Parshat Toldot: Actualizing Potential



By: Suri Davis


The torah portion this week reveals that Rivka is finally pregnant, and when she walks in front of a yeshiva, she feels extreme kicking.  When she walks in front of a house of idols, she feels extreme kicking.  The medrash tells us that she is concerned that her child might be schizophrenic or have multiple personalities. 

She takes her concerns to Malkitzedek/Shem and he informs her that she is carrying twins, and their personalities are clear.  One is going to be on a righteous path, and the other will prefer idols.  The Lubavitcher Rebbe tells us that the reason the parsha’s name is named after Yaakov and Esau in utero is to let us know that Yaakov relates to the spiritual soul, and Esau to the physical body.

There are few spiritual challenges for one who is born with a spiritual inclination, our focus is then on Esau, who was the eldest, and had the greatest potential to overcome and inherit the spiritual inheritance handed down from Abraham to Isaac.  He had great potential, but he had to overcome his nature in the realm of the physical to reach the spiritual heights necessary to inherit the Jewish nation.

He knew what his duties would entail as the eldest son of Isaac.  He tried hard impressing his father by asking him how to tithe salt and straw, giving Isaac the impression that he cared so greatly for Jewish law that he was looking into tithing that was over and above the requirement of tithing agricultural products. 

Ultimately, he sold his elder brother status to Jacob ostensibly for a bowl of lentils.  He did not want the spiritual responsibility.  Yet the medrash tells us that Esau’s greatest character trait was his respect for his father Isaac.  Genesis 25:28:  “Isaac loved Esau because he provided his mouth with game, and Rivka loved Jacob.”  The simple meaning is that Esau gave his father from the meat he had hunted.  The medrash tells us that Isaac loved Esau because Esau played lip service to his father, making him think that he was taking his duties as an elderly spiritual son seriously.

Jacob, having purchased the elderly son position, from Esau who did not want it, was then in a position to listen to his mother who told him to act as Esau and get the blessings from Jacob as the elder son, which he did. 

Esau returned and saw that Jacob had tricked their father into the blessing of the eldest child that from whom the Nation of Israel would spring, realized that then Isaac realized the truth, that it was Jacob who was to take over as the father of the Jewish nation, both because he had purchased the position of elder child and because he was the true spiritual son, in that Esau had relinquished the elder position because he did not want the responsibility of overcoming his nature as an idol worshipper and material person.  Only then did Esau realize everything he lost by not overcoming his nature and actualizing the potential that G-d and his father saw in him.

We are created in G-d’s image and it is our responsibility to actualize our potential.  We are each created with our own unique potential.  The Talmud tells us that when we die and go to heaven, G-d will not ask why we weren’t like Moses, they will ask why we weren’t ourselves, i.e., why didn’t actualize our own potential. 

Shabbat shalom.


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