This week’s parasha highlights the fact that each of us has our own path in life, and thus each relationship between people will be different. We have moved our story forward from our first patriarch, Avraham, and his wife Sarah, to our second patriarch Yitzchak, and his wife Rivkah. Compared to Avraham, Yitzchak is more reserved and constrained. However, in similar circumstances to his father (a barren wife, a famine in the land), he shows his own deep faith. He actually prays for his wife to conceive — and she does. When famine comes, he follows God’s command to stay in the land; when conflict comes, he finds a way of peaceful resolution. While dwarfed by his father who took him up the mountain, Yitzchak shows himself to have faith and clear perceptions.
Rivkah also shows herself to be a unique, strong individual. While Sarah has followed Avraham on his life journey, Rivkah has voluntarily taken her own journey to the Promised Land and entered into relationship with Yitzchak. The Torah clearly states that she spoke directly to God who responded to her (the tradition had difficulty believing God would speak to a woman, so interpreted that Rivkah heard God through an angel). Rivkah is portrayed as a generous, but purposeful, woman who has insight into the spiritual unfolding of the Jewish people.
We hear of the birth of Yitzchak’s and Rivkah’s twins at the opening of this week’s parasha. Esau and Yaakov also have distinct personalities. Esau is the hunter, Yaakov the tent dweller. The famous stories of the “selling of the birthright” and the “deceit of the blessing” show the tension that can occur when people of different behaviours and value come together. It will be a hard journey and struggle for the two brothers, but in a few weeks we will come to understand that difference does not have to lead to domination and defeat, as it seems to in this week’s story. Rather, as each individual grows they come to know their own integrity more deeply and gain a more developed ability to accept the other. While the Torah does not portray that Yaakov and Esau adopt the same values or way of life, they eventually come together in embrace and live in neighbourly relationship.
Just as the brothers’ relationship develops, this week’s parasha also portrays differences in relationship between the parents and their children. At the opening of the parasha, Rivkah’s relationship with Yaakov is one of dynamic, unconditional love (Rivkah loves Yaakov, states the Torah), while Yitzchak’s with Esau is more static and conditional (he loved Esau because of his hunting ability). By the end of the parasha, both agree that Yaakov is the one to carry on the patriarchal covenant of inheriting the land and the nation. These stories teach us that each of us should be allowed to develop along the lines of our innate personality in a creative and loving way, and that the our relationships will also develop and differ. Instead of trying to push square pegs into round holes, we should embrace development and difference as part of the blessing of life.