This week in Parashat Toldot, meaning generations or history, we once again have a tale of two brothers, an elder and younger. It is almost as if HaShem was setting forth the pattern for the making of Hollywood sequels. First, Cain and Abel, then Ishmael and Isaac, and now Esau and Jacob. One must acknowledge, however, that in the sequels, both Ishmael and Esau fared better than Cain, just as Isaac and Jacob fared better than Abel.
In this week’s sequel, we read the continuing story of Abraham’s progeny. Like his parents, Isaac and Rebecca had problems conceiving, though Rebecca was not barren for as long as Sarah. Like Abraham, Isaac eventually had two sons, unlike Abraham both from the same mother. Isaac also mirrored his father’s actions by having Rebecca introduced as his sister to the Philistine king Abimelech, which, when discovered, was not well received.
There is another comparison that caught my attention while reading the parasha, which is the recording of their last days. About Abraham we are told, “So Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, old and satisfied. Then he was gathered to his peoples” (Genesis 25:8). I have long thought that this would be an ideal epitaph for gravestone, XXX was a good old age, old and satisfied. It appears that Isaac had a bumpier journey.
Now it was when Isaac grew old and his eyes were too dim to see, that he called Esau his elder son, and said to him, “My son.” “Here I am,” he said to him. “Look, I’m old,” he said. “I don’t know the day of my death.Genesis 27:1-2
While Abraham was “old and satisfied,” Isaac seemed to be worried about his death; so much so that he desired his eldest son to prepare him a last meal—just in case. Interestingly, this was not to be Isaac’s last meal. In fact, he lived twenty plus more years.
Now Isaac’s days were 180 years. Then Isaac breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his peoples, old and full of days. So his sons Esau and Jacob buried him.Genesis 35:28-29
Somewhere along the line, it would appear that Isaac got over his fear of death. Between Genesis 27:1 and 35:29 Jacob went off to Uncle Laban’s acquired a couple of wives, concubines and a whole slew of children, while Esau stayed close to home with his three wives. Eventually Jacob returned and was somewhat reconciled with his brother Esau. Eventually, Isaac, like Abraham died old and full of days, satisfied with the life he lived.
I realize that it is dangerous to play the “what if” game, but one has to wonder how the story would have played out if Isaac hadn’t been gripped with fear of death and Rebecca hadn’t chosen to help matters along in securing the patriarchal blessing for Jacob. Rebecca had the prophetic word that the elder would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23), but she, like her mother-in-law, who also had a prophetic word (Genesis 15:4), decided to help HaShem with the fulfillment of the prophecy. Both Ishmael and Esau, the sons born from their help, became the patriarchs of mighty nations and have been “a thorn in the flesh” of the sons of promise through Isaac and Jacob, and their descendants throughout history.
I recently read that God does not need our help; just our cooperation. Throughout the Scriptures we have examples of folks trying to assist HaShem (Sarah and Rebecca for instance). Others tried to negotiate a favorable outcome (consider Jephthah in Judges 11). And then there are those like Moshe, who though he had a direct encounter with HaShem, thought he knew himself and his abilities better than HaShem. Instead of accepting the commission of HaShem to be the one to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, Moshe negotiated or possibly argued with HaShem until He agreed to allow Aaron to join him. As with Sarah and Rebecca, we don’t know how things would have worked out for Jephthah or for Moshe had they simply trusted HaShem.
Fortunately, we have Rav Shaul’s words of assurance—words that have encouraged Yeshua-believers ever since the community in Rome read his letter.
Now we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.Romans 8:28
I suggest that “all things” includes those things that HaShem brings into our lives as well as those things that HaShem allows into our lives whether as a result of our doing or just because we live in a fallen creation. Remember the words spoken to Israel as they prepared to enter the land,
Chazak! Be courageous! Do not be afraid or tremble before them. For ADONAI your God—He is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.Deuteronomy 31:6
And Yeshua’s words to his disciples,
I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper so He may be with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him. You know Him, because He abides with you and will be in you.John 14:16-17
Whatever condition we find ourselves in, whether it be from HaShem, of our own making or thrown upon us by the world, know for sure that the ADONAI is with us.
The readings for Parashat Toldot are Genesis 25:19 – 28:9 from the Torah; Malachi 1:1 – 2:7 from the Prophets and from the Apostolic Writings, Romans 9:6-13.