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October 31, 2013 - Image 43

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2013-10-31

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Parshat Toldot, Machar Chodesh:
Genesis 25:19-28:9; I Samuel 20:18-42.


his week we are introduced
to Jacob and Esau: Jacob, the
patriarch of the Jewish peo-
ple; and Esau, the favorite son of Isaac.
Jacob was the son who "sits in the
tent" presumably engaging in spiri-
tuality, while Esau was "a man of the
These twin brothers do
not get on together to such
an extent that we are told
that their mother, Rivka,
was troubled during preg-
nancy; the brothers were
"fighting" even while in
her womb! Eventually, Esau
sold his birthright as the
firstborn son to his young-
er brother for a pittance.
It seems that Esau was a
bad child from the begin-
ning and that there was really no hope
for him. As a parent and an educator, I
find this very troubling.
How can we accept that a child
could be evil from birth? What is the
message that the Torah is trying to
convey with this narrative? Is there
such a thing as evil from birth? Don't
we believe that every person has the
choice to be good or evil?
I recently started working out at
the Jewish Community Center. I have
observed that there are three types
of people at the gym. There are those
who go to meet their friends and hang
out; they seem to be gaining weight
from the experience. Then there are
those who lift weights and walk on
the treadmill but seem to be gaining
weight as well; they seem to be miss-
ing something from their exercise
Then there are those few people
at the gym who are actually losing
weight; they, too, show up every time
and lift weights and walk on the tread-
mill. What is their secret?

They are lifting heavier weights each
time. They are challenging themselves
each time to improve on their last
workout. They understand that there is
"no gain without pain"
Life, too, is like a trip to the gym.
We cannot rest on our laurels and
expect improvement. The only way to
• make tomorrow better is by
meeting today's challenges
with a passion. Our rabbis
make an interesting observa-
tion about this idea; they
say that the challenges that
are faced by a great person
exceed those of a lesser indi-
vidual — great people face
great challenges.
Esau had a tremendous
challenge. His challenge was
not from without, but from
within. His desires were intense. What
seems to us as innate evil was actu-
ally an indication of great ability and
Had he overcome his own desires,
he would have been a worthy first-
born son and patriarch of the Jewish
people. He would have been on a par
with Abraham, who was prepared to
give up his son on the word of God,
and Isaac who was prepared to give up
his own life on the word of his father!
We all face challenges in life; distur-
bances that get in our way. The secret
is to realize that they are not obstacles
but opportunities.
It is interesting to note that once
Jacob takes the blessings from his
brother, he is thrown into a whole new
world of challenges. Once he steps into
his brother's shoes, he is expected to live
up to a different level of expectation.
Take a look. I think you'll agree that
he does excel in the face of adversity.

Michael Cohen is rabbi of Young Israel of

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Esau sold his birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup. How much was it
Why did Isaac want to bless Esau, and why did Rivka interfere?
Why did Isaac not rebuke Jacob for deceiving him by impersonating Esau?

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October 31 • 2013


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