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    Why didn’t Rashi know? – Tol’dot


    For Rashi to confess ignorance is unusual and rather surprising. Yet this is what we find in this week’s sidra.

    The verse reads, “Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-Aram to Laban, the son of Betuel the Syrian, the brother of Rebekah, mother of Jacob and Esau” (Gen. 28:5).

    It is this last phrase, “mother of Jacob and Esau”, on which Rashi remarks, “I do not know what it teaches us”.

    Obviously, it is good for even a great person like Rashi to be humble and honest and acknowledge that something puzzles him.

    But what puzzles us, his readers, is why the simple, known fact that Jacob and Esau are the children of Rebekah needs commentary at all.

    The other commentators try to answer the question.

    Nehama Leibowitz, in her “Studies in Bereshit”, offers a digest of their views. Her own preference is for the view of the Italian scholar, Elijah Benamozegh (1822-1900), author of “Em LaMikra”.

    Benamozegh says that because Esau had lost the birthright and blessing to Jacob, the latter had to leave home or else his life would be in danger.

    Rebekah knew that if Esau killed Jacob, she would lose both her sons: one would be dead and the other a fugitive. Jacob’s flight from home therefore saved the lives of both of them.

    Maybe Rashi had considered this explanation and rejected it. We do not know. But what we do know, from centuries of human experience, is that family dynamics are not always smooth and peaceful.

    Siblings can fall out and stay on bad terms for years on end. The cause is often money: sometimes a parent is selective and favours one child over another.

    But the purpose of these remarks is not merely to urge parents to be extremely careful how they distribute their assets. It is also a plea to siblings.

    You lose part of yourself when you turn against your own brother or sister. You deny your children part of their heritage when you bring them up not knowing their cousins.

    Maybe something unfair has made you full of rage, but there has to be a way of still sharing the same world, remaining within the same family, feeling joy at the other’s successes and feeling pain at their failures.

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