Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Toldot - 5774

My friends,

This Shabbat we read the portion of Toldot, the events in Yitzhak's (Isaac) life. It contains three major stories:

  1. The birth of Esau and Jacob
  2. Isaac in Gerar
  3. Jacob pretending to be Esau to get his father's blessing

The rivalry between Esau and Jacob starts from the womb. Although Esau is born first, Jacob comes out holding on to Esau's heel (Akev in Hebrew) and that is why they named him Yaakov, Jacob, because he wanted to be the first born in the worst way, and he will pursue that goal for years to come.

When the time comes for Isaac to bless the first born before his death, he calls Esau and tells him to prepare some game and come to be blessed. Rebecca, Jacob's mother, urges Jacob to pretend to be Esau and thus get the blessing intended for the first born Esau. Jacob listens to his mother and gets the blessings. Isaac blesses him with prosperity: "May G-d give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine." He also blesses him with power and mastery over others: "...peoples will serve you and nations will bow to you."

As we look at Jewish history we can wonder whether Isaac's blessings were ever fulfilled. I do not believe that there was a period when other nations served Israel; on the contrary, we were the people who for 2000 yeas were servants to so many. Could it be that a blessing that comes through unethical ways is not worth much?

The last few weeks, we have been hearing how our government has been involved in unethical ways in the whole scandal of spying by the NSA - listening to people's conversations and reading their e-mails. This was a wide operation which extended to many parts of the world - even to long-time allies and friends. It has caught up with us and has brought dishonor to America in the eyes of millions of Europeans.

The lesson from Jacob is clear - blessings that come through deceit and unethical ways do not get fulfilled. Only when Jacob's name is changed from Jacob to Israel is Jacob a new man.

Let us continue to deserve the name Israel, which means Sar El - the Prince of G-d, or one who struggles and prevails.

Shabbat Shalom,