Toledot, last week’s Torah portion, holds one of the most poignant moments in the entire Tanakh for me. The story of Esau before his father is heart wrenching. We know that Esau sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of stew and that Jacob completed the deed by deceiving his father into giving him the blessing. But I cannot help but feel a profound empathy for Esau’s anguish.
There Esau stands, this strong brute of a man, sobbing before his father beseeching him: Is there nothing left for me? Can I not also have your blessing? This is more than a demand for his portion of the family wealth. This is the yearning human need to belong. There is the deep heartfelt desire to believe that there is love enough in his father’s heart to share a blessing, a hope an aspiration for something that is Esau’s inheritance from his father. The best Isaac could muster was that Esau would be free of his brother’s dominance only when Esau moved away. And so an estrangement began so brutal in its nature, that Jacob fled and when the brothers next meet twenty years later, Jacob still fears for his life.
When our father died, my brother and sister and I respectfully shared the material possessions that remained. My brother took a desk that he always loved and I took the vanity mirror that sat on my dad’s dresser since he was a boy. But I think the blessing that my father left my brother was his knowledge that he was dad’s primary caregiver and their bond grew very strong and close. For me it was the knowledge that this new path I embarked upon into the rabbinate was a source of pride and admiration. These are the truly valuable legacies that will remain with us.
May we always find that our inner wellspring of love and compassion is never exhausted. May we always have something to give to those seeking our love and support, even when it is challenging. May we learn from Isaac that there is a better and more empathetic way to embrace another.