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Toldot (generations)

Genesis 25:19 to 28:9, Malachai 1:1 to 2:7


The word Ya'akov resembles akav (heel) and akov (crooked and deceitful). The word Yisrael resembles yashar (straight and honest).

Verse 25:22 literally says that Rivkah "went to seek Adonai". Tradition interprets this phrase to say she visited a prophet or oracle. Except for a very different sense in Genesis 9:5, this is the first occurance of drash in Torah.

Yitzchak, unlike Avraham, tries settling down and farming and is very successful.

According to one tradition, the patriarchs' blessings were all prophetic: the fathers did not prepare what to say, but spoke as God put words in their mouth. Thus Yaakov's trickery is not intended to steal a particular blessing, for presumably God would have Yitzchak say what was appropriate to Yaakov whether or not Yaakov was blessed before Esav. Rather, the trickery was to prevent Yitzchak's obvious favoritism from causing non-prophetic words to be utter over Esav in his father's eagerness to bless him. According to this perspective, Rivkah was not wanting more for the son she favored, but causing her husband to have uncertainty and not rush into an inappropriate kind of blessing—thus providing a more accurate and powerful blessing for both sons.

Verse 27:10 says, most plainly, that Rivkah had concern that Yaakov would not be blessed unless she did something, and her plan initially is not to trick her husband but to bribe him with delicious food. But I can't find any traditional commentary that builds off this plain interpretation.

Oddly, Esav's clothes smell like farmland, not hunting.

Traditional Jewish Commentary

The Parasha begins with a double emphasis that Yitzchak's father was Avraham. Recall the possibility of Avimelech being the father, and the atonement-covering paid to prevent that rumor from spreading.

Yehudah Katz proposes that the phrase "Avraham begat Yitzchak" in verse 25:19 is present despite its apparent redundancy because it actually refers to the Akedah, when Yitzchak was reborn as a child of faith because of Avraham's obedience.

Yitzchak's life is like a bridge between Avraham's and Yaakov's. His childhood, like theirs, is defined by parental preferences. He survives (uncomplaining) an ordeal that should have killed him. His children are rivals. His wife is both a comfort and domineering. He repeats his father's experience with Avimelech and re-digs his father's wells. When old, weak, and blind he provides blessings, but family troubles mean a son other than the eldest is most blessed.

The phrase ve'rav ya'avod tza'ir in verse 25:23 is normally translated "and the older one will serve the younger one". But the typical direct object marker et is missing. The phrase could also mean "and the younger one will serve the older one". Thus the struggle between the brothers is foretold. (The Rosh adds that the phrase could also mean that the younger one will be subservient for a long time, hinting at the length of the Diaspora.)

The word adam ("man") comes from the word adamah ("earth"), which is related to the word edom ("red"). The earth is reddish in the Middle East, and so people are a bit reddish. Esav was especially red, especially of an earthy lifestyle, and especially masculine.

Yerushalmi notes that both Avram and Yaakov have their names changed by Adonai, but Yitzchak does not since he was born with a name given by Adonai.

According to tradition, the events of 25:29-34 happened at the family's funeral meal after Avraham's death.

Verse 25:32 is usually interpreted to mean that Esav, as a hunter, did not expect to outlive his father. The idea of Esav being starving to the point of death (or believing he was that starving) is more a modern interpretation.

R' Bechaye asserts that in those days firstborn sons offered sacrifices (as was God's plan during the Exodus, until the episode of the golden calf), and in verses 25:29-34 Esav has no desire to retain the status of "firstborn" since he is not interested in offering sacrifices.

Nehama Leibowitzh notes that Avimelech says to Yitzchak in verse 26:16, "You have become too big through us". This is the first instance of the ancient anti-Semetic lie that the Jew's prosperity must mean his neighbors were diminished.

Avimelech breaks his oath with Avraham (from 21:27) when he expels Yitzchak.

Jacob Solomon notes that Yitzchak is tested not only as a child, but as an adult when Avimelech lies to him. Avimelech (and Avimelech's people) have harmed Yitzchak by expelling him and by taking his wells. Yet Avimelech says no harm has happened. Yitzchak forgives and does not bear a grudge, and is subseuqently blessed.

Rabbi Yosef Levinson notes that Yitzchak's life does not need much elaboration, because the Torah emphasizes that Yitzchak was faithful to his father's teachings and paths. He gives restored wells the same names, and even tries the same "she's my sister" precaution.

Do Rivkah and Yaakov really decieve Yitzchak? The story has apparent but pretended deceit for all involved. Yitzchak is aware of the ruse but plays along: grieved that his less-loved son had earlier established the right to the better inheritance, he needs an excuse to bless Yaakov as God desired. Yaakov is confident he rightfully deserves the better blessing, but still suffers greatly in his later life ("reaping and sowing") when his family deceives him. Esav is the most noble: he weeps bitterly since knowing he had earlier sold his birthright does not lessen his anguish, but he eventually forgives his brother. After the ruse is complete, Esav can be angry at Yaakov instead of his father, and Yaakov can receive "the blessing of Avraham" from his father. [Paraphrase of commentary from the UAHC 1981 Chumash]

Avigdor Bonchek notes that Yaakov is so hesitant to decieve his father that Rivkah, in verse 27:15, has to dress him. Yaakov is 63 years old at this point, and is dressed by someone else.

The Ha'amek Davar notes that on Yom Kippur two goats are used: one dedicated to Adonai and one associated with sin. Similarly, Yaakov used two goats to deceive his father even though a single goat would have provided enough meat: the deceit was both for the sake of Adonai's plans but still admittedly a sin. A comparison is made with poisons that are normally hurtful but in special situations have some medicinal uses.

In verse 27:33 Yitzchak trembles g'dolah ad m'od—he is more frightened than he was on Mount Moriah!