One For The Road: Toldot 2015

Leadoff Questions: Have you ever received advice just before starting a new phase of your life? If so, did that advice help you on your sojourns? Or, perhaps, did it only muddle your approach to your new chapter? 

This week’s portion is perhaps best known for the blessings Jacob receives instead of his brother Esau, but Jacob also receives words of encouragement just before he leaves home to escape Esau – and these words can be understood in various ways.

Text: “So Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him. He instructed him, saying, ‘You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May you and your offspring be granted the blessing of Abraham, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.’” (Genesis 28:1-4) 

Commentary #1: “Isaac said, ‘May God Almighty bless you with much wealth. May He make you fruitful and increase your number, making you give rise to 12 tribes. Your descendants will become an assembly of nations. Leading your children will be the great Sanhedrin, consisting of 70 elders, one for each of the 70 nations. Through them, your children will subjugate the nations.’” – Targum Yonatan

Commentary #2: “[Rebecca] said to [Jacob], Yesterday you heeded me and received the blessings; now heed me in order to remain alive. He said to her: But is that the proper way? For me to set out without Father’s knowledge? If he also tells me, I will do so. Immediately: ‘So Isaac called Jacob and blessed him … arise and go to Paddan-Aram …’ As soon as he heard that, he said to him: Give me [travel instructions]. He said to him, ‘May God Almighty bless you.’” – Tanhuma

Commentary #3: “When Isaac sends Jacob to Haran, he bestows upon Jacob the blessing that continues the covenant of circumcision – for two reasons: 1. The purpose – to marry and establish a family. Circumcision likewise concerns fertility. 2. Isaac cannot bless in place of God. The name YHVH can only come from revelation, and from it God’s blessings emanates. Isaac can pray for Jacob concerning the continuity of the covenant of circumcision – the crux of which, in contrast to the Covenant between the Pieces, is not divine revelation or a divine act, but rather a human act. Therefore, he prays: ‘May El Shadai bless you and make you fruitful and numerous … and grant you the blessing of Abraham …’” – Rav Tamir Granot from Torah MiEtzion: New Readings in Tanach, Rabbi Ezra Bick and Rabbi Yaakov Beasley, editors

Follow-Up Questions: To Rav Granot, Isaac’s final blessing to Jacob reflects humanity’s limits of shaping our destiny, while Targum Yonatan, by contrast, describes a future in which Israelites will forcefully subjugate their will over others. The Tanhuma claims that Isaac is not interested in giving Jacob additional blessings (or, perhaps, Rebecca tries to give extra blessings before Isaac can get a word in edgewise), and only does so after Jacob insists. 

To what extent does Isaac convey a sense of empowerment to his younger son? Is Isaac’s often passive behavior consistent with his words to Jacob? If you had the chance to offer final words of encouragement to a loved one heading on a new journey, to what extent would your blessing model that of Isaac?

Emanu-El Happenings: I very much regret that, due to a prior obligation, I will not be in Charleston for one of our synagogue’s signature events, the Jews, Brews and ‘Ques program on Sunday, November 15th, at 5:00PM. It combines a fierce cooking competition with amazing Kosher barbecue for all to enjoy. If you don’t yet have your tickets, I hope you will support this event and enjoy the amazing food that I’ll be missing! 

The Big Inning at the End: Baseball, like so many other disciplines, has a long tradition of pithy bits of advice, much of which applies to both baseball and life in general. My favorite was said by Hall of Famer “Wee” Willie Keeler, an expert batter whose career ended more than a century ago. He said, “Keep your eye on the ball and hit ‘em where they ain’t.” To me, these words not only tell us how to get base hits, but they also convey that we should maintain our focus on what matters, and at the same time, we should find ways to be unique. These are good words to live by.

Shabbat Shalom!