I hope everyone is enjoying Thanksgiving, and their family traditions.
This week, in Parasha Toldos, we learn about family traditions through lives of Isaac and his wife, Rebecca. They are childless, as Isaac’s parents were for so many years, so Isaac prays for children. The couple is rewarded with twin boys, but they are very different. The first-born, Esau, is a man of the field, a hunter. The other twin, Jacob, is quiet and follows his father in serving God. One day Esau returns from a day outdoors and finds Jacob, who has made a stew. Esau is hungry and offers to sell Jacob his birthright – the right to be the spiritual leader of the family – for some of the stew. The thing of great value to Jacob was only worth a bowl of stew to Esau.
Many years of childlessness is not the only similarity between Isaac and his father, Abraham. Abraham also had two sons who were very different. Ishmael was wild while Isaac was devoted to following his father as the leader of those who love God. Abraham suffered through a famine and went to the land of the Philistines, and Isaac also went to live with the Philistines to get away from famine. Each Patriarch, when he entered the Philistine land, was afraid of being killed so that the ruler could marry his beautiful wife, and each man said that his wife was his sister to escape danger. Each Patriarch made an agreement with the Philistine ruler, Avimelech. Both Patriarchs dug wells in the Philistine land.
Rabbi Shmuel Golden points out in his book, Unlocking the Torah Text: Bereishit, these similarities are an example of how each generation receives our Tradition (Mesorah) from the prior generation. It is then the job of the men and women of each new generation to take what they have learned and adapt it to their own times, and so contribute to the Mesorah. In this way we take the eternal truths God teaches us in the Torah, and use them to help us through ever-changing times.
By studying the Mesorah of our faith, as practiced by your family, we can Be Prepared to help lead the Jewish people into the future.