February 28, 2024 -
This blog post is excerpted from the remarks of Student Rabbi Scott Fox on Shabbat Toldot, November 16, 2012. Scott is in his second year as our student rabbi at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, and his final year of rabbinical studies at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. We encourage you to share his remarks, or comment below.
Isaac was 60 years old when his children were born. 60. But he was 40 years old when he married Rebecca, which means they waited 20 years before the had kids. It seems as though they were putting it off. This makes sense, I can imagine they each had plenty to do. Isaac was out earning a living, a good one at that. He dug wells, and worked hard to bring food home to his wife every night. At the end of a long day, gathering his dusty cloak around him as he returns home from a long day in the cold, I can imagine Isaac entering his tent to the welcome of his partner of so many years. Rebecca turns to Isaac and with his hand on her cheek asks him if tonight they will try to have a child. “I am too tired tonight,” responds Isaac as his meager weight collapses on the seat by the dinner table. “Perhaps tomorrow.” Tomorrow arrives and Isaac is out with his flock especially late. When he returns home a small lamp shines just enough light to show that Rebecca is curled up in bed, already asleep for the night. She does not ask him again for another week or two, and the cycle continues.
By the time the two do have children, there are twins in the womb. Perhaps because they waited so long, we will never know. But even after they are born Isaac has little time for them. The same challenges that brought him to work longer days when there were two mouths at home, is now doubled with twice as many stomachs. Isaac works, and the children play, but it is not long before they begin to fight over the little attention Isaac can give them. As time moves on, the competition between the brother’s gets worse, until finally Jacob steals his brother’s blessing from his father. They have resorted to tricks and cunning to gain the affection of their father.
We all know this. Both the story and the conflict bear striking resemblance to our lives. We work unbelievable hours today. I spoke with one person recently who told me, very matter of factly, that he works a 50 hour work week, although he is only paid for 40. I know he is not the only one. People who are in fear of losing their jobs put in extra hours just to try and maintain their position. Others are fired and their old responsibilities are divvied up among the remaining employees without any additional compensation, thanks, or hope of future relief from the increased burden. Young recent college graduates are even taking unpaid internships because it is so hard to find work that they will even do it for free, just for the sake of getting experience.
This snowballs until things are completely out of control. Like Isaac, we neglect the ones we love because we are working so hard to keep things together. Long days of work followed by hectic evenings, late nights give way again to early mornings and the weeks roll by like nothing. We don’t even see them go. Weeks so easily become months, months so easily become years, and we still have not taken the time to give our loved ones our attention and affection. They vie for our time, and we are able to give over so little of it. Eventually they go so far as to trick us, just for our blessing.
And the brothers Jacob and Esau follow their father’s example. Jacob flees home for fear that his older brother will kill him, and they live most of their adult lives without the affection of their brother. What was the neglect of their father, has become the avoidance of the brothers. They have not only learned, but furthered the actions of their absent parent. They remain silent to each other for years.
But there is a time for love and blessing. Isaac and Rebecca, despite all the challenges of exhaustion and busy days, do find time for each other. They do have children, and from their union two great peoples are born. One of which we are a part. In the Bible, twins are a great blessing, uncommon and very important. And it shows God’s affection towards the characters. God too has trouble finding the time to be with God’s loved ones. In the Bible God speaks so rarely to the prophets that we learn to cherish the few words that God does share with them. The brothers Jacob and Esau too are reunited. Jacob, after years of hiding from his brother, is welcomed by him with open arms.
We do find the time for the people we care about, and perhaps because those moments are rare, that time even more special. There are short moments were we join together for a meal, a game, a conversation, and we can be thankful for even those moments, when we turn to our loved ones and offer our affection to them freely and completely, even on a busy day.