To Parent: A Verb (Parashat Toldot)

The author pulls parenting questions and life lessons from this Torah portion, focusing on the story of Jacob and Esau.

November 28, 2008

By Igael Gurin-Malous

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Parashat Toldot
To Parent: A Verb
by Igael Gurin-Malous on Friday November 28, 2008
1 Kislev 5769
Genesis 25:19-28:9


Two main ideas come up for me in this week’s torah portion, Parshat Toldot. Both have to do with the relationship between parents and children, teachers and students, ourselves and what makes us they way we are.

First, we read the verse “and the children struggled together within her; and she said, if it is so why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the lord” (Gen 23:22)

The two children about to be born to Rivka, Yaacov and Esav, could not be more different. Esav will grow to be a hunter, a man of the field, hairy, muscular and strong and Yaacov will become a man of the book, of study, wisdom and intellect always staying close to his tent (and his mother).

Rivka clearly feels this, she knows that she is carrying two very different children, she feels funny about it, it hurts her, two such strong forces in her, struggling. She is also struggling, perhaps with fear. It is hard for her, she is confused “Why me?” she asks.

So she does the only thing that she feels she can. Maybe she will find an answer? She asks God. Luckily for her, God answers.

How many times have we not known what’s going on inside of us? How many times have we struggled with forces within us that felt like they would tear us apart? How many times have we thrown our hands in the air and asked God “Why me?”

Rivka got an answer, did you?

Secondly, Parashat Toldot continues with its life lessons. This could not hit home any closer.

Yitzchak is about to die and he wants to leave his estate in order. He wants to give his children their blessing, setting them on the right course in life. He asks his first born Esav, to go out to the field and get him some venison and prepare it the way he likes it, so that he may impart his wisdom and his blessing on him. Esav, being the first born, is about to inherit the best blessing, the best parts of his fathers love.

Esav does as his father asks, but Rivka and Yaacov have a different plan. Yaacov wants the blessing intended for his older brother and his mother Rivka wants that too. So they set a plan to try and trick Yitzchak. Yaacov will come to his father first, disguised as Esav and snag that blessing away (yes, seemingly Esav has “sold” Yaacov his right of first born for a bowl of stew earlier in the parsha but that’s a whole different dvar Torah.)

Yaacov brings to Yitzchak the food that his mother made for him, she makes him wear a goat skin on his body to look hairier than he is, (like his brother) and she assures him that this trickery is ok. She will take the blame if he is found out. She pushes him as she wants him and not his brother, to get the first blessing. Armed with her conviction and her disguise Yaacov goes to his father to get the blessing.

The text tells us that Yaacov is in his old age and that his eyes have become dim, in Hebrew the text uses the word tikhena which also means dull as in the opposite of sharp. As Yaacov gets near his father, Yitzchak asks some curios questions, over and over again (in order to get the answers he wants, maybe?), clearly suspecting that something is not right.

“Who is this? He asks the person nearing him. “I am Esav your first born,” Yaacov answers.

Yitzchak asks again, “How come you have returned with the venison so quickly?” And Yaacov says “God has sent me speed in finding it”

Odd but Yitzchak is still not convinced. He asks, “Come near so that I can feel you and see if you are indeed my son Esav.” And Yaacov does so. Issac is puzzled, “The voice is Yaacov’s voice but the hands feel like Esav’s.“ This goes on longer, and ends with Yitzchak giving Yaacov Esav’s blessing.

When Esav comes back form the field, ready for his blessing Yitzchak cries out and the text makes it sound like a huge surprise. “Yitzchak trembled very much and said “who then is he that has taken venison and brought it?”

Is this really a surprise? Didn’t Yitzchak just ask so many questions suspecting that Yaacov was trying to get Esav’s blessing? Why this fake drama? Yitzchak knows very well who stole the blessing.

This is a harsh lesson that the Parsha teaches us. It teaches us the lengths to which some parents will go in order to blind themselves. It tells us how far they will go, to try and make their children fit into a mold they have created for them.

How much denial will they go through, not accepting their children for who they really are, and at what cost? They need their children to be what they want them to be. Those parents can’t see their children for who they really are.

Rivka takes a large part in the lies and the deceit. Both really, knew what their children were doing. Yitzchak could not believe it; he WOULD not believe it. Very sadly, both would not let their children be who they really are because they wanted them so much to be someone else.

Reading this through a queer lens makes this lesson even sharper and more relevant.

Coming out of the closet, bringing your girlfriend or boyfriend home for the first time, exploring your identity, feeling different than everybody else sometimes makes me ask:

Looking at your parents, did they allow you to be who you are? Do they allow you now to be who you are? Have you told them who you want to be?

Looking at your children, your students, your friends and your family do you know who they really are? Have you asked them who they want to be?

Do YOU know who you want to be?