Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #6: Tol’dot( History) B’resheit (Genesis) 25:19-28:9
Haftarah: Mal’akhi (Malachi) 1:1-2-7
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:6-16
This week’s parashah continues with the historical narrative describing the perpetuation of the G-dly line of Abel and the un-G-dly line of Cain; Isaac and Ishmael; now Jacob and Esau. This is a war of the worlds that will continue until Armageddon described so graphically in the book of Revelation. Once again, it is imperative that we establish a strong foundation in our knowledge of the Old Testament in order to accurately understand the references to it in the “New Testament”; the B’rit Chadashah. If our government leaders had this foundation they would have realized a long time ago that peace with the Arab nations cannot and will not occur by having a quilting party or by sanctions. G-d says as much. Let’s look closely at scriptural proof. Genesis 25:22 begins, “The children fought (jostled in the Hebrew) with each other inside her so much that she [Rivkah] said, ‘If it’s going to be like this, why go on living?’ So she went to inquire of Adonai, who answered her, ‘There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Going back even further, we read in Genesis 16:12 “ He will be a wild donkey of a man, with his hand against everyone and everyne’s hand against him, living his life at odds with all his kinsmen.” Keep in mind Rivkah was barren for 20 years before conceiving. Once again we see the sovereignty of G-d, choosing to reverse the general order of patriarchal rights and privileges of the firstborn. Cain was the elder brother and he was jealous of the younger Abel. The promises of the covenant were given to Isaac, although Ishma’el was also blessed. Now, Rivkah is told things will be different between her sons also. G-d’s statement to Rivkah poses a dilemma for Orthodox Jews who do not subscribe to the concept of original sin as do Messianic Jewish believers. Let’s examine how this dilemma is resolved to give us a better understanding from where our Jewish brethren are coming.
Rashi states a Midrash that says “Whenever she [Rivkah] passed the entrance to the House of Study of Eber, Jacob struggled to exit. [Whenever she passed the entrance to houses of idol worship], Esau struggled to exit.”
The above Midrash seems to imply that Esau and Jacob were already fixed in their tendencies to evil and righteousness, respectively, before birth. However, that would contradict the Torah principle of free will. However, it would not contradict G-d’s omniscience; that He already knew how these boys would turn out. It would contradict another teaching of the Sages. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) relates that Rebbe Yehudah, the descendant of Jacob, and the Roman leader Antonius, the descendent of Esau, debated when the yetzer hara (evil inclination)[we call original sin], enters a person. Rebbe Yehudah maintained that it enters at conception and Antonius maintained that it enters at birth. After Antonius brought scriptural proof to bolster his opinion, Rebbe Yehudah acquiesced that it enters at birth. It is important to note the so-called “scriptural proof” is not defined. However, through deductive reasoning and careful examination of scripture, we can say that the sin gene is carried by the man, therefore is present at the time of conception. This opinion is borne out in the genealogy of Yahshua, who had to be born of a virgin to be sinless at birth. More on this in a moment.
We must scrutinize any and all information; especially that relating to our spiritual welfare. We must use the exegetical approach by which we pray before we study and allow the Ruach (Holy Spirit) to assist us in understanding what we read rather than “putting” our thoughts and opinions into scripture and trying to support them with a sentence or two. Subsequent comparison of scripture with scripture will validate or refute our conclusions. We must learn how to systematically research G-d’s Torah as we will increasingly be bombarded with false information. Friends and family will expose those trying and desiring to learn and follow G-d’s Torah to all sorts of unreliable information on the internet and from other sources. Yahshua knew this would happen (Matt. 24:23). We see it every day and it will only get more intense as world events no longer make sense to those who think they have the world and G-d all figured out.
The previous Midrash as cited by Rashi, seems to attribute the yetzer hara (evil inclination) to Esau prior to birth, which I believe to be the case as previously mentioned. However, Maimonides explains that a person’s nature does not cause him to be righteous or evil. Rather, the choice is completely in his own hands. Rashi explains (Genesis 25:27) that it was impossible to distinguish between the different natures of the twins while they were still minors, but as soon as they reached the age of 13, their true characteristics emerged: Jacob went off to learn Torah, while Esau went off to corrupt behavior. Only G-d knows when individuals are to be considered at the age of accountability.
It seems strange that Esau’s negativity could emerge so suddenly – especially since the Talmud (Shabbat 105b) states explicitly that a person’s inclination toward negativity (yetzer hara) does not operate in this fashion. The yetzer hara, rather than advocating sudden change, entices us to sin by urging, “Just do this one small thing.” The next day, it tries to persuade us to perform another small misdeed – until eventually, a person can be convinced to serve idols. So if the nature of the yetzer hara is to gradually wear down our defenses, how could Esau have gone off the Torah path so abruptly the moment he turned 13?
Based on our Sages’ explanation of the nature of the yetzer hara, we must conclude that Esau’s behavioral shift was in fact a gradual process. We can understand this by looking more carefully at the wording of Rashi’s comment. Rashi states that when Jacob and Esau were children, it was impossible to DISTINGUISH the difference between them – not that there was no difference! Although Esau’s external behavior may have been the same as Jacob’s; nevertheless, something about them was not the same.
What was this difference? We can suggest that Esau was a person who valued the “here and now,” who lived for the moment. We can deduce this by referring to scripture once again. We read in Genesis 25:30 that Esau wants food at the moment he sees that Jacob made the stew. It would not be a problem except that he was willing to forfeit his birthright as the eldest son for food! Then, after satisfying himself, he got up and left as if nothing happened. Genesis 25:27 helps us to zero in on what Esau treasured. Each of these short sentences tells us how much Esau treasured hunting. When a person is known to be skillful in some area, it can be assumed that he spent large amounts of time and energy honing his craft. When a man wearies himself by doing a task with all of his might, it points to where his interests lie—what he loves doing.
The Interlinear Bible renders Genesis 25:27 as, “And Esau became a man knowing hunting, a man of the field.” “Field” is sadeh, translated as “country,” “field,” “ground,” “land,” or “soil.” Vine’s comments, “This word often represents the ‘open field’ where the animals roam wild.” This verse could be read, “Esau was . . . a man of the wild,” indicating where he felt most comfortable. He treasured his time out in the wild, and he had dedicated his life to pursuing the chase. By treasuring this “wild” existence over his birthright, Esau displayed how irresponsible he was toward it.
Would we want to bequeath our wealth to a child who was not preparing himself to govern it? It would be similar to the Prodigal Son taking his inheritance and making a quick exit, squandering it away as quickly as possible (Luke 15; 11-13). He, like Esau, was not disciplined and trained to govern it. If most of Esau’s time was spent out in the wild, how would he have been able to tackle the responsibilities of governing flocks and herds, gold and silver, male and female servants, donkeys and camels, as well as being his family’s head and leader?
Perhaps he should have stayed in the camp like Jacob so he would not have lost the vision of a wonderful time to come contained in his inheritance. Jacob obviously valued it, although he obtained it by trickery and deceit. He also showed himself capable of governing it, as he seemed to know plenty about managing flocks and herds, as Genesis 29-30 bear out. Laban prospered greatly from Jacob’s expertise, and Jacob then prospered himself. The last sentence of the paragraph indicates he cared little for this G-d-given right of the eldest son “Thus Esav showed how little he valued his birthright.” (Gen. 25:34). For those who loved G-d, the birthright was a coveted position bestowed on the eldest son, who would be given a double portion of his father’s resources. If the son of a king, he would inherit the throne.
This is where we calify the Messianic Jewish believer’s understanding of original sin. While we agree that the choice to act on evil impulses or succumb to our basic animal instincts is ours alone, original sin remains with us throughout our lives with physical death as a consequence. It is original sin within us that mandates we make choices in Torah observance or sin. Original sin is within our genetic code since the Fall of Adam and is therefore present before birth. The imputed sin we inherited from the fall of mankind through Adam is the sin that Yahshua died for; freeing us from the sin indictment that we would all have to suffer had it not been for His faithfulness to the Father, even unto the execution stake.
Orthodox Jewish believers resolve the problem of in-born traits with individual free will and a belief that while no two people are born with identical character traits. These traits are under the influence of many factors, but they are not inherently good or bad. They are “neutral” or pareve, and can be influenced either way. A predilection towards anger, for instance, is not necessarily an evil trait. There are situations when anger is an appropriate response. Yahshua’s response to the unfair selling practices in the Temple was a perfect example! Similarly, all natural tendencies tend to be directed in both positive and negative directions. The tendency to shed blood, for instance, can be utilized as a butcher or surgeon, or alternatively directed towards crime and murder. Today we see increasing instances where policemen are convicted of wife-beating or child-abuse. How could this be? These people may have chosen the police force as a way to legally express their aggressive desire for control, which is fine as long as it is controlled. When their behavior is no longer restrained by legal and ethical behaviors exercised through self control, criminal behavior results. Although the character traits are predetermined, their function and control are totally in the hands of the individual. The truth of this statement cannot be overemphasized. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for our actions if we are alert and oriented. We use our free will in using our character traits for good or bad, and suppressing these tendencies when necessary. We must fight a mini- war of the worlds in the spiritual since every day of our lives. Choices cannot be made if there is only one option!
Dismissing the importance of details in serving G-d can lead to two primary dangers. Recall if you will, the narrative of Nadav and Avihu! First, our Sages advise (Avot 2:1), “Be as careful with a ‘minor’ mitzvah as you are with a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvot.” Who are we to say that what seems like a minor detail is in fact unimportant? Since we do not know the extent of the reward for our actions, it is foolish to disregard details as being unnecessary.
Furthermore, even if we are correct in our assessment, and what seems small to us is in fact small, the cumulative result of a person’s inattention to detail may eventually result in his performing more serious transgressions. The care and attention we put into performing the details of G-d’s commandments can serve as a buffer zone to prevent us from performing more serious misdeeds.
We see this idea in Deuteronomy 7:12, which enumerates all the blessings that will come to the Jewish people “if you listen (eikev tishm’un)” to G-d. The word “eikev” literally means “heel,” as Rashi explains: “If you observe the seemingly insignificant commandments that a person tramples with his heel, then all the blessing will come.” If we are careful with the small mitzvot, eventually we will merit all of them. This shows how much we risk losing if we focus only on the moment; the here and now, and ignore the big picture; the importance of keeping the commands of G-d out of love for Him.
This major theme of the war of the worlds described in our parashah leads to the consequences that can and will be traced through the history of Israel the nation, and Israel (true believers) recorded in G-d’s Torah. Those of note who descended from Esau include Amalek, and Edom. Amalek as a nation descended from Esau’s marriage to one of Ishmael’s daughters. Amalek was the first nation to attack Israel following the Exodus (Ex. 17:8). They attacked the weak and infirm from the rear in a manner no less cowardly than the subtlety of Hasatan who attacks us at our weakest points. Edom as a kingdom established by Esau became the Roman Empire according to the Sages (Leviticus Raba 13.5). We are presently in our final Diaspora, called the “Diaspora of Edom” that began with the destruction of the second Temple at the hands of Rome. Today’s Western world has evolved out of the Roman Empire which converted to Christianity in the 4th century CE and established the Christian Church. Just look where the Western world is at the moment! I submit to you that America’s view is that of Esau, not Jacob.
In allegorical language, our present age may be seen as “Esau” and the age to come as “Jacob.” Jacob’s hand held Esau’s heel from the beginning. The “heel” of the first age is characteristic of Esau’s impulsive, indulgent personality and the “hand” of the coming age is characteristic of the holiness of Jacob (the House of Jacob). Consider the fact that we are to seek an “ascending” relationship with G-d that may be compared as moving from the “heel” to the “hand”; a going up; Aliyah.
In Jacob’s view, Temple service is the obligation of the first-born. In our world, it is everyone’s obligation to serve our Creator above all else. As the establishment of a connection to G-d is the highest priority among all human needs, the first child born in each generation should naturally dedicate his or her life to this activity, occupying as it does, the place of primary importance in the plethora of possible careers. Of course in Orthodox Judaism, the first-born male assumes this role over a first-born female; at least for now!
Esau has no patience for studying the ways of G-d. He was too busy hunting and living for the moment and the thrill of the hunt. He used the power of persuasion and when necessary the power of the sword as his descendants do today. He tells Jacob he will gladly trade places. He does not see Temple service as occupying a place of primary importance. Jacob’s message is the wrong one. According to Esau, the obligation of the first-born is to focus on this world, not to spend life dreaming of the next. The Roman Empire and all its successors- that have included the Spanish, French, British, Prussian, Austrio-Hungarian, etc. – always carried out their imperialistic policies in the name of world progress and the promotion of true civilization. If we replace the words “America” in place of “Esau” in this paragraph, it is obvious our country has become more like Esau than ever before in its history. The entire global community including America has not progressed past Esau’s vision. We still believe that all our problems have earthly solutions that can be solved with mans’ wisdom. True believers know that mans’ wisdom leads to death (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
This week’s haftarah begins with mention of the tremendous love G-d has for the children of Jacob, and the retribution He will visit upon the children of Esau who persecuted their cousins. Malachi then rebukes the priests who offer “seconds” on G-d’s altar: “ were you to offer it to your governor, would he be pleased or would he favor you?…O that there were even one among you that would close the doors [of the Temple] and that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain!” Here is a perfect example of even less than legalistic keeping of G-d’s laws. The priests went through the steps of making the sacrifices, but like Nadav and Avihu, they decided to take short-cuts and do it their way. This was also done in the Northern Kingdom just before G-d exacted severe punishment on the people for their rebellion. The haftarah ends with a strong enjoinder to the priests (and I say those like them) to return to the original covenant that G-d made with Aharon as the High Priest. “True teaching was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. In peace and equity he went with Me and he brought back many from iniquity.” Taking short-cuts will place on a highway to Hell. We must learn to follow the King’s Highway and pass all the distractions that would turn us to the right or left of His ways.
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:6-16
“But the present condition of Israel does not mean that the Word of G-d has failed. For not everyone from Israel is truly part of Israel; 7 indeed, not all the descendants are seed of Avraham; rather, ‘What is to be called your ‘seed’ will be in Yitz’chak’. 8 In other words, it is not the physical children who are children of G-d, but the children the promise refers to who are considered seed.9 For this is what the promise said: ‘At the time set, I will come; and Sarah will have a son.’ 10 And even more to the point is the case of Rivkah; for her children were conceived in a single act with Yitz’chak, our father; 11 and before they were born, before they had done anything at all, either good or bad (so that G-d’s plan might remain a matter of His sovereign choice, not dependent on what they did, but on G-d, who does the calling). 12 it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ This accords with where it is written, ‘Ya’akov I loved, but Esav I hated.”14 So are we to say, ‘It is unjust for G-d to do this’? Heaven forbid! 15 For to Moshe he says.” I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will pity whom I will pity,’16 Thus it doesn’t depend on human desires or efforts, but on G-d who has mercy.”
The first verse of this passage provides proof that all who live in geographical Israel or are biological Jews are not necessarily true believers (truly part of Israel, the future bride of Yahshua), or even Jews as defined by Yahshua in John Chapter 14. Furthermore we are reminded that G-d will call whom He will. Remember “many are called but few are chosen” This statement is the conclusion to the parable of the wedding feast. Yahshua spoke this parable to show what the kingdom of heaven will be like at the end of the age. In the parable, the king sends his servants out to gather the wedding guests to the wedding feast. But those invited refuse to come, some because they were too busy with eating, drinking, and pursuing the earthly life, similar to Esau; others because they were totally hostile toward G-d and obedience to His Torah. So, the king commands his servants to go out and invite anyone they find, and many come and fill the wedding hall. But the king sees one man without a wedding garment (repentance), and he sends him away. Yahshua concludes by saying that many are called/invited to the kingdom, but only those who have been “chosen” and have been reconciled to G-d through Yahshua’s sacrifice will come. Those who try to come by their own route, taking short-cuts, negating Yahshua’s sacrifice and subsequent following His Torah will find themselves inadequately prepared for the wedding just as the virgins without oil in their lamps. The absence of light with no “oil” (spiritual) results in darkness in which YHVH/ Yahshua will have no part. These will be sent into “outer darkness.” Many people hear the call of G-d that comes through His Torah, the Holy Spirit’s prompting, observance of His creation, and our conscience. But only the ‘few” will respond because they are the ones that are truly hearing. Yahshua said many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35). The point is that everyone has ears, but only a few are listening and responding. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”(John 6:44). May we be among the chosen! Amein.
Rabbi Tamah Davis