The portion for this week, Toldot, is one of our most famous. It contains the heartbreaking scenes of Jacob and Esau and the birthright and blessing. A favorite story for religious school classes of Jacob “stealing” Esau’s birthright, aided by the manipulation of Rebecca. Did Isaac really know the difference? Was this a ruse or was Isaac going along with the ruse? What about Rebecca? The blessing of the sons of Isaac, so filled, in a way, with pathos and prediction!
I was thinking, however, of the very beginning of the portion and the phrase that begins the reading which says that “This is the line of Isaac”, or “these are the generations of Isaac”: “eleh toldot”. (Genesis [25:19]) I was thinking of this phrase and what it may mean to us as we age. Many of us now exist within several generations. Our children, grandchildren and for some of us, still blessed with parents. These are “our” generations. And as we look out at this, gradually, for many of us, we begin to feel the pull of a spiritual question of what do we wish to leave of us for those who come after us?
I think one of the reasons that we are seeing a rise in interest in genealogy among Boomers is this desire to know from where we came. Every family has a story and we want to know where we fit in to that story. Likewise, as we age, it is not unusual for us to begin to contemplate as to our own legacy. What of us do we wish to be left behind? How will our grandchildren remember us? What blessings can we bestow upon them?
I am convinced that one of the reasons for the rise in interest in developing life-review programs, or legcay programs, or sessions that discuss the ethical will is deeply rooted in this desire on our part to find our place in the grand saga that is our own family. Part of that knowing is tied to what we wish to leave behind. This is very Jewish, in a way, for the power of memory in our tradition is so strong. Did you ever stop to think about what memory of you will your children and grandchildren carry with them? That is a powerful thought and a very spiritual challenge. I would imagine that the material things will be a distant second in those memories to the human relational memories. That is the real blessing, is it not? Those moments when we make memories with our kids and grandchildren; moments frozen in time that when brought to consciousness bring forth smiles, laughter and maybe even a tear of joy. The blessing then is that we try and act so that we are carried forward int he souls of our family, always there, always available. These are our generations and may they be forever a blessing.
Rabbi Richard Address