Toldot (Genesis 25:19-28:9) is one of the more famous portions as it contains the story of Isaac, Esau and Jacob and Rebecca. A challenging family dynamic if there ever was one. Themes of infertility, sibling rivalry, deceit and a manipulating parent all converge in these chapters. It is , in many ways, a preacher’s delight. Yet, there is one passage that spoke to me as we continue to move on from the sadness and horror of Pittsburgh. Esau, in what may have been a classic act of rebellion against his parents, goes off and marries Hittite women (Genesis 26:35) and, as we might expect, this act was ” a source of much bitterness to Isaac and to Rebecca”.
In his “Living Each Week”, Rabbi Abraham Twerski looks at interpretations that comment on the use of the word “to”. Why does the text say “to Isaac and to Rebecca” and not just “to Isaac and Rebecca”? He notes that tradition says that Rebecca had grown up in a society where idol worship was part of society. Each parent reacted to their son’s action based on their own history. He notes that “even the grossest abominations may lose their odium if one has been accustomed to them. We are in danger of losing our abhorrence to evil if we are exposed to it.” (p. 50). In other words, the more we are exposed to evil, the more we become used to it, anesthetized to it, even accepting of it, the greater the danger to the fabric of society. “The teaching of this passage in the Torah”, Twerski adds, “as explained by the Midrash is that such exposure lowers one’s threshold of disapproval, so that even the most moral person does not escape unscathed.” (p.50)
Let me suggest that this little comment speaks to us in very clear terms. It is , in a real sense, another call to action for our generation. The more we come to accept branding people as the “other”, the more we turn a deaf ear to words of racism and division, the more we become used to it, the greater the challenge to civility. The phrase “the new normal” can be used as an excuse to tell ourselves “what can I do”? We need to look at the words that we see now in public discourse and be vigilant as to how they are used, who speaks them and to whom they are directed. Our children and grandchildren are listening and watching. We Boomers, I suggest, do have a moral responsibility to call out evil, for if we ignore it, then we run the risk of being the next subject of hate.
Rabbi Richard F Address