29/30 November 2019, 1/2 Kislev 5780

A shocking portion Toldot (Generations), this Shabbat. The birth of Esau and Jacob and the prophecy that Rebekah helps to fulfill with deceit that the boys will fight. The extremes of parental favouritism don’t show our patriarch and matriarch in a particularly good light. And the family becomes polarised.

“Two peoples are in your belly; two nations shall branch off from each other [as they emerge from your womb]. One people shall prevail over the other; the elder shall serve the younger. … When the boys grew up, Esau became a skillful hunter and a man of the outdoors; but Jacob was a homespun man, keeping to the tents.” (Gen 25:23, 27)

It’s a brilliant lesson in how ‘not to parent’.  All so polarised. But not just that.

As Rabbi Michael Holzman taught; But the Torah knows us too well. Human societies tend toward entropy not creative tension. So immediately we see Jacob and Rebekah team up against Esau and Isaac. And through all the machinations, what results? Extortion over a bowl of soup? When Jacob and Rebecca turn polarization into demonization, brokenness and the threat of violence are the only results.  (I’ll speak more on that this Shabbat.)

What a week to read this portion when we are reminded such extremes of feelings are not just for our domestic dwellings but the wider wold.  Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke such truth when he commented on a human problem rather than a procedural one, but I am not sure such polarised pronouncements help us. There are issues of prejudice and poor behaviour in both major parties. I agree with the Reform movement this week; it would be deeply regrettable for 2019 to be remembered only for the conversations about anti-semitism.  We are not in the business of telling people how to vote, I think I have covered that previously, but we do hope everyone feels the preciousness of their vote and engages with conscience.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Rebecca