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  • Ella Shusterman

Dvar Torah- Parashat Toldot

This past week, the former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (Z”L), passed away. He was an incredible and globally renowned Jewish intellect who had a meaningful impact on many generations and will continue to inspire many more to come.

In this week's Parsha, Parshat Toldot, Yaakov deceives his brother, Esav, into giving him his birthright. Rabbi Sacks raises some fundamental questions regarding this story: Was Yaakov right to take Esav's blessing in disguise and to deceive his brother and father? Was Rivka right in conceiving the plan in the first place and encouraging her Jacob to carry it out? There are many ways to interpret not only the biblical text, but also the morality of our ancestors.

Sacks explains that Rivka and Yaakov engaged in deception for the greater good. Rivka knew that it would be Yaakov, not Esav, who would carry the brit between Hashem and Avraham into the future. Firstly, Rivka heard from Hashem himself that, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other and the elder will serve the younger.” The two brothers would not be able to coexist– one would ultimately be superior to the other, and it was Yaakov, the younger son, who was chosen by Hashem. She had also watched the twins grow up and knew that Esav was a man of violence and impulse who sold his birthright for a bowl of soup–how can someone who gives virtually no regard to his birthright be the trusted guardian of a brit intended for eternity? It was also clear to Rivka that Esav failed to understand what the brit requires, as he married a non-Jewish, Hittite woman. This brought great amounts of grief to his family.

Therefore, this arrangement was not just a matter of relationships within the family. It was about the fulfillment of Hashem's spiritual commandments and the future of an entire nation, the nation that Hashem said would be a blessing to humanity. If Rivka was right, then Yaakov was right to follow her instructions, and the ends ultimately justified the means regarding both of their actions.

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