Toldot and Courage

Toldot and Courage

Sometimes, being a responsible parent or leader demands a little controversy and lots of courage.

The Torah portion of Toldot offers a stirring illustration. In the midst of a painful childbirth, Rebekah hears the voice of God: Directing her to elevate Jacob (the younger son) as the next clan leader. According to ancient custom, the first-born Esau was entitled to such a prestigious honor. Rebekah however; accepted the Divine command to manipulate history and to abandon the common practice of elevating the first born. Our visceral reading of this story leads us to one, definitive conclusion: Rebekah-and her husband Isaac- have no clue about parenting. Moreover, Rebekah is the mastermind behind Jacob’s stealing the first born blessing; and deceiving his father in the process. Her seemingly cunning behavior violates the basics of Parenting #101: Love your children equally and teach them the values of ethical living. As Rebekah eschews all the rules; we regard her as both deceptive and cruel.

However, a re-reading of the family saga draws us to a different conclusion. From the outset, Rebekah was pivotal to the future emergence of Am Yisrael.

Esau, the eldest child, was destined to be a brawny hunter; physically endowed but lacking in wisdom and qualities of leadership. Were he to become the future heir (albeit justifiably so), the entire clan would rapidly dissolve. Only through Jacob, could the clan’s future be secured. Consequently, Rebekah stars as puppeteer, orchestrating the setup for a future nation. I imagine that she loves Esau; and that it breaks her heart to deceive him. But, Rebekah must act for a much greater good; for the survival of her future nation. She must know that generations of objective and unbiased Torah readers will look askance at her behavior. Undaunted nevertheless, our matriarch presses forward with the courage to risk any vilification she may endure. Rebekah anticipates how her actions will bring excruciating consequences. Esau will forever resent his parents. Jacob will permanently flee from home.

The courage displayed by Rebekah is a lesson for those in political and spiritual leadership positions today. There are times when timidity and reticence have no place in their decisions; when conscience supersedes fear of criticism.

Recently, our country mourned the deaths of innocent people felled by yet another gun. Each time such a tragedy occurs, there is a renewed call for stronger gun control legislation. With each renewed call, there are politicians who disingenuously argue that now is the time to stand with the victims and not to speak politics. Such talk is generally an excuse for evading the central issues of gun control. So many of our political leaders capitulate obsequiesly to the gun lobby; afraid of losing major contributions and their elective seats. They can make excuses by convincingly blame inadequate mental health as the reason for gun violence. They can invoke the Second Amendment (erroneously, I believe) as a proof text for granting individuals the right to bear arms. The bottom line is that too many of our elected officials simply lack the courage to do what is long overdue: Create serious gun control legislation and stand up to the NRA. Such action would expose many officials as politically vulnerable; but it would also instill in them a courage which draws our admiration and respect.

Sometimes, taking an unpopular stance demands risk. Rebekah took that risk; sacrificing the present to insure a secure future. I wish our leaders could be inspired by her example.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Klayman