Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Blogging the Bible

Shabbat Toldot

29 Cheshvan 5771 / Oct. 5 - 6, 2010
Bereshit 25:19-28:9

Blogging the Bibleby Ariel Raz, MH San Francisco

This week's parasha follows the story of Yitzhak, headstrong wife Rivkah and their offspring. The portion presents an opportunity for God to renew and reiterate his vow to Abraham, a vow of longevity and prosperity to his offspring. One of the centerpieces to our portion is the strength of the covenant, the enduring hold of a promise and its ramifications.

A curious element to this story, which follows Abraham's Yitzhak, is how incidental a character our patriarch is. Whereas his father must endure unfathomable hardship to enjoy the common pleasures of life, like having his beloved wife bear his children, Yitzhak is a wholly passive character, his main personality trait being a sort of blind devotion to God and the covenant. Twice--once amid descriptions of his wife's lineage and once after Rivkah’s dialogue with God about how to manage the prophetic truth of bearing twins who are to lead their lives at war, we are bluntly reminded of Yizthak's age. It's as if there is nothing else to say about him.

So this section has a, what one could call, a gender reversal: Rivkah is the active character; Yitzhak, the passive. Pretty subversive for biblical text.

Later, when Ya'akov, with Rivkah's encouragement, commits an act of deathbed deception, Yitzhak is powerless to overturn it. This too speaks to Yitzhak's passivity, but also to our own powerlessness when facing a covenant, or a promise that we have made. One lesson is that we should not take a promise lightly, even if the outcome is undesirable or unfair.

That lesson has powerful resonance. It teaches us to be careful of what we promise and relentless about seeing them through, even when they are unfair. But this should give us pause. It's unsettling how Ya'akov's diabolical lie goes unpunished, especially considering he uses the lord's name to take credit for the speediness with which he, disguised as his brother Esav, was able to fashion his father's favorite meal. And it's downright unfair that Esav, the more able brother, is outwitted by a cunning brother and a conniving mother.

But the greater point here is that a bond with God is unyielding. That we must take the utmost care to ensure that it's sanctity is in tact. Because that which is holy can easily be corrupted, and the burden is on us to maintain a pure covenant.


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