On the Shoulders of Giants (Parshat Toldot)

Photo Shohama '09By Rabbi Shohama

In memory of two great Fathers in Israel who passed this week in our synagogue community: Irvin I. Klein z”l, father of our current President, Paul Klein, and Stephen L. Slotnik z”l, who served Your Shul by the Sea for a decade as Board Member, Vice President and President.

How many of us have a Hebrew name somewhere in our family line like Avraham, Sarah, Yitzchak (Isaac), Rivkah (Rebecca), or Ya’akov (Jacob)?  This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, continues the formative lineage of the Jewish people, with G!d’s granting of blessings to Yitzchak. (Next week we meet Rachel and Leah.)  We stand on the shoulders of giants, these Avot and Imahot, our Fathers and Mothers in Israel. They carried our Jewish heritage with G!d’s blessing, through many times that were challenging.

Toldot tells the very difficult story of Rivkah knowing that one of her twins — Yitzchak — is the one with the potential to be a great Jewish leader, even though he is not the first born.  In those days, primogeniture was the rule and the first-born child inherited the greater amount, regardless of ability or desire.  Rivkah subverts this unjust rule by telling Ya’akov to pretend to be his brother Eisav (Esau), and he then receives the greater blessing, but has to flee his brother’s wrath. And yet, we will see as the story unfolds next week, Ya’akov struggles to be a man of great character and merits to be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Would that life were simpler! When we look back at our parents, grandparents and all who came before us, we may see that their lives too were neither easy nor totally without flaw. Yet tradition teaches us to say when they pass on, “May their memory be for blessing.” The blessing is to see their strengths, and to carry forward the moral vision, and the goodness and love they shared with us. Perhaps Torah shows our ancestors with all their imperfections so that we know that we too can be Fathers and Mothers in Israel even though we are not perfect. We too can be Fathers and Mothers in Israel by sharing a Jewish legacy of justice, love and community with those around us.

May we know that G!d’s love for us is enduring, from generation to generation, and may that give us inspiration and strength to make ourselves- and this world, a better place.

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