Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) Who Are They? Who Are We?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Deception, pathos, sibling rivalry, manipulation and parent-child/generational encounter; just another Torah portion in Genesis. Toldot packs a lot in a few chapters. The human drama is played out in stark reality, a reality that s mirrored in too many families to this day. In reading through the portion I came across a small text that, for some reason, called out. It was a few words that I had not really paid much attention to in previous readings. It seemed to speak to me, and maybe to our generation, especially within the context of our current pandemic influenced world.

Genesis 27:18 is the verse I am looking at. Jacob goes to Isaac, now old and having difficullty seeing; at least with his eyes! Rebecca has dressed Jacob to be like Esau. With the birthright in hand, Jacob now seeks the blessing of his father. He goes to Isaac. Isaac asks mi atah b’ni? In many translations we have “which of my sons are you?”  And in another we have “who are you, my son?” A difference? In a wonderful commnetary from the Etz Haim we read: “The Hebrew literally asks “who are you my son?’ This can be understood to mean not only “which of my sons are you” but “what sort of person are you?” Jacob will spend many years pondering that question: “who are you?” (155-156)

As do we? For those of us who raised children, now adult children, how often have we asked that question of ourselves? “Who are you”? What have you become? Who have you become? It is the challenge, as we get older, of trying to understand that these “children” are now independant adults. This is another not so subtle reminder of the “holding on and letting go” tension that all of us must deal with as we go through life and that seems more challenging and present as we age. How have we influenced these children? How did our families of origin help shape who they are now? In looking back and reflecting, we can only reflect on memory, as we cannot go back from where we came. These passages in Genesis are not vestiges of an ancient past. No, they are mirrors into our own families and our own souls. It is as if this passage echoes the very first question from Genesis 3: ayakah….where are you?

Parents and children, ourselves and our hopes.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard Address


  1. Thank you for this commentary, Rabbi. Toldot was my bar mitzvah parashah, and though I don’t remember my d’var Torah, I’m pretty sure it did not involve that verse. With my children in London and in Seattle, it has become difficult to have the “heart to heart” discussions I would prefer. You were spot on when you spoke of the tension between wanting to be a part of their decision making and knowing that it is time to let them go their own ways. Things were much easier when the entire family lived in a 2-mile radius of Brooklyn (or in your case, Philadelphia). We can never return to the days, but that doesn’t mean we don’t miss the physical and spiritual closeness.

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