A Blessing Upon All Children

D’var Torah
Rabbi David Benjamin Fainsilber
December 2, 2016 // 3 Kislev 5777

Shoshana Frieden, one of our members,
lost her mother, Rosita Frieden, who passed away this week.
Her brother recounted at the funeral
that one of the most striking memories about their mother
was that each night, sometimes overheard by one of her children,
one could hear her “prayerful unfiltered
and often detailed conversations with God”.

Rosita would pray for her children,
all six of them, by name, and in detail,
and for each of her grandchildren,
and for her great-grandchild, all by name.
Shoshana’s brother said:
“Ma would remind God to bless each and everyone of” them.
And Ma would say: “‘Thank you God,
you have blessed me with six wonderful children…’
and she would reiterate, ‘Oh I love them with all my heart and soul…'”

What an incredible statement to make as a parent,
that each night, you might bless each of them
and ask for G-d’s blessing upon them.
In this way, her children knew that they were loved unconditionally.

This week’s parashah teaches us what happens when the opposite is true:
when parents pick favourites,
when love is not given to each child equally or respectfully,
when there is a disparity of blessings bestowed on one child over another.

This week’s parashah, Toldot, speaks of the generations,
the begettings of Isaac and Rebecca, Yitzchak and Rivka.
We quickly learn that Rivka was unable to conceive.
So Yitzchak pleaded on her behalf to G-d
to please shift his wife out of her barren state.
And so she had a child, in fact, two children, twins.
Yet from struggle of conception, to the struggle of parenthood,
even in the womb, the two boys wrestled with each other.
Right from the beginning, G-d tells Rivka:
“One people shall be mightier than the other /
And the older shall serve the younger.”

When they are finally born,
Esav/Esau is named so because of the red hair that covers his body.
And Yaakov/Jacob is named so
because he comes out of the womb holding onto the heel, the ekev,
of his just barely older brother, Esav.
We are told that Yaakov is a simple man living in tents,
while Esav is “a simple hunter, a man of the outdoors”.

What follows are the words that ultimately foreshadow
the downfall of the story:
כח וַיֶּאֱהַ֥ב יִצְחָ֛ק אֶת־עֵשָׂ֖ו כִּי־צַ֣יִד בְּפִ֑יו וְרִבְקָ֖ה אֹהֶ֥בֶת אֶת־יַעֲקֹב:
“And Isaac loved Esav because he [gave] hunting-game for his mouth,
But Rebecca loved Jacob.” (Genesis 27:28)

Each parent favouring one child over another,
each child more beloved than the other in the eyes of one parent.
Each parent pitted over and against the other.

Thus, later, when Rivka hears that her husband Yitzchak
is going to give Esav his blessing,
she manipulates the situation such that Yaakov gets the blessing instead,
allowing her beloved child to gain dominance.

She gets Yaakov to dress in furs to match his brother’s hairy body.
She prepares some game for Yitzchak,
while Esav is out hunting for some for his father.
And though Yitchak is skeptical of who he is blessing,
his lack of eye sight gets the better of him,
and he blesses Yaakov instead of Esav.
And here is his blessing:
כט יַעַבְד֣וּךָ עַמִּ֗ים וְיִשְׁתַחֲוֻ֤ [וְיִשְׁתַחֲו֤וּ] לְךָ֙ לְאֻמִּ֔ים
הֱוֵ֤ה גְבִיר֙ לְאַחֶ֔יךָ וְיִשְׁתַחֲו֥וּ לְ֖ךָ בְּנֵ֣י אִמֶּ֑ךָ
אֹרֲרֶ֣יךָ אָר֔וּר וּמְבָרֲכֶ֖יךָ בָּרוּךְ:
Let peoples serve you / And nations bow to you /
Be master over your brothers / And let your mother’s sons bow to you /
Cursed are those who curse you /
And blessed are those who bless you. (Genesis 27:29)

Their father’s blessing is that Yaakov should be subservient to Esav.
That any children of his should serve Esav.
Yet, it is Yaakov that gets this perverse blessing instead.

The outcry for the lack of proper parenting
that you may be feeling right now
is the same crying out that we hear from Esav.
When Esav returns to his father
with an offering of the food he hunted himself,
he finds out that his blessing had been bestowed on his brother already:
וַיֹּאמַ֕ר הֲלֹא־אָצַ֥לְתָ לִּ֖י בְּרָכָה:
And Esav said to his father:
Don’t you have a blessing for me? (Genesis 27:36)

Yitchak replies:
“But I have made [Yaakov] master of you.
I have given him all his brothers for servants….
לז וּלְכָ֣ה אֵפ֔וֹא מָ֥ה אֶעֱשֶׂ֖ה בְּנִי:
What then can I still do for you? (Genesis 27:37)

Yaakov realises his mistake:
That he blessed the wrong son.
However, he does not realise his ultimate mistake:
That his love was unequal,
that he should have blessed both children equally with his love.

Yet, Esav does begin to understand this failing.
Thus, we hear Esav’s poignant remark to his father,
in the form of a question:
לח וַיֹּ֨אמֶר עֵשָׂ֜ו אֶל־אָבִ֗יו הַבֲרָכָ֨ה אַחַ֤ת הִוא־לְךָ֙ אָבִ֔י
בָּרֲכֵ֥נִי גַם־אָ֖נִי אָבִ֑י
וַיִּשָּׂ֥א עֵשָׂ֛ו קֹל֖וֹ וַיֵּבְךְּ:
“Do you only have one blessing, my father?
Bless me too, my father.”
And [we learn that] Esav lifted up his voice and wept.  (Genesis 27:38)

This is the most heart-rending question a child can ask a parent:
“Do you only have one blessing, my father?”
“Is there even a limit on blessings?
Do you only have the capacity to fully love and bless one of your children?
What of unconditional love?”
This is Esav’s revelation, that each child is deserving of equal blessing.

Rivka and Yitzchak each created this reality with their parenting,
each loving only one child fully and completely,
losing a grip on the need for a parent to love his or her children equally.
Each was working on a distressing scarcity model,
as if love and blessing are conditional.

Now there is plenty of grey area in parenting.
We all know that there may be times when a parent is closer to one child.
Perhaps they live in the same city while another child lives abroad.
Perhaps one child needs more money or resources over another.
Perhaps one child simply needs more attention
at a particular time in their life or throughout their whole life;
or perhaps one child needs less attention, as it were.
None of these circumstances negate
the ongoing need for unconditional love for each child.
Blessings and love should always be non-conditional.

When we favour one child over another,
we teach both children —
as Esav and Yaakov both learned from their parents–
that one is created greater than the other,
rather than the fundamental teaching of the Torah,
that we are all created in G-d’s image, with G-d’s wholehearted blessing.

While we may learn from our ancestor’s Rivka and Yitzchak’s mistakes,
we may also learn from Shoshana’s mother,
Rosita Frieden’s model for unconditional love,
blessing each of her children equally in her light.
So we may live into her life and legacy of love
for each of the generations that follow,
for each of our generations.