Monday, November 23, 2009

Parshat Toldot:Callous indifference,or senile dementia?

Those who'd like to review the story of the stolen blessing can read it here.

The rabbis of Pirkei Avot (Verses ["Ethics"] of the Fathers said, "Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it . . . " (5:26) It never ceases to amaze me that I spot new things every year, though I've been reading the weekly Torah-reading portion/Parsha/Sedra every Shabbat/Sabbath for over 35 years.

And what I spotted this year was a shocking indifference to his sons on the part of Yitzchak/Isaac. The only reason given for him loving Esav/Esau is that Esav was a good hunter and brought him venison. (See chapter 25, verses 27-28.) Is that all? And he couldn't give his son a blessing without being bribed? Since when should a child have to bribe a parent to get a blessing?

And what the heck kind of blessing is this?

כט יַעַבְדוּךָ עַמִּים, וישתחו (וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ) לְךָ לְאֻמִּים--הֱוֵה גְבִיר לְאַחֶיךָ, וְיִשְׁתַּחֲווּ לְךָ בְּנֵי אִמֶּךָ; אֹרְרֶיךָ אָרוּר, וּמְבָרְכֶיךָ בָּרוּךְ.

29 Let peoples serve thee, and nations bow down to thee. Be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother's sons bow down to thee. Cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be every one that blesseth thee.

And what the heck kind of blessing does he give the robbery victim, Esav?

מ וְעַל-חַרְבְּךָ תִחְיֶה, וְאֶת-אָחִיךָ תַּעֲבֹד; וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר תָּרִיד, וּפָרַקְתָּ עֻלּוֹ מֵעַל צַוָּארֶךָ.

40 And by thy sword shalt thou live, and thou shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt break loose, that thou shalt shake his yoke from off thy neck.

Did Yitzchak actually want his sons to kill one another?

Then, of course, there's the interesting question of how on earth Yitzchak could possibly have been fooled, and/or why on earth he allowed himself to be fooled, by a trick so transparent that even he pretty much "saw" through it, blind though he was.

One of the women at the minyan at which I davvened/prayed this past Shabbat suggested that Yitzchak was "losing it." Frankly, that's just about the only logical explanation I can think of for his behavior, which I find close to bizarre. After all, as someone at that same minyan pointed out, Yaakov/Jacob ended up with 12 sons, and somehow found a blessing for every one of them. (Okay, so some of us Documentary Hypothesis fans may say that the blessings were written long after they'd come true, but still . . . )

Let's review the facts. The Torah itself tells us that Yitzchak was 60 years old when his twin sons were born. (See chapter 25, verse 26.) He must have been at least 75 at the time of this story. Senile dementia at that age is not necessarily out of the question.

This might also account for the active role played by Rivka/Rebecca in this story. Sure, she was playing favorites. But under the circumstances, what would you expect? Did she really want the leadership of the family to be left in the hands of a man with so little ability to delay gratification and to prioritize that he'd traded his birthright for a bowl of soup, or would the family be better off in the hands of a man who was clever enough to figure out that he could get away with such a trade? Clearly, Yitzchak didn't have a clue. Clearly, Rivka was going to have to figure out a way to call the shots. She connived to get the blessing for Yaakov, then saved his life (assuming that Esav would really have acted on his threat, which is debatable) by finding a pretext for getting him out of town quickly. But of course, since she was only a woman, she got no credit. Yaakov never thanked her for anything, and it never seems to have occurred to Yitzchak, or, interestingly enough, to Esav, that she may have had anything to do with the theft of the blessing. Nor does Yitzchak credit her with the idea that Yaakov should go back to her family to find a bride. Ah, the joys of being a woman in the good olde days. :(


Blogger Tzipporah said...

Remember that Yitzhak himself came from a fairly messed up family. Sarah vs. Hagar, Yitzhak vs. Ishmael - and then there's the fact that his dad almost killed him.

I don't know that we should EXPECT him to have "normal" relationships with his own children.

Mon Nov 23, 07:56:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

An when we get there in a few weeks, take a look at those so-called blessings. For example:

49:3 'Reuben, you are my firstborn, my strength and the beginning of my manhood, first in rank and first in power.
49:4 [But because you were] unstable as water, you will no longer be first. This is because you moved your father's beds, committing a profane act. He moved my bed!
49:5 'Simeon and Levi are a pair; instruments of crime are their wares.
49:6 Let my soul not enter their plot; let my spirit not unite with their meeting - for they have killed men with anger, maimed bulls with will.
49:7 Cursed be their rage, for it is fierce, and their fury, for it is cruel. I will disperse them in Jacob, scatter them in Israel.

Mon Nov 23, 09:25:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Tzipporah, true on all counts.

Larry, good point. Yaakov's words to his sons were not all kind ones.

Tue Nov 24, 12:45:00 AM 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's another idea, that Isaac was permanently messed up by the whole "Dad tried to kill me" episode, and that's why the blessings seem so off.

Fri Nov 05, 12:01:00 PM 2010  

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