Only Connect

In their relationships with each other, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Esau, struggle between models of unity and connection and separation and deceit.

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Provided by the Union for Reform Judaism, the central body of Reform Judaism in North America.

Parashah Overview

  • Rebekah has twins, Esau and Jacob. (25:19-26)

  • Esau gives Jacob his birthright in exchange for some stew. (25:27-34)

  • King Abimelech is led to think that Rebekah is Isaac's sister and later finds out that she is really his wife. (26:1-16)

  • Isaac plans to bless Esau, his firstborn. Rebekah and Jacob deceive Isaac so that Jacob receives the blessing. (27:1-29)

  • Esau threatens to kill Jacob, who then flees to Haran. (27:30-45)

Focal Point

This is the story of Isaac, son of Abraham. Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac was 40 years old when he took to wife Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac pleaded with Adonai on behalf of his wife, because she was barren; and Adonai responded to his plea, and his wife, Rebekah, conceived. But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, "If so, why do I exist?" She went to inquire of Adonai (Genesis 25:19-22).

Your Guide

Why does the text say that Isaac is the son of Abraham and then repeat that Abraham begot Isaac?

This week's parashah gets its name, Toldot, from the second word in the first verse. This word comes from the root y-l-d, meaning "bring forth" or "beget." It is translated as "story" in the Plaut Commentary and as "progeny" in a translation by A. Silbermann (Pentateuch with Rashi's Commentary). Does the translation of this word shape our understanding of the parashah as a whole?

Why is Rebekah's genealogy longer than Isaac's?

The Hebrew phrase l'nochach ishto in verse 21 is translated as "on behalf of his wife" in the Plaut Commentary, while the Silbermann translation is "facing his wife." Both translations are accurate. What do we learn from each one?

Do you think it is significant that three of the matriarchs--Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel--are barren for many years?

Why are the children struggling in Rebekah's womb?

By the Way…

"Abraham begot Isaac:" This is the way in which Abraham and Isaac moved toward holiness: They both knew that it was not through their individual merit but through the merit of their fathers and their children.(Yehiel Malchsander in Itturei Torah I on Genesis 25:19).

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Rabbi Ruth Gais

Rabbi Ruth Gais is the director of The New York Kollel and Community Outreach at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, New York, NY.