Genesis Viewing Life Through A Lens of Abundance

By Rabbi Carol Glass
Rabbi Carol Glass

Parshat Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9)

My teacher and colleague Rabbi Marc Margolius points out that Toldot begins with two assumptions common to the narrative style throughout Genesis. First is the perception that parental love (as expressed through a father’s blessing) is finite, and dependent on merit. The second is the presumption of hierarchy between or among siblings, with its resulting envy, intrigue, competition and anguish.

In Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, we see these themes play out in the ways that Yitzhak and Rivka relate to their twin sons Esau and Jacob, as well as in the interactions Jacob and Esau have with each other — starting in utero, and continuing forward. We learn (v25:22-23) that they “struggled” in Rivka’s womb, so much so that she wondered aloud to Anochi (the name she used for God) about how to understand[/manage] her situation. Not satisfied, Rivka went out to inquire additionally from God. Perhaps, as Rabbi Margolius suggests, Rivka had imagined that twins, being physical intimates in the womb, would be less contentious than other siblings, so she was puzzled or frightened by their early strife.

God’s answer to Rivka’s question: “Lamah zeh?” “What’s this all about?” is an enigma. The Holy One’s words “Rav ya’avod tza’ir” (end of verse 23) are ambiguous. Scholars have noted that the phrase can be interpreted in at least two ways. Either as the more common translation, “The elder will serve the younger,” or as “The elder, the younger will serve”.

As readers outside the drama, we might wonder if God intended to offer Rivka a counterpoint to the cultural assumptions noted at the beginning of this writing. That is, by using language that confuses the twins’ relative status, and their roles respective to one another, was God attempting to de-emphasize and/or re-balance those assumptions? Was God hinting that there might be other, even better models for expressing parental love and establishing sibling relationships?! Might there be ways for people to offer and express love that diminish limitations and competition while also resulting in less envy, estrangement and anguish?

It’s unclear from the Biblical text (see especially Chapter 25) if Rivka absorbed what God was trying to teach her. There was one person in the family however, who did understand.

In Genesis 27, when Jacob and Esau are adults, we read about Rivka and Jacob’s collaboration to deceive the dying Yitzhak into giving Jacob the deathbed blessing that was meant for Esau, the first born. When he returns from hunting game intended for Yitzhak ‘s favorite soup, Esau learns that the blessing has already been given to his brother. In an incredibly poignant emotional outburst Esau cries: (v38) “Have you only one blessing, Father?!! Bless me also, Father!” Esau pleads with Yitzhak to think differently and to try a new way — a different way of conferring parental regard and blessings — essentially, a new way of expressing love.

In the midst of his anguish, Esau expresses — perhaps for the first time in the Torah — the idea that love is not a limited commodity; that there is enough love and blessing to go around. Esau’s words bespeak a perspective of abundance, while simultaneously challenging a perspective based on scarcity and limited resources. Esau does not insist that Jacob give up the blessing he has been given, nor does Esau seek to supplant Jacob. Esau asks only for an equal share of his father’s love, to be expressed in the form of a second ‘special’ blessing. Esau advocates for life viewed through a lens of abundance, rather than a lens of scarcity. He urges a vision of life whereby traditions such as hierarchy among siblings and unequal inheritance distributions are replaced by more egalitarian ways of showing love. For those who claim that Esau was bitter and vengeful, note that those do not surface until after Esau realizes that Yitzhak will not respond from a stance of abundance.

Esau’s perspective is a challenge to us today. How can we practice living with, and seeing through, a lens of abundance? What might our lives look like if we could accept that there is enough time, love, wealth, and even air and space to go around — if we could let go of our characteristically tight-fisted manner of holding onto these things? What would life look like if we could let go of envy and our fear of not having ‘enough’? Would we be less confrontational? Would we offer others more space and room to express their individuality? What would it be like if nations did not accumulate or consume as much as they could get away with, but rather, only what they needed?

On a personal level, our first practice might be to slow down and breathe more deeply. We might take some time regularly to imagine the great expanse of the Heavens, Earth, and all that it is (haShamayim uShemay haShamayim, Haaretz v’chol asher ba). Use this image to remind yourself that there is enough to go around; and that like Yitzhak, who trusted that there would be enough water (see 26:18-22), we need only provide space for others’ needs — in addition to or own — to shift our perspective from a lens of scarcity to one of abundance.

During this week when we gather for the holiday of Thanksgiving, a traditional time for acknowledging the material abundance in our lives, may we also find abundant room in our hearts to break the limits we impose on our love — for family members with whom we disagree, for parents who are difficult, for children who have perhaps disappointed us, for siblings with whom we struggle, and any others whom we hold with tight or closed regard.

Rabbi Glass is the Founding Director of Ikvotecha, the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College’s Spiritual Direction program, and has served the Rabbinical School in other capacities since its inception. Ordained in 1984 among the world’s first 100 female rabbis, she has been a pulpit and Hillel rabbi and is a Board Certified Chaplain and mussar group facilitator. She has authored chapters in books about Jews and addiction and wrote a chapter in the forthcoming (Dec 2019) CCAR ‘Mussar Torah Commentary’.

1 Weekly Torah Study curriculum: ‘Mindful Torah: Engaging the Better Angels of Our Nature’; IJS; Marc Margolius, ed.; Parashat Toldot

2 Ibid. and see Dr. Kristine Garroway’s work in The Torah.com: A Historical and Contextual Approach, citing Dr. Tikvah Frymer Kensky, Reading the Women of the Bible (Schocken Books, 2002), p.16.


Rabbi Glass is the Founding Director of Ikvotecha, the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College’s Spiritual Direction program, and has served the Rabbinical School in other capacities since its inception. Ordained in 1984 among the world’s first 100 female rabbis, she has been a pulpit and Hillel rabbi and is a Board Certified Chaplain and mussar group facilitator. She has authored chapters in books about Jews and addiction and wrote a chapter in the forthcoming (Dec 2019) CCAR ‘Mussar Torah Commentary’.

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