The Torah teaches us that a person’s character is far more complex than merely their own past and experiences.
By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel
This week’s Torah portion is “Toldot” (Genesis 25:19–28:9) and it opens with the words, “These are the offspring of Isaac the son of Abraham — Abraham gave birth to Isaac. And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca, the daughter of Betuel, from Paddan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramean, for a wife.”
The famous commentator Rashi writes, “The offspring of Isaac refers to [his sons] Jacob and Esau, who will be mentioned shortly in the reading.”
Something doesn’t seem right here. The reading opens up clearly telling us that we are about to read about the offspring of Isaac, which would be Jacob and Esau, but the Torah does no such thing. Instead, the Torah starts telling us about lineage starting from Abraham and HIS family and offspring. The offspring of Isaac is, at least for now, ignored.
As such, Rashi calms our confusion by letting us know that the offspring of Isaac will indeed be discussed shortly. We must first back up and begin from Abraham.
So, the question is asked: Why do we need to know about Abraham and his descendants now? We already learned about them in previous Torah portions. So too, why does the Torah tell us that we are about to read about the offspring of Isaac?
It is explained that a person’s identity and history do not begin with his or her birth. A person’s identity and history begin with who the parents were, where they were from, how they met, and who their relatives were.
In other words, the Torah really did begin telling us about the offspring of Isaac just as it said it would. It’s just that in order to give the proper and complete picture, some background information was in order, nay, urgently needed.
We need to know how difficult it was for Rebeca to conceive. The Torah even felt it necessary to tell us what kind of pregnancy Rebeca had with these enemy-twins in her womb. There was a lot more to the identity of Jacob and Esau than meets the eye!
Both the recent and upcoming Torah portions seem to contain stories of betrothal and marriage. We learn from here that it is vitally important to know exactly who we are dating and who we are marrying. A person’s name and address is woefully inadequate information to justify a date, which could lead to marriage and building a home.
We need to know the total background of the person we intend to marry, who their relatives are, where they come from, and so on. When two people get married, it is not merely two people coming together … it should be a glorious past that will hopefully also bring a glorious future
For more insights by Rabbi Enkin on this week’s Torah portion, click on the links below.
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