Toldot: Blessings Upon Israel

Isaac and Rebecca endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rebecca conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; G-d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.

Esau emerges first; Jacob is born clutching Esau’s heel. Esau grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Jacob is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favors Esau; Rebecca loves Jacob. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.

In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rebecca as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells: over the first two there is strife with the Philistines, but the waters of the third well are enjoyed in tranquility.

Esau marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favorite food, Rebecca dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Jacob receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Esau returns and the deception is revealed, all Isaac can do for his weeping son is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that when Jacob falters, the younger brother will forfeit his supremacy over the elder.

from “Toldot in a Nutshell”
Commentary on Torah Portion Toldot
Chabad.org

As I write this, it’s early in the Thursday morning, just past 3:30 a.m. If most of you have been keeping up on the events in Israel, you’re aware of the terrorist attacks from Gaza and the response of the IDF.

My wife and children are Jewish. I believe the Jewish people have a right to Israel and a deep connection to the Land. These events may signal not just another round of terrorism and response but a prelude to another war. I can’t know that, of course, but it’s not as if it hasn’t happened before. That’s enough to keep me up at night or to wake me up too early in the morning, but then a friend of mine’s daughter is currently serving with the IDF, so it’s feels personal as well.

But that’s not all I have on my mind.

you realize that israel is the aggressor, right? they’ve been shelling women & children forever… after stealing their land

the US may be the second most evil country on earth, but Israel has 1st place locked up by a few miles.

where do you come up with that? can you show me any evidence? You’re either brainwashed or willfully ignorant.

is that really what you believe? seriously? where do you get your intel? ZionistPress? get real! Israel is the aggressor.

-from my twitter feed

As you can see, I try to follow a variety of opinions on twitter, but as someone on Facebook (ironically) said just recently about twitter, “the noise to signal ratio dropped to nothing but noise.” I want to be fair and give other opinions consideration, but it’s not worth my health or peace of mind, is it?

What does this have to do with Toldot and the story of Esau and Jacob?

I couldn’t help but draw parallels between two warring brothers (and only one becomes the patriarch of the Children of Israel and the Jewish people) and the events in Israel right now. Two related people struggling over what they believe are their rights but with only one, in my opinion and my understanding of the Bible, having the superior claim on the inheritance of the Land promised to Abraham.

The story we read in Toldot ends with Jacob leaving his home for an uncertain future:

So Isaac sent for Jacob and blessed him. He instructed him, saying, “You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women. Up, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel, your mother’s father, and take a wife there from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother, May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Abraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which God assigned to Abraham.”

Then Isaac sent Jacob off, and he went to Paddan-aram, to Laban the son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau.

-Genesis 28:1-5 (JPS Tanakh)

The conclusion of Toldot is a little easier to take knowing what happens next and the ultimate outcome of the journeys of Jacob, but in a very real way, those journeys have not yet ended. The Jews have returned to the land of their inheritance but it is an uneasy return. They face strife from terrorism within their borders, the threat of war from outside, and the aggression of a world that does not believe that Israel has a right to exist, let alone defend itself from hostile people who use the weapons of rockets and public opinion to chip away at the Jewish land, taking the Land and the lives of the children of Jacob bit by bit.

It was decades before Jacob could return to Canaan and in the meantime, Esau was there, doing as he willed, and remaining a threat and a barrier to Jacob’s blessings in Israel. Jews believe that in the age of redemption, all Jews will live in Eretz Yisrael and motivate all mankind to seek God (see Inwardness: The Path to Posterity). But as the path for Jacob was not easy and required a great deal of suffering and searching, both in the material and the spiritual sense, so too is the future of Israel between now and the time of Messiah.

And the servants of Isaac dug in the valley, and they found a well of living water.

-Genesis 26:19

If a person tells you “I have toiled but I have not found”—do not believe him.

-Talmud, Megillah 6b

Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch was deep in thought, struggling with some elusive idea deep in the recesses of his mighty mind. A bowl of soup had been set before him some time earlier, but the Rebbe was in another world; sharp lines of concentration plowed his forehead, as he sat gazing into the bowl and slowly stirring the soup with his spoon.

The Rebbe’s servant, who figured that the Rebbe must be searching for the egg noodles, exclaimed: “Rebbe, dig in further! The lokshen lies deeper down.”

A wave of contentment passed over the Rebbe’s tensed features. “Thank you,” he said to his servant, “You have revived my soul…”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Digging for Noodles”
from Once Upon a Chassid
Chabad.org

Nothing is final. That Israel exists today is no assurance that it will continue as it is between now and the Messiah’s return. The people who govern Israel today are human. Israel is not yet perfected as a nation. As they are today, Israel is not immune from making mistakes out of their humanity. But that doesn’t mean that Israel and the Jewish people deserve annihilation as the Palestinian terrorists (and the Arab nations) and their supporters in the western nations declare.

I have faith that God will not let the Jewish people perish, but what is to happen in the Land of Israel now, I cannot know. Modern Israel has faced crisis after crisis in its young history. There were many times it looked as if it would be destroyed, only to be sustained by the miracles of God. Just as Jacob and his family ultimately returned and established themselves in Canaan, so too have the Jews returned to Israel. Just as Moses lead his people through the desert, there have been desperate struggles for the Jews. Just as Joshua lead Israel over the Jordan and into their Land, the Land promised to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, so too will Messiah, son of David, lead his people to take final possession of their Land and into their promised rest.

But there is still much to do between now and then. The first task is to reassure and to fortify ourselves, to lift up and strengthen our faith. Israel is from God. It shall not be destroyed. God urges Joshua, as he takes command of Israel, to be “strong and courageous” four times in the first chapter of the book of Joshua. So too must the inhabitants of Israel today be strong and courageous. So too must we, the supporters of Israel and we who have faith in God’s promises…we must be strong and courageous, though Israel and everyone who loves her will be dragged through the mud and maligned for faith and trust and for obeying God.

Only God knows when the time of “living water” will come. We must be ready.

If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it,
then you have found a piece of the world that G-d has left for you to complete.

But if you only see what is wrong and how ugly it is,
then it is you yourself that needs repair.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Perceptive Repair”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

Blessings upon Israel and her people, the children of Abraham, and of Issac, and of Jacob.

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill. Let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy.

-Psalm 137:5-6 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Continue to keep informed on the events in Israel at IsraelNationalNews.com.

Good Shabbos.

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