Toldot Revisited: Changing the narrative

deceiving isaacLast week I wrote about Toldot, of course because that was the week’s parasha.  It was  all about Jacob and Esau and the situation that led to the brothers’ estrangement.  But although we have moved on in the Torah, the events of this week keep me coming back to the text of this section.

My friend Rabbi Joe Black recently posted an article that was picked up by the Israel Times.  You can read it here, and in it he speaks eloquently about the verse when Isaac says, “The hands are the hands of Esau but the voice is the voice of Jacob”, saying that we have to rise above the violence that is manifested in the hands of Esau and embrace the peace that comes through the voice of Jacob.

But what if we read that differently?  The hands of Jacob were hands of deceit.  They wore the animal skins so they could seem like Esau’s hands, in order to receive Isaac’s blessing of the first born.  Isaac was blind, so his statement showed his confusion.  Yet Esau’s voice, a few verses later, erupts from his heart, “Have you no blessing left for me, Father?  Bless me too, Father!”, full of anguish and pain….and truth.

The hands are the hands of deceit, but the voice is the voice of truth?  Reading it that way turns our narrative on its head.  Esau is the wild, violent, evil brother.  Jacob is the favored, peaceful, learned brother. We know that, we teach that, we own that.   Have we become so blind, like Isaac, to what we hear and see and feel, that we can’t see the paradigm any other way?

Certainly, there are evil and violent “Esaus” in the world, and they have done much damage.  The horrific Har Nof killings bear that out.  There are evil and violent Esau-nations, too, and I am not excusing these events or individuals, nor am I making a blanket equivalence between our experiences and theirs.

But I think we need to start seeing Esau in a different light, and Jacob, too.  Or we are condemned to stay in the dark, stumbling and blind, ignoring as Isaac did, what the heart truly heard.

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