Parashah Toledoth 2019 (History) Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

This parashah contains the narrative of how Jacob “stole” Esau’s birthright. After doing this, he also fooled his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing of the firstborn Isaac had intended for Esau, so twice Jacob supplanted and “stole” Esau’s rights.

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After this was done, Esau pledged to kill Jacob as soon as their father died, so hearing of this, Rebekah had Isaac send Jacob to Paddan-Aram, where her brother Laban lived to find a wife for himself. Of course, this was also her way to get Jacob away from Esau.

My question is this: did Jacob really steal anything?

Esau was a man of immediate gratification and had no respect for his birthright. This we know simply by how easily he gave it up. He wasn’t on the verge of starvation, although he acted like he was; I mean, really? How far could he have been from his parent’s tent when he came into Jacob’s tent? Jacob made a deal- he knew that Esau had something of value (the birthright) and that he, Jacob, had something Esau wanted, so he simply performed a standard business transaction.

In today’s jargon, we might call the deal he made a “steal”, but he did not really steal anything.

Now, let’s talk about the blessing of the firstborn that he is also supposed to have stolen.

First off, Rebekah was the one who thought up the plan to deceive her husband, not Jacob. In fact, we don’t even know if Rebekah was aware of the fact that Jacob owned the birthright of the one who was to receive that blessing (we’ll come back to this point soon.)  According to my Chumash, Rebekah conceived the plan to fool Isaac after she heard him tell Esau he was going to give him a blessing because she remembered the prophecy she received (Genesis 25:23) when God told her there were two nations in her womb, and the older would serve the younger. Remembering this, she knew she had to make sure Jacob received the greater blessing. That was her motivation for the plot to fool Isaac.

Now, let’s get back to my earlier point about Jacob being the one who owned the right to that blessing. Jacob owned the rights of the firstborn, which would include the blessing for the firstborn. When Esau sold his rights as firstborn, everything that the firstborn was entitled to now belonged to Jacob. That includes the blessing the firstborn is to receive. I think we can make an argument that when Jacob fooled his father, it wasn’t so much to receive the blessing as it was to make sure that Isaac did not do something wrong, i.e. giving the blessing for the firstborn to one who was not entitled to it.

Many “Christian” Bibles have a subtle anti-Semitic tone to them. In fact, most of the Bibles written have copied, or at least maintained, these chapter titles that are phrased in such a way as to mislead the reader. One that really gets my goat is in Acts when Shaul has his revelation of Yeshua. They almost call this one “Paul’s Conversion on the Road to Damascus.” Oy, how I hate that! Paul never converted to anything! Today’s section of the Bible is sometimes titled “Jacob Steals Esau’s Blessing”. I found that in an old, Dartmouth Bible I have. A newer Bible, the NIV Study Quest Bible, gives this section the title “Jacob Gets Esau’s Blessing”, so it is a little better than saying it was stolen.  The NLT says he stole it, and most of the others I looked at (about a dozen or so) either have no chapter title or say “Jacob Tricks Isaac.” I would agree that he did trick Isaac, obviously, but I still maintain a less accusatory title would have been something like “Jacob Receives the Blessing of the Firstborn.”

As I said before, if anyone should be blamed for tricking Isaac, it should be Rebekah since it was her idea, to begin with.

After all, that blessing belonged to Jacob the moment Esau sold it to him. And this selling of non-tangible things wasn’t unusual for that culture. In Genesis 30:14, Leah’s son, Reuben found mandrakes, and when Rachel asked for them Leah offered to give them to her in exchange for the conjugal duties of Jacob. Here we see the same sort of transaction, where an intangible right is being bought and sold. So what Jacob did wasn’t as terrible, for that culture, as we would consider it if it was done today.

When we look through the Bible, we see that in order for God’s plan to come to fruition, he often “breaks the rules” that people have created so that his will is done. The firstborn not receiving what mankind mandated the firstborn should receive is one example of this, and we see it in this parashah, and also later with Manasseh and Ephraim, then David, Solomon, and throughout the kingships of the Northern Kingdom of Israel up even to the day they are destroyed by the Assyrians.

We have to live under the laws and regulations of this world, which will have an impact on our lives; however, they will not have any impact on God’s plan for us. So no matter who cheats you or steals from you, or just misleads you, remember that you can trust in God to steer you back onto the course he wants you to be on. In fact, someone’s treachery against you may actually be God’s way of getting you where he wants you to be!

Always trust God to direct and rescue you no matter what happens in your life, whether it be a blessing or tsouris.

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I welcome your comments, and until next time, Shabbat shalom and Baruch HaShem!

Parashah Mikketz (and it came to pass) Genesis 41 – 44:17

Joseph is brought before Pharaoh, who has had the dreams of the 7 good cows and the 7 bad cows, and the 7 good ears of corn and the 7 bad ears of corn. Joseph interprets the dreams and even tells Pharaoh the best way to prepare for the famine to come.

Pharaoh recognizes Joseph’s ability to plan and organize, and immediately promotes him from Buck Private to Executive Officer over the entire land of Egypt. Joseph efficiently does what he said should be done and there is so much grain in the storehouses it can’t be measured. Then the famine comes, just as God had foretold through Joseph’s interpretation, and the land of Egypt is the only place in the world there is food.

Jacob hears of the food available in Egypt and sends his sons, all but Benjamin, to get food to keep them all alive. As they come to buy, Joseph is over-seeing the sales and making sure that everyone coming into the country is there peacefully. He sees his brothers, but they can’t recognize him; he is dressed as an Egyptian, speaks Egyptian and is the Grand Vizier- even if they thought he looked familiar, how they possibly even think that it could be their Hebrew brother running the entire land of Egypt?  They don’t know it’s Joseph, but Joseph knows it’s them. He treats them badly, accusing them of spying, and ends up keeping Simeon as a hostage until they verify their story about having another brother by bringing Benjamin to him.

Jacob is adamant that Benjamin not go anywhere, but when there is no food he has to relent. Reuben offers up his own two sons as collateral, but it is Judah’s promise to watch over Benjamin that Jacob accepts as trustworthy. They go back with Benjamin and Joseph treats them well, feeds them in his own house, then sets them up so that it appears Benjamin has stolen from him. The parashah ends with Benjamin found out a thief and to be held forever as the slave of Joseph.

Some people always try to demean and debunk the bible as nothing more than a storybook, but the details and historical accuracy of how Egyptians lived, the gold necklace, the re-naming of Joseph, all the details in this parashah indicate this is an historically and culturally accurate accounting.

Joseph is demonstrating here what Yeshua said to His Disciples in Mattitayu 10:16:

Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

He is testing the brothers to see if they have learned their lesson regarding the way they treated Joseph. He already has remembered his dreams of the brothers bowing down to him, as they were right then and there doing exactly that same thing. He has overcome in many ways the pain and suffering he felt, which we can see in how he named his children. His shrewdness is demonstrated in that he did not reveal himself, giving the brothers the chance to act sorry and ask forgiveness simply because of Josephs’ powerful position. He didn’t speak Hebrew, he acted totally Egyptian, and in an instant he planned out how to test their loyalty to Jacob and their love for Benjamin. He remembered their jealousy of him, and I think he reconciled it not to his own actions but to the favoritism he received from Jacob as the son of Rachel. Maybe Joseph was testing the brother’s loyalty and protection of Benjamin, the only other child Rachel had, because he might have thought they would have the same hatred and jealousy of Benjamin they had for him.

Joseph was very shrewd, and yet we see he was also very gentle. Even though he accused them of being spies and talked roughly with them (essentially he gave them the “third degree”) he supplied them with the food they needed as they returned to bring Benjamin to him. Returning their money, I believe, was out of kindness- although it made it even harder for them to return because they were afraid that Joseph would not only think them spies but thieves, as well, having taken the food without paying for it. I don’t get that part- they had to have given the money when they received the food, and if it was in their packs later I would think they would wonder how anyone could possibly know they didn’t pay for the food. If someone who was responsible for giving out the food allowed them to get food without paying, that person was in trouble, not them. I guess this shows how people can be fearful even when there is nothing to be afraid of. Or, perhaps, they were concerned because they really thought this was God’s doing, as is evident in the way they talked to each other when Joseph was accusing them. They said it was the recompense and justice they deserved for what they did to Joseph, and God was bringing this down on their heads. Perhaps, even though there was no way the Egyptians could have known they didn’t pay, they figured they would know, anyway, since God is bringing this about.

We don’t see the fullness of Joseph’s acting gentle with them until the next parasha, but the lesson here is that we should be forgiving of those that harm us, even if they don’t care whether we forgive them or not. In fact, forgiveness has nothing to do with what the sinner feels. Joseph named his children Manasseh (God has made me forget all the trouble I have gone through) and Ephraim (God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction), demonstrating his acceptance of his life in Egypt and having forgotten the painful way he got there. He had already forgiven his brothers, he was gentle with them in his “mistreatment” because he wasn’t being vengeful, he was only testing them.

God tests us, too, and just as Joseph’s apparent cruelty was only an act, when we suffer through testing, God is not angry or vengeful, He is lovingly watching what we do so He can be ready to reward us when we pass the testing. He wants us to pass, He wants us to do what He has told us we should do, and when we fail, I am sure He is disappointed, but already thinking of a testing that is less harsh. We must pass through the fire to become purified, and if there is so much dross in us that we can’t be purified in a single testing, then we will go through the fire over and over and over until we are pure.  God is doing this to us out of love: we need to remember that when it feels more like punishment.

Joseph is showing us that we can forgive but still be wary; we can allow others back into our lives when they are repentant but we don’t have to trust them again until they prove their worth. Joseph had forgiven his brothers, but he needed to give them the opportunity to prove their repentance and trustworthiness so he could not just forgive, but accept them back into his life.

If there is someone who has done you wrong, do not wait for them to ask forgiveness- forgive them now. Remember what David said, even after he committed adultery with Bat Sheba and then planned Uriah’s death to cover it up: he said (in Psalm 51) that his sin was against God, and against God alone. The sin we commit may seem to be against someone, but it is really against God, and every single sin we commit has to be reconciled with God. When God forgives us, we are spiritually “saved” from the consequences. We will always, and I mean always, suffer the consequences of the sins we commit in the physical world, and we still need to ask those we sin against to forgive us.

Here’s the way forgiveness works: the only forgiveness that counts is the forgiveness we receive from God. That’s because we are not commanded to ask forgiveness, we are commanded to forgive. What that means is that if you sin against someone, you need to get yourself right with God first, then you can ask that person for forgiveness. However, it doesn’t really matter (from a spiritual viewpoint) if they forgive you or not. If they do, they are then making themselves right with God; if they don’t, they are sinning against God! To forgive is a commandment. If you feel someone doesn’t deserve to be forgiven, you are placing yourself above God! If God is willing to forgive, then you better be willing to forgive, too. Your willingness to forgive someone is between you and God- they are out of the equation. Once they sinned against you, they’re no longer important- now it is between you and God, and He wants you to forgive them. As for God forgiving them, well, that’s between them and God, and you have no part of that.

You know, we can learn a lot from from Joseph about forgiveness, and also about accepting where God has placed you.