Numbers in [square brackets] are the Mitzva-Count from Sefer HaChinuch.
Kohen – First Aliya – 21 p’sukim – 25:19-26:5
This is the history of Yitzchak b. Avraham; Avraham fathered Yitzchak.
[SDT] Rashi quotes the Gemara that tells that when Yitzchak was born, scoffers said that Avraham and Sara, who were childless for so long, had found a baby and claimed it as theirs. Avraham invited the leaders of the nations, their wives and infants, and Sara was miraculously able to wet-nurse all the babies. (The Gemara points to the plural “banim” in 21:7.) Then the scoffers accepted that Sara bore Yitzchak, but chided Avraham that Avimelech was the father (since Yitzchak’s birth followed Sara’s abduction). A miracle occurred and baby Yitzchak was the very image of his father Avraham, until the scoffers proclaimed, “Avraham fathered Yitzchak”.
Yitzchak is 40 years old when he marries Rivka (3 years after the Akeida). The Torah emphasizes Rivka’s family background.
After 20 years of childlessness (10 until Rivka was of child-bearing age plus an additional 10 years without a child), Yitzchak and Rivka pray to G-d. G-d hears their (actually his) prayer and Rivka becomes pregnant. She is having a “rough time” and goes to Shem b. Noach (who outlived Avraham, by the way) who tells her G-d’s message, that she will give birth to twins who will go in very different ways and become great adversaries.[SDT] Commentaries say that Rivka was unaware that she was carrying twins; she thought the turmoil within her existed in a single baby – this had her very upset; she was somewhat calmed by the Divine message of her carrying twins.
Another commentator suggests that Rivka knew she’d have twins but did not see the benefit of bringing a Yaakov into this world if it meant also having an Eisav. Part of the reply to her question “why do I need this”, is that her conclusion was wrong.
Eisav and Yaakov are born, Yaakov clutching the heel of Eisav. The boys grow and develop different personalities – Eisav is the hunter and outdoorsman; Yaakov, the mild, studious “tent-dweller”. Yitzchak loves Eisav; Rivka loves Yaakov.[SDT] There are many different commentaries on these relationships. Note that Yitzchak’s love is based on Eisav’s providing food for him. Rivka’s love is unconditional. Pirkei Avot says that only an unconditional love will endure forever.
Yaakov is preparing a lentil soup for his father. (The Gemara tell us that this was the day of Avraham’s death; Yaakov was preparing the traditional mourner’s meal for Yitzchak.)
Eisav returns from the field in a state of exhaustion. He asks Yaakov for some of the food. In exchange for the food, Yaakov acquires the birthright, which is insignificant in Eisav’s eyes, but meaningful to Yaakov.
A famine hits the Land (like the one in Avraham’s time – this is one of the many similarities between the lives of Avraham and Yitzchak) and Yitzchak goes to Avimelech in Gerar. G-d appears to Yitzchak and reminds him that he must not leave the Land. G-d also repeats his promises of the Land and of the large nation that will descend from him.[SDT] The Torah says that G-d spoke to Rivka to tell her about her twins. Rashi “jumps” to tell us that it was through SHEM (with whom G-d communicated via Ru’ach HaKodesh) that G-d spoke to her. Rashi found this necessary to say in light of the fact that Rivka is not counted among the prophetesses. (See however, a comment later in the sedra.)
Levi– Second Aliya – 7 p’sukim – 26:8-12
Yitzchak dwells in Gerar. Yitzchak and Rivka pose as brother and sister (as did Avraham and Sara, and for the same two reasons). After a while Avimelech discovers that they are actually husband and wife and complains to Yitzchak about the deception. Avimelech orders his people to leave Yitzchak and Rivka alone. Yitzchak and family flourish in Gerar and G-d blesses them.
TAKE A LOOK… First famine that drove Avraham and Sara to Egypt, when Par’o discovers their true relationship, he sends then away. Second time, when they went to Gerar and said they were brother and sister, and then “discovered”, Avimelech gives them many things and invites them to stay. (Par’o had given Avraham great wealth, but it was before he knew.) Yitzchak and Rivka also say they are siblings, but no one takes Rivka. When they are “found out”, they stick around.[SDT] The S’fas Emes suggests that Yitzchak would have been known to Avimelech as the son of Avraham. His showing up in Gerar with a woman he claims is his sister, then, would support the opinion that Avraham did indeed have a daughter. This is one of the opinions as to the meaning of G-d blessed Avraham BAKOL.
Shlishi – Third Aliya – 10 p’sukim – 26:13-22
Yitzchak thrives in Gerar, which creates jealousy among the locals who fill in the wells that Yitzchak has dug. (There is great symbolism in the Torah’s account of the wells, their names, their failures, and then their successes.) Yitzchak is driven away from Gerar. A new well that Yitzchak digs is taken over by the shepherds of Gerar, as is yet another well. Only the third well called Rehovot permits Yitzchak to live in relative peace.
(Some see this as a hidden reference to the first and second Beit HaMikdash, which fell, and the third which will stand forever. May we see it soon in our time.)
Brachot 56: Rabbi Chanina said, he who sees a well in a dream, he will see peace… Yitzchak’s servants dug and found a live spring, B’EIR MAYIM CHAYIM. This is immediately followed by the peace treaty between Avimelech and Yitzchak. Rabbi Natan continues in the same Gemara. He who sees a well in his dream has found Torah, as it says in Mishlei: He who finds me, finds life… an equation is made between G-d, Torah, and Life.
R’vi’i – Fourth Aliya – 7 p’sukim – 26:23-29
Yitzchak sets himself up in Be’er Sheva. G-d appears to him and reiterates the promises for prosperity made to Avraham. Yitzchak builds an altar to G-d and continues to prosper. Avimelech, realizing that his own prosperity was due to the presence of Yitzchak, comes with a delegation to Yitzchak in order to enter into a covenant with him.
(Not a rare experience through the generations – Jews are expelled from a country, which subsequently regrets its actions because of the decline they experienced without the Jews in their midst.)
Chamishi – Fifth Aliya – 33 p’sukim – 26:30-27:27
Yitzchak and Avimelech partake of a meal and exchange oaths. Be’er Sheva is reaffirmed as “the city of the Avot” by Yitzchak’s actions. Another example of the similarity between Yitzchak’s life and Avraham’s.
Eisav marries at 40 years of age – a (sub)conscious attempt to emulate his father. However wicked Eisav is, he is genuinely respectful and loving of his father. On the other hand, Eisav’s choice of a wife disgusts both Yitzchak and Rivka.
Yitzchak is old and blind and calls to Eisav to prepare for him a special meal and then receive a special blessing. While Eisav is in the fields doing his father’s bidding, Rivka prepares Yaakov to receive the blessing instead of Eisav. She tells Yaakov to bring her two goats and she would prepare the dishes that Yitzchak loved. Yaakov hesitates for fear that Yitzchak will feel his smooth skin and realize that Yaakov has come to deceive him. Rivka dresses Yaakov in Eisav’s garments and places a goat- skin on his neck to give it a rough feel. She gives Yaakov the food to bring to his father.
When Yaakov hesitates to participate in Rivka’s plan to get him the bracha, Rivka says to him, ALAI KI’L’LATCHA B’NI. The “p’shat” (plain understanding) is that Rivka was taking upon herself the potential curse if the deception were discovered. Targum Onkeles adds a very significant phrase to his translation of ALAI. He says, “to me was told as prophecy…” This way of looking at the episode is that Rivka was, in essence, commanded by G-d to arrange that the brachot go to Yaakov. And in specifically this way. This is considerably different from the “plain” understanding of the text. Let’s carry this one step further. It seems obvious that Yaakov was punished measure for measure for his deception of Yitzchak. The Brothers not only deceived Yaakov concerning the fate of Yosef, but they used a goat to bring about the deception. If we accept the idea that Yaakov was supposed to get the bracha that Yitzchak was going to give to Eisav, that it was G-d’s will, and even G-d’s command according to Onkeles, then we was Yaakov punished so severely? An answer might be suggested in the form of an analogy. When one has to take drastic, life-saving treatments – “serious” medication, radiation, etc., what is done might be absolutely necessary, but there are often harsh side-effects.
(The same interpretation of ALAI is offered for Esther when she said V’TZUMU ALAI. That also explains things from the Megila differently.)
Shishi – Sixth Aliya – 23 p’sukim – 27:28-28:4
The blessing invoked by Yitzchak upon Yaakov, for bountiful produce and respected status among nations, has been borrowed by us to be recited on Motzaei Shabbat – VAYITEN LECHA ELOKIM…
As Yitzchak finishes blessing Yaakov, Eisav returns from the hunt. He prepares food for his father and presents it with a request (demand) of the blessing. Yitzchak trembles when he realizes that the bracha went to Yaakov. When Yitzchak explains to Eisav that Yaakov received (and rightly so) the blessing, Eisav bitterly cries out and asks his father for a blessing too. Yitzchak gives Eisav a blessing (not as exalted as Yaakov’s). Eisav decides to kill Yaakov for this, the second time he has taken something away from him. Rivka hears (how?) of Eisav’s plans and encourages Yaakov to flee to Rivka’s hometown until Eisav’s wrath subsides. Rivka suggests to Yitzchak that he send Yaakov away to find a proper wife.
Yitzchak calls for Yaakov and gives him another blessing and sends him off to Padan Aram to find a wife among Rivka’s family. He gives Yaakov “the blessing of Avraham”, thus providing for the continuity of the Chain that becomes Judaism.
Sh’vi’i – Seventh Aliya – 5 p’sukim – 28:5-9
Yitzchak sends Yaakov off to Padan Aram to Lavan b. B’tu’el, the brother of Rivka who is the mother of Yaakov and Eisav. (Unusual ID) Eisav sees that their father has sent Yaakov to find a wife, because he does not want him to take a Canaanite wife. Yaakov goes on his way and Eisav takes as another wife, the daughter of Yishmael. And Eisav takes Machalat b. Yishmael…
Haftara – 21 p’sukim -Mal’achi 1:1-2:7
There is speculation as to whether Mal’achi is the name of an individual, or a description of “My messenger”. Some say that Mal’achi was Ezra.
Mal’achi is known as the last of the prophets. Mal’achi brings G-d’s message to the people that He loves Yaakov (and his descendants), and hates Eisav, even though Yaakov and Eisav are brothers. Thus, the Haftara echoes the rivalry and relationship between the two brothers that is the substance of the sedra To’l’dot. The haftara refers to the respect a son has for his father. In this regard, Eisav was exemplary.
Mal’achi criticizes the kohanim of the time for not being careful in the offering of korbanot. We can see this as a preparation for the building of the new Beit HaMikdash in the hopes that it will function properly and be a true honor to G-d.
Talmud Yerushalmi exclaims that this is Bosmat, and asks why her name was changed. The astonishing answer is that all Eisav’s sins were forgiven when he took a wife intended to please his parents. The Talmud generalizes and gives this as the source that the sins of a CHATAN (and KALLA) are forgiven when they marry. Strange source for an important concept.