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Toledot 5781 ~ Nov. 20, 2020

Remember when you had a test in school that asked you a question similar to this one: "Tell me everything that you know about the American Revolution?" What is the correct answer? Some of us might write treatises on the subject. One student answered: I know absolutely nothing. Now, if you were the teacher, what mark would you give the student?

Let's examine the question through the eyes of our Torah reading:

Isaac sent Jacob away; and he went to Padan-aram unto Laban, son of Bethuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebecca, mother of Jacob and Esau. (Genesis 28:5)

Why is he sent away? The story is quite familiar. Jacob, with the urging and assistance of his mother, masquerades as his elder brother Esau. Some say that his father, Isaac, was also a part of the scheme, knowing full well that it was Jacob who he gave the firstborn blessing to. Esau was quite upset by the turn of events. Fearful of what Esau might do, Isaac sent Jacob to the home of his brother-in-law with the hope that Jacob would be protected.

As we reread the Biblical statement, the classical rabbinic commentator, Rashi, is perplexed by the final explanation given. He wants to understand why the author provides for us the information that Rebecca was the mother of Jacob and Esau. Clearly, after having read the entire parasha, one would know who Rebecca was!

Rashi responds: “I do not know what it teaches us.”

Now we have to be even more confused. Why did Rashi offer any comment? Why not just not offer anything?

That is the way of the commentator. He almost always learns to find an understanding. On this occasion he didn't want to let us know that everything that was written was written crystal clear. There is a problem in the text! But, to be honest with you, I can't put my finger on what it is.

What a refreshing thought! Imagine, a rabbi, speechless - without a thought!

Not always can we put our thoughts together to make sense out of everything. But sometimes it remains important that we let people know that some things we have answers to, yet others will remain as enigmas.

I wonder what question might really have been in the back of Rashi’s question.

Could it be that people wondered as to the legitimacy of the statement of who was the mother or, for that matter, who was the father of Jacob and Esau? (Might the father be Abimelech, King of Gerar, who had eyes on Rebecca as they visited his land?)  Rashi says: I don’t know what it teaches.

Could it be that Rashi, or people, were questioning who this mother was who could allow her child to be sent away and allow such a sibling rivalry to have taken place? No, there isn’t a home in the world that doesn’t have sibling rivalry.  The Book of Genesis is quite illustrative of the animosity that exists between the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So, Rashi says, “I don’t know what it comes to teach.”

Could it be that as the new JPS commentary suggests, the comment was one which placed Jacob ahead of Esau in precedence in the eyes of the mother? Rashi once again responds, “I really don’t know what it teaches us.”

Isn't it interesting how one can read into things more than they truly are meant to be!

Perhaps, then, Rashi was making a very important statement. Sometimes it is good to be able to say, "I don't have an answer." Such a response in our world, where we almost always demand answers, is quite refreshing and perhaps should be acceptable too!

Sat, June 25 2022 26 Sivan 5782