Posts Tagged 'Toldot'

Brothers Above All

In Toldot, this past week’s Torah portion, we read  the story of Rivka who after struggling to conceive is blessed with twins. During her turbulent pregnancy she sought out God. There she learned:

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. ( Genesis 25:23)

JANUARY 11- DAILY READING THROUGH THE ONE YEAR BIBLE -Genesis 24:52-26:16;  Matthew 8:18-34; Psalm 10:1-15; Proverbs 3:7-8

In explaining “shall be separated from your bowels” Rashi writes:

As soon as they leave your body they will take each a different course — one to his wicked ways, the other to his plain life (Genesis 5:27)

And sure enough soon after the twins are born this happens.  Esav is born first and close at his heel is Yaakov. It is noteworthy that Yaakov’s name comes from holding on to his brother’s foot. Esav the older one is favored by Yitzhak while the younger son Yaakov is Rivka’s favorite. This tension is a throw back to Cain and Abel. While this does not end with one brother killing the other, it is not a model of fraternity. Where is the love between brothers?

What can we learn from this tension for our times? George Lakoff says that political messaging is all about framing. Once your concede to your opponents’ frame for the debate you have lost the debate.

A good example of this is taxes. When Republicans add the word “relief” to the word “tax”, the result is a metaphor: Taxation is an affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. And as soon as the Democrats are using “tax relief” they are shooting themselves in the foot.

That is what framing is about. Framing is about getting language that fits your worldview. It is not just language. The ideas are primary and the language carries those ideas, evokes those ideas.

Yaakov will always be living in reference to his brother ( or more specifically his brother’s heel), until he reframes the debate with changing his name. He is not limited to playing second fiddle to his brother when is renamed and reframed as Yisrael, the hero wrestling with God.

From “lock her up”, to “fake-news”, to “Kong Flu”, to questioning the very essence of fair and free elections, we have so much work to do to repair our society after Trump’s reframing of our modern partisan politics. We need to put the good of the country above the good of the party. The most critical reframing is to remember that at the start we are all siblings above all.

Spiral in History: Bread and Toldot

In Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Esav’s sale of the birthright to Yaakov for lentil stew. there we read:

And Yaakov gave Esav bread and a stew of lentils, and he ate and drank and arose and left, and Esav despised the birthright. ( Genesis 25:34)

It foreshadows how Yaakov stole the blessing from Esav by giving a wonderful lunch to Yitzhak. It is notable in both situations that Esav and Yitzhak asked for stew and deer and in both cases Yaakov served it with bread. While you might say that most cultures ancient and modern serve meals with bread, it is noteworthy that the text mentions it.

This image of this bread seems to come back with the sale of Yosef, Yaakov’s favorite.  As Yosef is in the pit he brothers sit around to determine what to do with him. There we read:

And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt.( Genesis 37:25)

To Yaakov’s pain and suffering they tell him that Yosef was killed and they sell him into slavery. Ultimately this saves the brothers from famine. But it does not take long for Yaakov’s descendants to become slaves in Egypt. Eventually with the help of God and Moshe they leave Egypt.  In Passover we celebrate a yearly holiday without bread to remember our redemption from slavery and the rest of the use of bread in our history. History has a bitter-sweet spiral. What can we learn from this?

I was thinking about it this week when I reading this insightful article by Professor Jonathan Sarna on the whole ordeal with the RCA over women’s ordination.  He points out the irony of the RCA being excluded and now excluding others from Orthodoxy. Time will tell if the RCA made a good choice to draw a line or will this moment be the beginning of the end of their stronghold on Orthodoxy in America. Simply I do not think we can go on telling Orthodox female leadership that they do not have a seat at the table or to just eat cake.  As Martin Luther King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Blind Taste Test

In Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Yakov’s deception and act of stealing the blessing from his brother Esav. This story starts off with a blind Yitzhak growing aware of his age. He calls Esav. There we read:

Now therefore take, I pray of you, your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field, and take me venison; and make me savory food, such as I love, and bring it to me, that I may eat; that my soul may bless you before I die.’ ( Genesis 27: 3-4)

Rivka overhears this plan and tells Yakov to intervene and to follow her plan. There we read:

Go now to the flock, and fetch me from two good kids of the goats from there; and I will make them savory food for your father, such as he loves; and you shall bring it to your father, that he may eat, so that he may bless you before his death.’ ( Genesis 27: 9-10)

At the core of this deception is the issue of perception. Yitzhak is blind so he cannot see the food or who is bringing it.

This reminds me of the final chapter of Malcolm Gladwell‘s Blink. There he writes about how orchestras hold “blind” auditions where musicians literally play behind a screen. So-called expert judges are able to hear with “just their ears” rather than look first and, in that blink of an eye, make instant (often unfair) assumptions based on what they see. A tiny woman, for example, could never be a great French Horn player because she couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung capacity. Gladwell writes,“Until they listened to her with just their ears … they had no idea she was so good.”

This seems to be the case with Yitzhak as well. He says that he wants venison because it tastes savory, but in the end he gives the blessing to the child that brings him the goat meat instead. Until he tastes with his mouth and not with his eyes he did not realize what he truly really wanted. His blindness was like a screen, helping him blink and reveal the right savory taste. But why did he think he wanted Esav’s dish?

In last week’s Torah portion we read about Esav and Yakov as children . There we read:

And the boys grew; and Esav was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Yakov was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Yitzhak loved Esav, because he did eat of his venison; and Rivka loved Jacob. ( Genesis 25:27-28)

Yitzhak saw in Esav a virile masculine outdoorsy child. Yitzhak is drawn after the memories of Esav’s venison which blinds him to the gifts that Yakov has to offer. Ironically it is his actual blindness that helps him see. We are all blinded by our assumptions.

I was thinking about this when reading  of the Gur’s ban on soy products. According to a report in BaOlam Shel Haredim based on a HaMevasser report, Gur has now banned soy products like veggie hot dogs from its yeshivas due their Rabbis’ fears that the hormones in soy foods will cause the bodies of young teen students to become feminine in appearance and thereby cause their rabbis and older students to become sexually aroused seeing them. They are worried that soy will damage the spirituality of its yeshiva students by accelerating their sexual maturity. Doctors and scientists find no scientific evidence to support Gur’s decision to ban what is the cheapest – and, probably, the healthiest – protein available. They, like Yitzhak, seem to be blinded by their perception that venison is more masculine.

We all make assumptions that cloud our vision. It is sad to realize how we are overlooking the gifts of so many people by holding fast to these assumptions. You would think that we, the descendents of Yakov, would advocate to put up the screen so we could have a better sounding orchestra and more savory meal.


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