Shabbat Toldot: A perfect marriage?

November 5, 2021 by Jeremy Rosen
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The marriage of Isaac and Rebecca appears on the surface to have been a perfect one.

Theirs was the only relationship amongst the patriarchs in which there was no second wife to contend with, no jealousy with the problems that a second wife or concubine brings to a relationship. They fell in love with each other from the start. She took his mother’s place as well as being his partner. Together they faced her inability to have children and they prayed to God, he as much as she. Yet for all their devotion something was missing.

While she was going through a difficult pregnancy she got a Divine message that she had twins and the elder son would serve the younger one. It appears she did not tell her husband. Of if she did, he ignored her. The twins grow into two very different characters. One is physical and aggressive, the other more cerebral and controlled. Isaac preferred the more macho Esau. Rebecca preferred Jacob.

When towards the end of Isaac’s life, he wants to give his blessing and legacy, he chooses Esau. Rebecca then sets about persuading Jacob to pretend that he is Esau to get the blessing because in her view and God’s he is the best person to lead the family into the next generation. Jacob remonstrates, yet he does as she asks and gets the blessing.
Esau furious at being cheated threatens to kill Jacob. Rebecca tells Jacob to flee back to her family in Haran to escape. To Isaac, she says it is for Jacob to find a wife. She does not mention Esau’s threat. Once again communication is absent.

Was this a failure in their marriage or simply a recognition that there were insuperable differences as to who would be best suited to take the Abrahamic legacy forward? And if Isaac believed he was right, why did he refuse to retract the blessing when he found out he had been misled?

Perhaps one can explain the apparent lack of openness and confidence because of an incident when they went to live with the Philistine king Avimelech in Gerar and Isaac said that she was his sister. Perhaps she felt compromised. Yet Avimelech discovered the truth when looking out of a palace window he saw them embracing passionately. So clearly, she was not resistant or reserved then. We can only speculate.

The fact is that in every marriage there are differences that may or may not be resolved. No state or relationship is always perfect. And the best of marriages often has to overcome temporary rifts, misunderstandings, or failures in communication. Sometimes there are no easy solutions. Diplomacy, even artifice may have its uses.

The Torah is a magnificent record of human states and affairs designed to give us tools and guidance. Human beings are never perfect and often messy. We all have our failures. Our challenge is to focus on the positive rather than the negative.

Gen 25.19-29.10

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