21st Century P’shat: 1-2 minute divrai Torah for each aliyah

Toldot

  1. Going back to his ‘prayer,’ we saw Yitzchak thinking profoundly and facing uncertainty after having tried to connect where Hagar did. He is seeking some sort of anchor. He looks up and Rivka emerges as the answer to his prayers.  So why does Yitzchak love Esav? I think he loves him because he is so physical. He seems to moored and solid and part-of-this world. Rivka might love Yaacov because he is more like Yitzchak, spiritual. But that is precisely why Yitzchak rejects him.
    1. Yaacov buys the birthright precisely because he has this long-term non-concrete vision of the world. And Esav sells because the here is now is more valuable than an abstract right. But he also buys it because he is unwilling to accept the role Fate seems to have determined for him.
    2. In line with that Fate, we can see Yaacov’s birth as a defining moment. He is destined to be born second – but he fights it from the first instant.
    3. Yitzchak has not emerged from his father’s shadow. He is given a command and a blessing; but not on his own accord. The blessing is because of Avraham. There is no mention of Yitzchak’s own merit. In fact, Hashem says to Yitzchak that nations will ‘bless themselves by your seed.’ But when Avraham receives a similar promise he is told ‘you will be a blessing.’ Yitzchak seems to be skipped.
    4. This is the third mention of Love in Chumash. The first is Avraham for Yitzchak. The second is Yitzchak for Rivka. And the third is Yitzchak for Esav. But this love is different. It says Yitzchak loved Esav *because* of something. By giving a reason, the love is actually qualified. If Esav didn’t have game in his mouth, would he still be loved?
  2. Yitzchak earns his living planting and sowing. It is far more ‘solid’ than shepherding. And he ‘sports’ with his wife – also a more physical description. Yitzchak seems to be seeking this solidity and physicality – and settled feeling. He is fighting his true character.
    1. Yitzchak does the same sister act as his father. But it works out differently. Why? Because Yitzchak alone among the Avot “sports” with his wife. He has one wife, he loves her and he sports with her. It all seems so perfect. Yet they seem to end up with real problems. Why? We’ll get to that.
  3. Yitzchak is driven from Gerar. As he retreats, he names more and more wells. The act of naming is one that describes the state of mind of the namer. When he has fled and is redigging his father’s wells, he is ‘oppressed.’ When he digs his own (contested) wells, he is ‘hindered.’ The third, when he finds his own water, is ‘enlarged.’ Yitzchak, through the process of retreat, sees himself growing. While security might be what he sees, it is actually displacement that strengthens him.
  4. Hashem blesses Yitzchak – again, in his father’s name and not his own. In the eyes of Hashem, he is still lacking something fundamental. And then we see Yitzchak’s making a treaty with Abimelech. Abimelech comes to him, trying to assure there is no bad blood in the eyes of G-d. What has changed? Perhaps Yitzchak’s growth, while not complete, has brought on Abimelech’s concern.
  5. The next day, Yitzchak’s men find water. They name the well Shiba, which can mean ‘complete.’ He has made a treaty, on his own terms, with Abimelech. The Torah says the city (which was already called “Be’er Sheva”) is known as “Be’er Sheva until this day.” Yitzchak’s has made his mark. He has achieved strength in this world. So he decides to bless his material son with a material blessing.
    1. Rebecca’s initial suggestion was just to recognize he was in a blessing-giving mood and arrange for Yitzchak to bring in lamb meat. After all, how could Yitzchak confuse wild game with lamb? Rebecca’s idea is opportunistic, not deceptive. Esav had just married a Canaanite and Rivka wants to put Yaacov forward as a candidate for blessing. But Yaacov seems unwilling to take up the opportunity in a straight-forward (and risky) way.  Yaacov lacks confidence and so he thinks he must ‘pass’ as Esav. This sets up a terrible sequence of events.
    2. Adam Smith talks about three kinds of people: hunter/gatherers, shepherds and farmers. Spiritually, shepherds are the greatest (time to ponder, travel, take provisions with them for warfare, not tied/lashed to crops and material). This is why shepherds always lead the Jewish people. Esav’s intended blessing is the blessing of a farmer. A prayer that he rise above being a nomad (always hand-to-mouth, desperate and not spiritual). But for Yaacov the shepherd, farming is a step down spiritually.
  6. Esav whines and pulls a fit – especially over Yitzchak’s long-term vision serving him so much more effectively. With this, Yitzchak seems to see the error of Esav’s material way. Afterwards, Yitzchak blessing Yaacov and establishes a pattern which we continue to this day; he blesses his child in the name of his father. Note that he withheld this blessing from Esav. Where Avraham had a unique connection to others in his time and prayed to save them, Yitzchak  has a unique connection between generations. He is an anchor in time, not in a time. The act of connecting the chain of generations is perhaps Yitzchak’s greatest legacy both to Kedusha and to ourselves.
    1. Esav’s intended blessing didn’t include the birthright of Avraham. This was always to be saved for Yaacov Perhaps as the lesser brother militarily and materially, Yaacov would have better carried out the spiritual mission of Avraham. After all, Avraham was never promised domination over his relatives – and neither was Yitzchak.
  7. Yitzchak sends Yaacov away after the blessing. By playing an active role in preserving and strengthening the chain, Yitzchak finally earns his place in a blessing of Hashem. In the next parsha Hashem blesses Yaacov as the ‘G-d of Avraham and Yitzchak.’