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Toldot in a Nutshell

Toldot in a Nutshell

Genesis 25:19–28:9

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Isaac and Rebecca endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rebecca conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; G‑d tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.

Esau emerges first; Jacob is born clutching Esau’s heel. Esau grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Jacob is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favors Esau; Rebecca loves Jacob. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.

In Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, Isaac presents Rebecca as his sister, out of fear that he will be killed by someone coveting her beauty. He farms the land, reopens the wells dug by his father Abraham, and digs a series of his own wells: over the first two there is strife with the Philistines, but the waters of the third well are enjoyed in tranquility.

Esau marries two Hittite women. Isaac grows old and blind, and expresses his desire to bless Esau before he dies. While Esau goes off to hunt for his father’s favorite food, Rebecca dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, covers his arms and neck with goatskins to simulate the feel of his hairier brother, prepares a similar dish, and sends Jacob to his father. Jacob receives his father’s blessings for “the dew of the heaven and the fat of the land” and mastery over his brother. When Esau returns and the deception is revealed, all Isaac can do for his weeping son is to predict that he will live by his sword, and that when Jacob falters, the younger brother will forfeit his supremacy over the elder.

Jacob leaves home for Charan to flee Esau’s wrath and to find a wife in the family of his mother’s brother, Laban. Esau marries a third wife—Machalath, the daughter of Ishmael.

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Erick Samuel FL December 3, 2016

Rebecca loved both Essau and Jacob as any good mother does. Rebecca never forgot that G-D let her know the younger would rule over the elder. It was G-D which chose Jacob because He knew his heart. Essau indeed was strong and a great hunter. He was a man of the world and therefore chose the way of the world. Jacob naturally chose the way of the Word and obedience. In obedience he gained the blessing from Issac, found favor with G-D, became Israel and created the Nation. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, NY via capitalchabad.com November 30, 2016

I just want to "correct" the rabbi in his comment that "...led to the choosing of Israel as recipients of the Torah, etc." I learned that G-d "offered" the Torah to many other nations who "said" they didn't want it. But, when G-d offered the Torah to Israel, they "answered," "We will do, and we will listen." "Na'aseh, v'nishma," is the Hebrew. As Jews, we're supposed to first do what G-d wants us to do. It's compared to a parent telling a child to do something. The child asks, "Why?" and the parent
answers, "Because I told you to." A child is too young to fully understand the parent's explanation, but the child listens because he/she knows the parent is in charge. So, too, as Jews, we are unable to understand G-d's reasoning. Isn't it true that even when we think we do understand the reasons, we don't always do what we know G-d wants us to do? We know we are imperfect and often helpless. We've been compared to sheep. Our strength is in our willingness to obey.
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Riva Gilman Brooklyn, NY via capitalchabad.com November 30, 2016

The narratives in the Old Testament tell us about people much like ourselves. This story shows us that Nature, G-d, or Mother Earth favors the tent-dwelling agricultural way of life for us rather than the hunter/hunted way of life. Esau, impatient with hunger, was quick to relinquish his birthright for a bowl of food, giving it up to Jacob. Who among us hasn't said something we didn't mean for immediate gratification? When we are strong and robust, do we really think beyond our immediate needs? This story is about setting down roots. It's a story of a mother, Rebecca, (perhaps, Mother Earth, herself), who instigated it because she wanted her sons to inherit a peaceful civilized existence, not to hunt each other and kill for a living. Please learn more Torah. Find a good teacher and learn to look for the lessons of peace in each narrative. Let the anti-Semites worry about themselves. Reply

Adam Helberg CA November 30, 2016

I'm going to play devil's argument here and probably take some wrath.
The deception of Jacob and Rebecca against Essau and others in our bible are explained away and justified and have become part of our heritage. Could this be the origin of anti-Semitism as others read this and view us as untrustworthy and devious people? Reply

Riva Gilman Brooklyn, NY via capitalchabad.com November 27, 2016

Perhaps Jacob was somehow developmentally or physically disabled, and, thus, unable to leave the tent, and fend for himself in the world as his brother could. Or, perhaps, Jacob took the subordinate "domestic" role because his brother already took the dominant "hunter" role. I've often seen in life that the end of life care of an elder parent falls on the youngest child, as it did in my life. When there are no daughters, care of the elder parent often falls on the son who still lives with or is supported financially by that parent because he is not as "independent" as the other sibling. In my own experience as the youngest in my family, I can say that although I was praised for my intelligence and talents I was not encouraged by my parents to leave them. Parents can subconsciously "weaken" or "hold back" the independence of a child for fear of being left alone in their old age. And, the Ten Commandments commands us to honor our parents, a Jewish value. Reply

Dr Billy Levin Benoni November 27, 2016

Twins will often be opposites. A mirror image . One good and one bad. The bad one will often display all the aspects of ADHD, a genetically inherited dysfunction. Hasty impulsive ,reckless,with a well developed visio-spacial right brain. The other will be conservative, considerate, logical and caring with a well developed left brain. Adam and Eve had the same problem with their twin boys. Reply

Moriah Marks long beach, ny via bachyouth.com November 12, 2015

of early biblical history and the fate of the Jewish people. It is interesting that Rebecca ultimately made Jacob the choice and ensured that he receive the blessing, women play a very powerful role in the continuity of Jewish biblical prophecy. Also, the fate of Essau and how he married a daughter of Ishmael is very interesting as these bloodlines are crossed. Jacob indeed became a biblical HERO for the Jewish people and we can still learn about the virtues of righteousness and the blessings that have been graciously endowed to our people. Reply

Anonymous Delray Beach, FL November 23, 2014

It has been a year since I've read this, and now I think I get it. It is about how our choices define who we are and who we will be. Maybe the meaning of this story is that even though Esau was born first and was outwardly "destined" to receive Isaac's blessing, due to his poor choices (as we all are given "free will" by our creator), based on his human apatite and desire, he forfeited his inheritance. He was born into a holy home, and he himself was born holy, but he gave way to the temptations of our world -- much like Adam and Eve. The story is telling us that he could have been our father, but he chose the easier way, the worldly way, as most of us do. Reply

Anonymous toronto November 22, 2014

Anyone who sells his birthright loses his blessing. Righteous men they bless only at the time of death, never before that. That is why before a parent`s death children are gathered round them. Some families this is the custom that even if they are far away. They will leave everything to come home. Reply

Anonymous Willowdale November 21, 2014

The lure and temptation of "worldly" way are very powerful, and those who it promises tranquility to those who obey it. Esau was perfectly at peace and at home with its power. He created distress to Issac and Rebecca when he married two idol worshipers as his wife (and why not, King Solomon did exactly the same thing, right?) and he considered it as a convenient and practical way going around the life's business. His practical solution to his parents' displeasure is that he married Ishmael's daughter who followed Abraham's way.
Esau was a practical man, and I guess many of us are like that. In truth, I am often like that. How many of us can truly say that he or she is a true descendant of Jacob? Are we truly equipped to live like that? I don't know, honestly. Reply

Anonymous Willowdale November 21, 2014

Esau is a paradox. He was raised by holy parents, in holiest environment, well aware of the Divine power. Isaac loved him, and Esau loved him. So, what went wrong with Esau? So did Esau lacked Divine spark inside of him? Issac refused to see Esau's fault because of his paternal love? It is a good question still, and even now, I still don't have a satisfactory answer. His inner calling was physical, and it was under the control of Issac and Rebecca's love and their holy presence, and after that, he did as he was destined and what his true expression wished him to do. Esau is actually like many of us. I remember how a certain grandson of Mennonite told me how he wrestled against two angels who wanted to bring him back to religious Mennonite way, and he won the battle (Reverse Jacob!) and kept his worldly way!!! The lure of the world is strong, and even though many of us we can live differently, we are hopeless out power by the world. But, not all of us can become righteous. Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org November 28, 2013

In the larger picture, the story of the competition between Jacob and Esau serves to explain the later histories of these nations, and the trajectory of Jewish history, an integral part of which is the story of Jacob, which led to the choosing of Israel as recipients of the Torah and of a special position in world history. The Torah expects us to read Rebecca, whom G-d had made obvious as the fitting wife for Isaac, and Jacob, who was a wholesome man dwelling in tents, in a favorable light, not as connivers to disenfranchise another from his rightful heritage, but to save Isaac from blessing the wrong son, due to his "blind spot" regarding Esau. Later, Isaac indeed blesses Jacob consciously, and never holds his deception against him. G-d, too, blesses him, promising that His blessings to Abraham would be fulfilled through Jacob. The very readiness of Jacob and Rebecca to risk everything for these blessings indicates that more was at stake than mere rivalry. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma November 4, 2013

That is a very unusual comment. Because G_d created Esau. So is G_d creating people G_d hates? And this doesn't quite ring right to me. About a G_d who celebrates righteousness, goodness, that merciful and great G_d. I mean, deliberately making someone to HATE? That feels wrong. How would you like to know this. You were created because G_d hated you? Sorry, the logic here fails me.

Logic seems to fall down when we talk about stories, as in Exodus. Because without the Egyptians we'd have NO Exodus story. So are we supposed to love what we then hate? It's this way with the Greeks. I actually love our heritage, meaning the world's, and yet come That story, the Greeks are so denigrated, and even today, for that. I know at least one Jewish person who says, this, Oh, the Greeks. Pagans. And yet, if you look closely their gods and goddess stories have a lot to say about the human condition and they too, if you believe in a CREATOR, have got to be downloaded from the same Source. PARADOX. Reply

Anonymous November 1, 2013

how did Isaac betroth a three year old (Rebecca)? Reply

Anonymous October 30, 2013

I understand that this site is for everybody and that is why you are using English names, but would it not make sense to use the real names, the names Torah is using? Fine you want to be all inclusive put it in parenthesis. Reply

Anonymous California October 28, 2013

The wife that Eliezer chose for Itzak was a beautiful, intelligent and hospitable woman, Characteristics in Jacob and the future of Israel. Is it no wonder that God so fit to have Jacob be the leader of God's people on their struggle to reach the promise land rather than Esau? Reply

Phil Chiang Mai November 20, 2012

Ishmael/Isaac; Jacob/Esau. I't's all about heart: Esau was a carnal man, Jacob the spiritual one. We all have this inner struggle between carnality and spirit: the warning is that G-d hated Esau, father of the Edomites, meaning red, as in red-lentil stew. How a deceiver is more righteous than his brother, only G-d can tell, who probably informed Rebecca. I guess the end justifies the means. As Anna <above> says, this story is still being played out in the Middle East... Reply

robert maslansky New York November 16, 2012

And it came to pass: Esau, the favored one, the tough guy, Jacob the 'nerd', the student. Well, the rest is history. Or is it? Reply

Rochel Chein for chabad.org Binghamton, New York December 17, 2011

Jerald, for insight into Rebecca's instructions to Jacob, see the articles here Reply

Anonymous Delray beach, Fl November 30, 2011

Two nations born so our souls can evolve. The evolution is through the struggle. Cain and Able. Esau and Jacob. Arabs and Jews. Our own individual challenges. Earth is training ground. I think the lesson here is that our maker put us here to grow. There are challenges put in front of us individually and as a nation. It is intentionanal. We pray for help and guidance, but I'm beninning to understand that spiritual growth is almost always accompanied by inner (and sometimes outer) turmoil. Reply