This week's parasha is TOLEDOT, generations , our generation
“The boys grew up. Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed at home among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob” (Gen. 25:27-28).
We have no difficulty understanding why Rebekah loved Jacob.
G-D told Rebecca :
“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 older will serve the younger” (Gen. 25:23).
Jacob was the younger. Rebekah seems to have inferred, correctly as it turned out, that it would be
he who would continue the covenant, who would stay true to Abraham’s heritage,
and who would teach it to his children, carrying the story forward into the future.
The real question is why did Isaac love Esau?
Could he not see that he was a man of the outdoors, a hunter, not a man of God?
Is it conceivable that he loved Esau merely because he had a taste for wild game?
Did his appetite rule his mind and heart?
Did Isaac not know how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup?
Was this someone with whom to entrust the spiritual patrimony of Abraham?
Isaac surely knew that his elder son was a man who lived in the emotions of the moment.
Even if this did not trouble him,
the next episode involving Esau clearly did:
It is written:
“When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen. 26:34-35).
Esau had made himself at home among the Hittites.
This was not a man to carry forward the Abrahamic covenant which involved a measure of distance from the Hittites and Canaanites
and all they represented in terms of
Yet Isaac clearly did love Esau.
We sense this at the beginning when Isaac asks Esau:
" Prepare me the kind of tasty food I like and bring it to me to eat, so that I may give you my blessing before I die.”
This is not Isaac’s physical appetite speaking.
It is his wish to be filled with the smell and taste he associates with his elder son, so that he can bless him in a mood of focused love.
It is the end of the story that really expresses the deep feelings between them.
Esau enters with the food he has prepared.
Slowly Isaac, and then Esau, realise the nature of the deception that has been practiced against them.
Isaac “trembled violently.”
Esau “burst out with a loud and bitter cry.”
The Torah generally says little about people’s emotions.
During the whole of the trial of the binding of Isaac we are given not the slightest indication of what Abraham or Isaac felt in one of the most fraught episodes in Bereshit.
The depth of feeling the Torah describes in speaking of Isaac and Esau at that moment is such rare and almost overwhelming.
Father and son share their sense of betrayal.
The bond of love between them is intense.
So the question returns:
why did Isaac love Esau, despite everything, his wildness, his out marriages?
The sages gave some explanation, I will retain one of them, closer to the plain sense of the text, and very moving.
Isaac loved Esau because Esau was his son, and that is what fathers do.
They love their children unconditionally.
That does not mean that Isaac could not see the faults in Esau’s character.
It does not imply that he thought Esau was the right person to continue the covenant.
Nor does it mean he was not pained when Esau married Hittite women. The text explicitly says he was.
But it does mean that Isaac knew that:
A father must love his son because he is his son.
That is not incompatible with being critical of what he does.
But a father does not disown his child, even when he disappoints his expectations.
Isaac was teaching us a fundamental lesson in parenthood.
Because he knew that Abraham had sent his son Ishmael away.
He may have known how much that pained Abraham and injured Ishmael.
There is a remarkable series of midrashim that suggest that Abraham visited Ishmael even after he sent him away, and others that say it was Isaac who effected the reconciliation.
Isaac was determined not to inflict the same fate on Esau.
There is a fascinating argument between two mishnaic sages that has a bearing on this.
There is a verse in Devarim (14:1) that says, about the Jewish people,
" You are children of the Lord your G-D ”
Rabbi Meir said that it was unconditional:
Whether Jews behave like G-D’s children or they do not,
they are still called the children of G-D.
The Central idea to Judaism of
Prayer we prayed not Long ago,
Our Father, Our King,
G-D is first our Father, then our King,
This is to say that we have to invest our relationship with G-D with the most profound emotions.
G-D struggles with us, as does a parent with a child.
We struggle with him as a child does with his or her parents.
The relationship is sometimes
And what gives it its depth, is the knowledge that it is unbreakable.
Whatever happens, a parent is still a parent,
and a child is still a child.
The bond may be deeply damaged but it is never broken beyond repair.
Perhaps that is what Isaac was signalling to all generations by his continuing love for Esau,
so unlike him,
so different in character and destiny, yet never rejected by him
just as the midrash says that Abraham never rejected Ishmael and found ways of communicating his love.
Unconditional love is not uncritical but it is unbreakable.
That is how we should love our children
for it is how G-d loves us.