The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Toldot and is found in Genesis 25:19-28:9. In this parasha, Isaac marries Rebecca, who is unable to conceive for years. When Isaac prays for her and she does conceive, she feels two children struggling in her womb. She inquires of God who tells her this is because there are two nations in her womb and the older will serve the younger. She gives birth to Esau (meaning “hairy” first, and then Jacob (“supplanter”), who was holding on to Esau’s heel. The two have opposite personalities. When the boys grow up, Esau, Isaac’s favorite, becomes a hunter while Jacob, Rebecca’s favorite, is a homebody. Esau, the older, is destined for the birthright, but sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew. When Isaac becomes old and blind, he announces his intention to bless Esau. Rebecca overhears and conspires with Jacob to secure the blessing for him instead. When Esau discovers that his blessing has been stolen, he vows to kill Jacob after their father has died. Rebecca tells Jacob to flee to the home of her brother Laban in Haran.
This story is filled with family tensions and sibling rivalry which is exacerbated by the parents’ choices of favoritism. Buried in the midst of the story is Jacob’s longing for the birthright and of the spiritual as well as the material responsibilities that came with those blessings. Esau is not particularly interested in this as demonstrated by his willingness to sell the birthright to his brother for something as simple as a pot of stew. Both brothers in the end, do become wealthy as would have been expected through the birthright blessing, although only Jacob passes the patriarchal heritage on to his children. However, family issues continue to plague the brothers all their lives and continue through Jacob’s story in his children as well. What is important for us to realize is that, Jacob, the main character of our story, is blessed by God and is ultimately successful in carrying out his mission in life in spite of those family tensions and issues. Jacob’s story should ultimately give us courage. Few of us grow up in ideal families and we may struggle with issues that we fight all of our lives. However, we can use those struggles to help us be better people and to more fully understand other people’s struggles. Perhaps that is why Jacob’s name (supplanter) is later changed to Israel, one who strives and prevails.