Parashat Toldot:  It is about seeing—and not seeing

2016-10-03-22-03-22Our parasha reports the way Isaac was tricked into giving Jacob the blessing for the firstborn, taking advantage of his blindness. But was Isaac really blind, was he really not able to notice that it was Jacob who stood in front of him, and not Esau?

History is sometimes made by averting our eyes.  The contrast between Isaac and his father Abraham is most stark.  Abraham moves the story by seeing.  Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the ram.  It was there all along but he could not see it because of his zeal.  This is similar to Hagar and her story.  The well was there all along.  But she could not see it because of her tears.  Sometimes passion and grief obscure our seeing. 

Many people think that miracles are about God working magic.  But according to Genesis they are about lifting up the eyes.  They are about opening the eyes and seeing what is already there. So miracles are more about our seeing things than God’s magic.  Miracles are about noticing the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

So how do we understand Isaac’s not seeing?  If he is blinded by choice—because it is too painful to verbalise what one son is doing to another or how his wife is conspiring against him or how he is favouring one son over another—then what might be the miracle that he is unable to see?  That miracle I am sorry to say is in the sequel.  It is in next week’s portion.  That miracle is the dream of a ladder going to heaven.  This miracles occurs because Jacob is now running from Esau.  Such is the history that is created by Isaac choosing not to see.

I am left with the impression that we can’t see everything.  That some things are too painful to see clearly.  The truth must sometimes be concealed.  And that we must, as a matter of faith, veil our eyes. In truth, it is not Abraham who teaches us how to build faith.  God can ask me as many times as He wants but I am not going to sacrifice my son—or my daughter—on some mountain top.  It is Isaac who tells me how to lead a life of faith.  We can look at the world and all its pain.  We can look at our own lives with all the difficulties, and say, there is no God; there are no miracles.  Or you can see the lone ram caught in the thicket, or the well buried under the desert scrub.  You can look at nature in all its wonderful spring colours, and say, „I believe!“ Faith is a matter of averting our eyes from our daily pains.  And seeing instead the sometimes less frequent joys and blessings.  It is about seeing—and not seeing.

Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Steven Moskowitz) 

Podcast of Rabbi Schell’s weekly Sermons Tuesdays on Radio Today (10h30) or:  http://goo.gl/LsHQrY.

Torah Reading for Toldot

Genesis 25:19-28:9 (Gen 27:15-27:40)
Plaut p. 179; Hertz p. 98

Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
Plaut p.191; Hertz 102

In our Parasha Isaac and Rebekah have twins, and name them Jacob and Esau who constantly fight with each other, even in the womb.  First Esau sells his birth right to Jacob.  Finally, Jacob steals Esau’s blessing and lives up to his name, „heel.“

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