In order to fully understand the significance of the events of Parshat Toldot, it is important to take a step back and look at the end of Parshat Chaye Sara. Parshat Chaye Sara is famous for two main events – the death of Sarah and Avraham’s subsequent purchasing of Ma’arat Hamachpela, and the courtship of Rivka and her ultimate marriage to Yitzchak. What often seems to get lost in this exciting Parsha is Avraham’s marriage to another woman named Keturah. However, the Torah does not just tell us about this seemingly insignificant event within the overall narrative of the Torah. It goes a step further. The Torah spends several p’sukim telling about the children born to them, the names of the children and what ultimately happened to them.
This strange accounting of the end of Avraham’s life leaves us with an important question. Why does the Torah feel the need to tell us this part of Avraham’s life? This marriage and these children seem to have no impact on the story of the birth of Bnei Yisrael.
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the very next pasuk. Right after hearing about these additional children, the Torah informs us that “Avraham gave all that he had to Yitzchak.” It is this pasuk that explains the significance of Keturah and the children that she had with Avraham. Yitzchak was chosen to carry on the message of Avraham not because he was Avraham’s only son, but because he was the son that presented himself as the ideal choice to carry on Avraham’s sacred mission.
Based on this formulation, the mantle of leadership for this new and sacred nation was not one that just passed without thought from father to son rather it was given to the child who presented himself as worthy of this holy responsibility. The proximity in the text, and the acknowledgement in the text that in fact Avraham had other children, clearly shows us that Avraham had an important choice to make and he chose Yitzchak. It was, therefore, Yitzchak who was given the prestigious responsibility of leadership and not any of his other children.
There is still another important feature in the text that needs to be explored. The pasuk does not only say that Avraham chose Yitzchak, but rather it says that he gave everything he had to Yitzchak. The basis of this is that there was the possibility that he could have divided his legacy between two or even more of his children. We see this concept two generations later with Yaakov. Yaakov did not pass the mantle to one child; instead he divided it amongst every one of his sons.
This important formulation sets the scene for many of the events of Parshat Toldot. We are introduced to both Yaakov and Esav, in several instances, not simply as brothers or even as twins, but as rivals. They were rivals in the womb and that rivalry continued throughout both of their lives.
Similar to Avraham’s choice a generation before, Yaakov and Esav had to go through the same selection. Perhaps they didn’t have to be rivals. Couldn’t they have split the leadership, as we just explained in the pasukim at the end of Parshat Chaye Sarah? Is it possible that both Yaakov and Esav could have together carried Avrahams’ powerful message to the next generation?
Rav Shimshon Raphel Hirsch has an interesting insight into the lives of both Yaakov and Esav. Rav Hirsch starts with the assumption that a choice did not have to be made between Yaakov or Esav. Rav Hirsh envisions a situation where both Yaakov and Esav could have shared the leadership. What happened? Why was it that only Yaakov presented himself as the leader for the next generation? Why was Esav not able to fulfill what could have been his destiny?
Rav Hirsch directs a critical eye towards both Yitzchak and Rivka. He looks at the words, “ויגדלו הנערים”, “the young men grew” in perek 25, pasuk 27. Rashi explains, on this pasuk, that for the first part of the lives of their children, Yitzchak and Rivka treated Yaakov and Esav in exactly the same manner. It was only after the age of 13, that Yaakov appeared to head down the right path and Esav began to go in the opposite direction. So, what happened to Esav? What went wrong? Rav Hirsch answers this important question by writing that a large part of the tensions that developed can be attributed to that very fact, that Yitzchak and Rivka treated their two sons in exactly the same way. The Torah tells us that they were not the same. They were two different people with their own unique likes and dislikes. Esav was described as an “Ish Yodeah Tzaid Ish Sadeh”, a skillful hunter, a man of the field, and Yaakov is described as “Ish tam yoshev ohalim”, a mild man, a man who stayed in camp. Despite the obvious differences between the two children, Yitzchak and Rivka used the same approach to the parenting and educating of their two sons.
According to Rav Hirsch, this misjudgment contributed to Esav choosing a life that was not in line with the values with which he was brought up. When Esav and Yaakov were both sitting in the tent and learning, Yaakov was inspired and intellectually stimulated. On the other hand, Esav was itching to get outside to experience nature. The famous Pasuk in Mishlei states, “Chanoch La’naar al pi darko”, that you must educate children in the way that is most effective for them, according to their “derech”, their path. If only Yitzchak and Rivka had realized who Esav was, then maybe he too could have merited in carrying the message that began with Avraham and passed to Yitzchak. In addition, perhaps Bnei Yisroel could have benefited from the talents of both the Ish Tam Yoshev Ohalim and the Ish Yodei Tzaid Ish Sadeh.
There are so many powerful things that can be learned from both Yitzchak and Rivka. This life lesson can be included, as well.