OU Torah Insights ProjectParashat Toldot
Parshas Toldos presents us with one of the most troubling moral episodes in the book of Bereishis. The deception of Yitzchak conceived by Rivkah and executed by Yaakov, is in plain violation of numerous moral norms, all of which are later codified in the Torah and in Halachah. The story of Yaakovs acquiring his fathers blessing must therefore give great pause to the children of Yaakov, the inheritors of this purloined blessing.
What lasting message does the Torah intend to convey to us by so explicitly describing our Patriarchs actions?
This question is compounded when we consider that the method Sarah used a generation earlier to insure that Yitzchak - and not Yishmael -inherit the blessing of their father, was also none too savory. Avraham recognized the evil of evicting Yishmael from his home, as Sarah had demanded, and he would not have done so were it not for G-ds commanding him to comply to Sarahs wish.
Our Rabbinic tradition by no means whitewashes these stories. Most explicit are the comments of Ramban. who characterizes the actions toward Yishmael as sinful. Similarly, the midrash portrays Leah as upbraiding Yaacov for deceiving his father.
What then, are we supposed to make of these events? What are they meant to tell us about ourselves, about our story, about our quest for being the Chosen People of G-d?
Before the above question can be answered, one must first accept the premise that our Patriarchs and Matriarchs would have emerged, in any case, as the Fathers and Mothers of our blessed and chosen nation. Regardless of the steps that Sarah, Rivkah, and Yaakov would or would not have taken, it was the will of God that they be our Patriarchs and Matriarchs - and this divine will would have been fulfilled one way or the other.
Thus, the events of these parshios tell us not how our forebears became Avos and Imahos, but how they conducted themselves as such. Sarah wanted it to be clear and indisputable in the eyes of everyone that Yitzchak and not Yishmael was the inheritor of Avrahams covenant with God. Rivkah desired the same for Yaakov.
This recognition was the basis of their maneuverings, and we can readily understand the importance of such clarity - for without recognition, ones role as the bearer of Gods covenant is hampered.
But it is here that the moral issue enters.
The Torah forces us to ask ourselves this question: Does the need to distinguish ourselves spiritually justify the possible alienation of others? Is it legitimate to pursue our own religious goals and dreams when this pursuit might cause us to neglect our moral obligations to others?
Today these questions are pertinent in both our relations to non-Jews, as well as our relations to Jews with whom we have doctrinal disagreements. Positive and necessary self-promotion always carries with it the peril of the denigration of others. Parshas Toldos asks us to consider the cost versus the benefit of such behavior.
Rabbi Kanefsky is rabbi of the Bnai David Judea Congregation in Los Angeles, California.