Winning with Our Parents

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read

When Esau was forty years old, he took as a wife Judith, daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Besmat, daughter of Elon the Hitttie; and they were a source of spiritual rebellion to Isaac and to Rebecca(Genesis 26:34-35).

With the primacy of monogamy in our culture, we would read into the text that Esau’s parents were upset with his choice to marry two women. But, it seems that it was par for the course in their culture (see his grandfather Abraham and his brother Jacob). Were Isaac and Rebecca upset that he got married too late in life? What can we learn about Esau’s motivations to marry these women from the Torah’s reference to his being forty at his weddings?

At the start of this week’s Torah portion, we read that Isaac was also forty years old when he married Rebecca (Genesis 25: 20). To that cannot be the source of their spiritual angst.  In my mind, it seems that Esau desperately wanted to please his father. So much so, that Esau made sure to follow Isaac’s example and get married at the exact same age. I doubt that Isaac and Rebecca cared how old he was when Esau got married. The plain meaning of the text is that Isaac and Rebecca were sad that he did not marry “Jewish”.

As many of us will spend this weekend visiting our parents, I have no doubt that you can relate to the desire to make your parents proud of you. We can learn from this week’s portion how many assumptions we make about what will make our parents happy with us. I hope that we got a chance while we were with them to ask what their aspirations are for our lives. And if you did not, I encourage you to do so before you turn forty, but after forty is also fine. That is not to say that you will agree with your parents, but at least you won’t be misled by illusory goals. Who knows, once we actually end the game of broken telephone with our parents, we might be able to communicate with them. And while this might mean we have to grow up, once we know the rules of the game we might just win.

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