Toldot - Weekly Torah Portion
People seek proof, nations demand them. Malachi, in the Haftarah for this week, says, “ ‘I have loved you,’ says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have You loved us?’ ‘Was Esau not Jacob’s brother?’ declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob”. There are two brothers one loved the other loathed. So much so that it is then said, “I have made his mountains a desolation and given his inheritance to the jackals of the wilderness.” The less expected problem arising from this love is that it comes bundled with responsibility of which the people are far to adhere to. It is therefore understandable that the prophet has a grievance with the people, “A son honors his father, and a servant his master. Then if I am a father, where is My honor?” This complaint is directed fore and foremost towards those who are at the head of the nation, those who are supposed to lead impeccably, but are unfortunately far from presenting an exemplary conduct.
One of the most famous stories of the Torah portion of Toldot is the transfer birthrights from Esau to Jacob. An almost careless and unthought of deed, a decision of which was made on the spare of the moment, but which shall have long term repercussions. Esau returns back home from the hunting fields, “and he was exhausted; and Esau said to Jacob, ‘Please let me have a mouthful of that red stuff there, for I am exhausted.’” Not one to cease an opportunity Jacob demands, “‘sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?’ And Jacob said, ‘First swear to me’; so he swore an oath to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob.” This story ends with the words, “Esau despised his birthright” and anything that it entails, rights and obligations. He simply dismisses this by noting, “I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?” On the other hand, Jacob who now owns the birthright got not only the rights, according to Malachi, but also the obligations attached to it and these binds also the sons and daughters of Jacob.
The prophet Malachi brilliantly describes the corrupted governing elite of his time presenting their innocent-like question to God, “How have we despised Your name?” The prophet responds sharply, “You are presenting defiled food upon My altar. But you say, ‘How have we defiled You?’ In that you say, ‘The table of the Lord is to be despised.’ And when you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not evil? Or when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not evil?” It is so bad that the prophet asserts that the Godly response to all these attempts is, “‘If only there were one among you who would shut the gates, so that you would not kindle fire on My altar for nothing! I am not pleased with you,’ says the Lord of armies, ‘nor will I accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name shall be great among the nations, and in every place frankincense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the Lord of armies. ‘But you are profaning it by your saying, ‘The table of the Lord is defiled, and as for its fruit, its food is to be despised.’’” He continues wondering himself, “ou bring what was taken by robbery and what is lame or sick; so you bring the offering! Should I accept it from your hand?”
It seems as if the government, then as we can also see today in certain places, fails to see its own shortcomings, failures, and omissions. All these are the responsibility of someone else and it is unthinkable, they claim, that we have wronged, purposefully or erroneously. However, when there is a birthright, given or elected, it is essential to take overall responsibility on that which is happening around us. Not to avoid reality as the prophet describes it but rather to honestly face reality, learn from what has happened, find ways to correct and improve so that past failures do not repeat themselves in the future.
We at the Reform Movement have a particular responsibility being the largest Jewish religious movement in the world. We must therefore take our position earnestly. It is a responsibility we must not leave to other to take. It is a duty that requires proper and wise conduct. It requires us to be active not move to the sideways, preferring not to join the table or be part of the discourse. The opposite must be the case. We must be an integral part of the debate, and be a meaningful part of it. We must do that with open ears, minds and hearts to the opinions and positions of those who think and believe differently from us. We cannot despise this birthright but rather be accountable for it. We must fill it with our own content, share it with others so that they will take part in our offering.
Shabbat Shalom and wishes for Good Health.
Reuven Marko, 20 November 2020, 5 Kislev, 5781