Toldot means “offspring” and “generations”; it also means “generations” in the more general sense—that which a person generates and produces. Thus, “the toldot of Isaac” are Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau, as well as the deeds and achievements of Isaac—both of which are the subject of the Torah section of Toldot.
These are the generations of Isaac the son of Abraham—Abraham fathered Isaac.
Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Padan Aram, the sister of Laban the Aramean, to himself for a wife.
But twenty years later, the couple was still childless.
Isaac prayed to G‑d opposite his wife, because she was barren, and G‑d accepted his prayer, and Rebecca his wife conceived.
Rebecca had a tumultuous pregnancy, as “the children struggled within her.” When she inquired to G‑d as to the meaning of this, she was told:
Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall diverge from your belly. One nation will struggle against the other; and the elder shall serve the younger.
When it came time for her to give birth, behold, there were twins in her womb.
The first came out red all over like a hairy mantle; and they called his name Esau (“ready-made”).
After that came out his brother, his hand holding on to Esau’s heel; and his name was called Jacob (“he who heels”).
The passing years only accentuated the differences between them.
The youths grew up, and Esau was a man who understood hunting, a man of the field, whereas Jacob was an innocent man, dwelling in tents.
They also differed in their relationship with their parents:
Isaac loved Esau because [his] game was in his mouth, but Rebecca loved Jacob.
Esau said to Jacob: “Give me to swallow, I beg you, of that red stew, for I am faint”; therefore was his name called Edom (“red”).
Jacob said: “Sell me this day your birthright.”
Esau said: “Behold, I am about to die, and what good is this birthright for me?”
Jacob said: “Swear to me this day.” He swore to him, and he sold his birthright to Jacob.
Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; he ate and drank, got up and went his way; thus Esau despised the birthright.
A famine forces Isaac to relocate, but G‑d commands him not to leave the Holy Land, and reiterates His promise that “to you and to your seed I will give all these lands, and I will fulfill the oath which I swore to Abraham your father.”
So instead of going to Egypt (as Abraham did, and Jacob will when famine strikes the land of Canaan), Isaac settles in Gerar, in the land of the Philistines, which is within the boundaries of the Holy Land.
He does, however, follow his father’s example in presenting Rebecca as his sister, “lest the men of the place should kill me on account of Rebecca, because she is fair to look upon.” When the local king, Avimelech, happens to discover that they are husband and wife, he reproaches Isaac: “What have you done to us? One of the people might easily have lain with your wife, and you would have brought guilt upon us.” Avimelech then warns his people: “He that touches this man or his wife shall surely be put to death.”
Isaac prospers in Gerar. “He had possessions of flocks, possessions of herds, and a great store of servants.” He works the soil: “Isaac sowed in that land, and received in the same year a hundredfold, for G‑d blessed him.” So successful is he, that the previously hospitable Avimelech no longer desires his neighborship. “Go from us,” he now says to Isaac, “for you have grown mightier than us.”
Isaac sets himself the task of reopening the wells dug by Abraham:
For all the wells which his father’s servants had dug in the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped them up, and filled them with earth . . .
Isaac dug again the wells of water . . . and he called their names after the names by which his father had called them.
Then he dug wells of his own:
Isaac’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of living waters.
The shepherds of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s shepherds, saying, “The water is ours”; so he named the well Eisek (“strife”), because they had contended with him.
They dug another well, and they quarreled about it also; so he named it Sitnah (“animosity”).
He moved away from there, and he dug another well, and they did not quarrel over it; so he named it Rechovot (“broad places”), and he said: “For now G‑d has made room for us, and we will be fruitful in the land.”
At age forty, Esau takes two Hittite wives—Judith the daughter of Be’eri and Basmat the daughter of Elon—who were “a grief of spirit to Isaac and to Rebecca.” Jacob remains an unmarried, reclusive scholar in the tents of learning.
It came to pass that Isaac aged, and his eyes dimmed so that he could not see; and he called Esau his eldest son, and said to him:
“Now therefore take, please, your weapons, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and catch me some game. Make me savory foods such as I love, and bring them to me, that I may eat; so that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Rebecca overhears her husband’s words to her elder son, and is determined that Jacob, not Esau, should receive Isaac’s blessing. She summons Jacob and commands him to bring her “two choice kids” from the flocks, which she will prepare to resemble the “savory foods” which Esau serves his father. Jacob is to take them to Isaac before Esau returns from the hunt, and receive the blessings in his brother’s stead.
Jacob said to Rebecca his mother: “Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man.
“Perhaps my father will touch me, and I will appear to him as a deceiver, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing.”
But Rebecca insists that he follow through with the plan. She dresses Jacob in Esau’s clothes, and covers his arms and the back of his neck with the skin of the goats from which she prepared the “game,” so that he should feel like his hairy brother to his blind father’s hands.
He came to his father, and said: “My father!”
And he said: “Here I am. Who are you, my son?”
Jacob said to his father: “I am Esau your firstborn. I have done as you have spoken to me. Please rise, sit down and eat of my game, so that your soul will bless me.”
Isaac said to his son: “How is it that you have found it so quickly, my son?”
And he said: “Because the L‑rd your G‑d sent me good speed.”
The tone and content of Jacob’s speech arouses Isaac’s suspicions.
Isaac said to Jacob: “Come near, please, that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.”
Jacob approached Isaac his father. He felt him, and said: “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau!”
Thus Jacob receives the blessings which Isaac intended for Esau:
“May G‑d give to you of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine.
“May peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; you shall be lord over your brethren, and your mother’s sons shall bow down to you.
“Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.”
Esau enters his father’s room just seconds after Jacob’s departure, and the deception is discovered, but nothing can be done. “Your brother came with cunning,” says Isaac, “and has taken away your blessing. . . . Behold, I have made him your lord, and all his brethren have I given to him for servants; with grain and wine have I sustained him. What can I do now for you, my son?”
Esau said to his father, “Have you but one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father.” Esau raised his voice and wept.
But all that Isaac can offer his distraught son is a blessing that “your dwelling shall be of the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above. You shall live by your sword, and you shall serve your brother; it will be, when you grieve, that you will break his yoke off your neck.”
Esau is furious, and plots to kill Jacob. Rebecca hears of this, and tells Jacob that he must flee to Charan, to her brother Laban.
To her husband, Rebecca says that it is time that Jacob married, and she certainly does not desire that he follow the example of his brother in marrying a Hittite woman. So Isaac summons Jacob and instructs him:
“Do not take a wife of the daughters of Canaan. Arise, go to Padan Aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father, and take a wife from there of the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother.”
Before he goes, Isaac has an additional series of blessings for Jacob:
“May the Almighty G‑d bless you, make you fruitful and multiply you, and you shall become an assembly of peoples.
“May He give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your seed with you, that you may inherit the land of your sojournings, which G‑d gave to Abraham.”
Our Parshah concludes by relating how Esau, seeing that his father prefers that his children marry within the family rather than with the local population, takes an additional wife—“Machalat, the daughter of Ishmael the son of Abraham, the sister of Nevayot.”