Twin-Bill: Toldot 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Why are some siblings complete opposites of one another? To what extent is this the result of nature, and to what extent is it due to nurture?

The book of Genesis concentrates heavily on sibling rivalries, and the plight of Esau and Jacob is perhaps the most intriguing of them all.

The Pitch: “The first [son] emerged red, like a hairy mantle all over; so they named him Esau. Then his brother emerged, holding on to the heel of Esau; so his name was called Jacob. Isaac was 60 years old when they were born.” – Genesis 25:25-26

Swing #1: “Esau represents falsehood and deceit, while Jacob was truth personified. Of Esau we are told ‘and they named him Esau’ because, unfortunately, deceit attracts many followers. Of Jacob, however, the Biblical account states ‘and his name was called Jacob,’ with the singular form of the statement indicating that truth has a much smaller number of adherents than falsehood.” – Degel Mahane Ephraim

Swing #2: “In allegorical language the present corrupt age is presented as Esau, the glorious age which is to follow at once is represented as Jacob: Jacob’s hand held Esau’s heel from the beginning. The ‘heel’ of the first age is Esau; the ‘hand’ of the second is Jacob. ‘The beginning of a man is his hand, and the end of a man is his heel. Between heel and hand seek for nothing else, Ezra!’” – 4 Esdras 6:8-10

Swing #3: “The account of the birth centers on the two boys as both Rebekah and God slip from the narrative. She does not, as will the matriarchs of the next generation, name her sons. We have only the notice that their father was sixty years old when she bore them, and that, as they contested in the womb and in birth, so they also grew to contrast sharply in character and in the love of their parents.” – W. Lee Humphreys, The Character of God in the Book of Genesis: A Narrative Appraisal

Late-Inning Questions: The Torah strives to strike a clear contrast between Jacob and Esau. How does the account of their births establish this from the beginning? Do you think of Esau as Jacob’s evil counterpart? If so, is the story of his birth a preview of his character? If not, what do you think is the purpose of describing his origin in this way? How do we avoid falling into the trap of thinking of one contrasting sibling as “all good” and the other as “all bad”, as many of our Sages see Jacob and Esau?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Thanks to those who took part in our first “Where Do We Go From Here?” discussion on Wednesday, either in person or on Facebook. As requested, here is the source sheet from the evening’s proceedings: %22where-do-we-go-from-here%22-source-sheet Hope you’ll join us as the conversation continues Wednesday, December 14th, at 7:00PM.

The Big Inning at the End: I’m very much looking forward to Mike Mills chanting the Hafatarah at Synagogue Emanu-El on Saturday, December 24th, decked out in Chicago Cubs gear! Thanks to Mike for being such a good sport, and look for some preview photos in upcoming weeks.

Shabbat Shalom!