Parashat Tol’dot begins with “V’eileh tol’dot” – “these are the generations”. This Shabbat we read about the birth of Esau and Jacob, the twins born to Rebecca and Isaac. “When the boys grew up, Esau became a skilled hunter, a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a mild man who stayed in camp. Isaac favored Esau because he had a taste for game; but Rebecca favored Jacob” (Genesis 25:27-28).
Most are familiar with the story of how Esau, upon returning from hunting, is famished. Being an in-the-moment kind of guy, he sells his birthright to Jacob for a pot of lentil stew. Later, after coaching from Rebecca, Jacob deceives his father, Isaac, and receives the blessing reserved for the firstborn son, Esau. When Esau returns from hunting, he prepares a stew for his father and places it before Isaac, anticipating a blessing. When Isaac explains what has happened, Esau’s reaction is heart wrenching . He pleads “Barcheini gam ani, avi” – “Bless me too, Father!” (Genesis 27:38) twice during his encounter with Isaac. But what has been done cannot be undone. At that moment there is nothing left to do but weep. All of us surely have faced bitter disappointment, perhaps even issues stemming from inheritance, birth order or sibling rivalry. The question is: how does this reality shape who we are and the choices we make?
There is something about sons. When I was expecting my first child, I prayed it would be a boy – not because gender mattered to me, but because having a grandson to pass along the family line was important to my father. Sexist? Yes. But I had already grown up in a home with expectations and roles set according to gender. Though neither of my brothers have children, I have a son and a daughter, both of whom carry their father’s family name.
A few years ago, when visiting my now 92 year-old dad, I had what I will call an “Esau moment.” In conversation, my father stated, with bitterness, his disappointment in my brothers because the legacy of the family name will end with them. Stunned and heart-broken, I thought, “Barcheini gam ani, avi” – “Bless me too, Father!” Don’t get me wrong. My father loves me with all of his heart but our worldviews often clash, especially regarding gender issues. What I long for is the affirmation of my worth in sustaining the future of our family by transmitting to my children the heritage, values and living tradition that will carry “Mizrahi” into generations to come.
“V’eileh tol’dot” – “these are the generations” of women and men, of those who receive the coveted parental blessing and those who do not. Those who chose to marry and have children and those who never find their beshert (intended; soul-mate), let alone create a family. The unmarried who choose to have children and the GBLTQ couples seeking to create family in an atmosphere of increasing hostility and hate. Those who are misunderstood or judged. Those who are embraced and those who are rejected – for reasons too different to list. Each of these souls cries out, Barcheini gam ani – bless me with your unconditional love. Bless us with your love as an affirmation of who we are and the choices we make in the context of a world where choices are often made for us.
Blessed or not, these are the generations. And we know now that we can bless ourselves, each other and even those who withhold blessing. And perhaps this is all the blessing we need.
Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
What matters is the recognition that Judaism itself is a blessing. Embracing it, filling our lives with acts of love, kindness and generosity, we transform ourselves into living blessings. Such acts help reveal the Divine in the lives we lead and through the connections we build.