I can’t decide. This week’s Torah portion raises so many questions that I don’t know where to begin, what to write about. It is the passage in Genesis where we meet the Bible’s second set of twins. The story of the first pair ended disastrously, with Cain murdering Abel. This time the twins struggle, compete, and try to outdo one another, but at least in the end both are alive. I could write about them.
But then I think, maybe I’ll write about their mother. While she is still pregnant with Esau and Jacob, Rebecca inquires of God about them and receives a clear message – she is carrying the seeds of two nations, “and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23). When the boys are grown and it is time for Esau, the older son, to receive his father’s blessing, she persuades Jacob to trick his father into giving him the blessing instead.
Maybe I’ll write about the fact that we think of Rebecca’s actions as deceitful, forgetting that she is actually carrying out God’s plan for the younger son to rule over the older one. And why does the age difference matter at all? They’re twins. They were born at virtually the same moment.
And then I think perhaps I will write about Isaac and how he could possibly mistake mild Jacob for wild and passionate Esau. The Torah says that he became blind in his old age. Our sages wondered whether his blindness was physical or psychological. In other words, was Isaac blinded by his love for the meat that Esau hunted and prepared for him?
And what are the implications when the Torah tells us that Isaac loved Esau because of his prowess as a hunter, but that Rebecca simply loved Jacob? As one of my congregants pointed out, one answer is that Rebecca was free to love mild-mannered Jacob, who preferred to stay home, because Esau provided food for the family. She suffered from a kind of blindness too, which caused her to overlook Esau.
As I write these words, I realize that what I really want to say is this: The Torah is filled with relationships that are deep, complicated, and often nuanced. Some of these relationships are human-to-human, some human-to-God, and some involve several main characters, each with his or her own agenda. We can study it for our entire lives and not finish.
It’s easy to judge Isaac, Rebecca, Esau and Jacob for their short-comings. Harder to accept that we echo their complexity, that their traits – both good and bad – are endemic to the human condition. We can be blind to the true nature of those around us, indifferent to their needs, anxious to make sure our own wishes and desires are met. And we can be incredibly kind, loving, and thoughtful. Like us, the people in the Bible are fully human.
This week’s Torah portion opens the door for us to think about our own familial relationships. We can ask ourselves the same questions we ask about our ancestors – Are there times that I am blinded by my feelings? What does it mean to love another person, and how can I best express that love? Am I communicating clearly with those around me? How can I address my own fears and needs while still caring for others?