, as we will soon for Hanukkah, but also to settle into learning what we can.

I recommend this book, The Unwinding, that I am settling down to read. I would be interested in your thoughts about it as we continue to meet, and talk, and pray over the questions of what we are called upon to do, and how we might be reconnected to our twins who grew up in this country of promise with us, and yet are so far away from us that some have even spoken of killing – have even killed – those whom they see as in some way stealing from them.

On this Shabbat, may we find learning, and quiet consideration – no conclusions necessarily ripe to be drawn, but perhaps, just maybe, a memory of once long ago, a touch of a hand upon our heel, a grasp of one with whom we were born and with whom we will find our destiny.

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