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Rabbi Jon’s Reflection on This Week’s Torah Portion

11.17.2023

Toldot 2023: The Power of a Blessing

A short reflection on Toldot (Genesis 25:19 - 28:9)  

The words we say matter.  They can be blessings or curses, because they have the ability to lift up someone’s soul as easily as drive a dagger through their heart. How often have you shared words that nearly destroyed a relationship? But, on the flipside, how often have you said words that uplift a friend or a relative?  

This week’s Torah portion is Toldot, which literally means “generations.” Included in its words is a description of the birth of Esau and Jacob, the twin sons of Rebekah and Isaac. Esau is an outdoorsman, always ready to hunt for his food. Jacob prefers spending time closer to home, tending the fields, and spending time with his mother cooking. Tradition tells us that Isaac favors Esau while Rebekah favors Jacob. 

Towards the end of his life, Isaac is ready to give a blessing meant for the oldest child to Esau. Rebekah prefers that Jacob receives the blessing so she concocts a plan where Jacob is the recipient of his father’s words. Her plan works. Jacob receives a blessing not meant for him and Esau is left out in the cold. Upon learning of the deception, Esau vows to kill his brother. Fearing for her son’s safety, Rebekah sends Jacob to her people in Paddan-Aram.  

Why would a stolen blessing create a desire for one brother to kill another?  It’s just words after all. During the Biblical period, words mattered. People took blessings and curses seriously. Today’s Torah portion is focused on the power of a blessing and the fear of a possible curse. The blessing in today’s story was meant for one child. It was not meant to be shared or repeated.  

When Esau learns of the deception, he breaks down in tears because Isaac cannot take back the blessing he gave to Jacob and give it to him. The rabbis teach:  I cannot take back that which I gave to him…. It resembles a person who cut windows in a pitch-dark room in order to allow the sunlight to come in.  Even if the man goes away, the sun still keeps streaming into the house (Ikarim). In other words, once the blessing is spoken, it is like a light that cannot be recaptured. 

 Words are powerful.  We learn this again and again in Judaism.  Wasn’t the world created by the spoken word when God said “Let there be light”?  Isn’t Kol Nidre about rescinding vows we have taken without fulfilling? In Judaism, it is believed that words must be chosen carefully.

Through our blessings, we bless God and we bless everything through God.  How many blessings do you say a day? What special blessings do we give to our children or our spouse or our parents? What blessing do they need?  What should we be blessing on this upcoming Thanksgiving day? 

As you go about your holiday, think about the power of words and the power of blessings in the bible.  Then remember to watch your words and to share your blessings.  You’ll find if you do both, you’ll be more centered, more giving, and more forgiving.

This Thanksgiving, may your words flow like water from a spring, giving nourishment to all who are parched. 

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TOLDOT SUMMARY FROM URJ.ORG

  • Rebekah has twins, Esau and Jacob. (25:19-26)

  • Esau gives Jacob his birthright in exchange for some stew. (25:27-34)

  • King Abimelech is led to think that Rebekah is Isaac's sister and later finds out that she is really his wife. (26:1-16)

  • Isaac plans to bless Esau, his firstborn. Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac so that Jacob receives the blessing. (27:1-29)

  • Esau threatens to kill Jacob, who then flees to Haran. (27:30-45)

For more on this Torah portion from the URJ go to: https://reformjudaism.org/torah/portion/toldot

 

Fri, June 14 2024 8 Sivan 5784