Parshat Toldot

November 8th, 2018

Yitzchak, the middle of our forefathers is quite an enigma, only in this week’s Parsha do we get to know him and even that is short lived. All a long he seems to be passive and in the shadow of others and even the message in the opening of the Parsha when we are told, “these are the generations of Yitzchak, Abraham bore Yitzchak” the story continues without actually telling us who are the children of Yitzchak as we were told at the beginning of Noah. This implies more than just what Rashi says that Yitzchak resembled his father physically but also his feeling of responsibility to continue and consolidate the work that Abraham had begun.

Yitzchak was possibly traumatized by nearly being offered as a sacrifice and was passive in the choice of a wife. He does find his glory in becoming a successful farmer and being the only of our forefathers to fulfil the dream of working on the land, but then the story turns to the drama of the blessings and Yitzchak seemingly being tricked by his wife and younger son Yakov.

Reading through the verses I realized an interesting hidden layer. Yitzchak and Rivka do not appear to communicate very much and Rivka more astutely is aware of the future needing to be placed on Yakov rather than Esau’s shoulders. Yitzchak can hardly see so she can probably push Yakov in to get the blessing, but Yitzchak’s not being able to see would probably sharpen his other four senses, hearing, taste, touch and smell, so she had to plan how to deal with each of those challenges.

Hearing was difficult and nearly gave the game away as Yiztchak says “the voice is that of Yakov but the hands are those of Esau.” The two boys probably had similar voices but what Yitzchak is perhaps saying is that the manner of speech did not fit Esau, with the mention of help from the Almighty. In fact Rivka herself uses the Hebrew word “kol” in “shema bekoli” which means listen to me rather than referring to the sound of her voice.

Rivka was probably a good cook so she new how to make the food to taste as if it was venison that Esau had prepared. We can also note that wine was a part of the meal to dull Yitzchak’s taste buds and soften his senses. Touch was handled by the use of the animal skins on Yakov’s arms, as Yitzchak says “the hands are those of Esau” and also when Yitzchak asks to be kissed the touch seems to work, and finally that brings us to smell the most powerful of the senses.

Each person, has some individual smell, possibly from their work or environment and I can remember the smell of Aviva my wife the nurse coming home from work with the distinct hospital aromas. Rivka, for some reason or other had a set of Esau’s clothes even though he had long left home. These provided the smell which Yitzchak recognized as belonging to Esau and he even says “this is the smell of the outdoors,” which brings our sages to suggest both sweet smells of the apples of the Garden of Eden or the pungent smells of Nimrod the hunter.

So, Rivka succeeded in her ploy but possibly the message for us is that much as you might succeed in your plan you can never guarantee the long term consequences. Yakov has to flee and is tricked in a similar way with the rivalry of siblings having to marrying the older daughter when he loved the younger one.

Talking of tastes and smells we are in London on our way to a trip to South America and last night we ate in a new Kosher restaurant Tish in Belsize Park not the main centre of Jewish life and with a big Glatt Kosher sign in Hebrew outside. Very interesting tastes and ambiance and we would recommend it, but for us it was a comedy of errors. The order got mixed up and took a long time to come but after apologies from the Maitre D we did get desert on the house. The owner told us that he chose Belsize Park to be something different and there is good access from Golders Green etc and town.