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    Our worries about Rebekah – Tol’dot

    Isaac and Rebekah played favourites with their children.

    Jacob & Rebekah, from a 1906 Bible card

    Jacob & Rebekah, from a 1906 Bible card

    Isaac loved Esau: Rebekah loved Jacob. Neither was an entirely good parent, and unfortunately this phenomenon echoes time and again in family dynamics.

    Rebekah desperately wanted Jacob to receive his father’s blessing and was prepared to use desperate means to achieve it. Knowing that Isaac’s sight was almost gone, she put hairy animal skin on Jacob’s arms so that when Isaac felt the young man, he thought it was Isaac.

    No-one in the story comes out as a paragon of virtue, but the one we are most worried about is Rebekah herself. Whichever way we read the story, she is guilty of an act of deception.

    In her mind, Esau is simply unworthy of the blessing that Isaac is about to offer. Indeed, God has already said, “The older one shall serve the younger” (Gen. 21:13). Esau is a rough hunter, a materialist: Jacob has the spirituality, intellect and vision to lead the family into its destiny.

    Clearly Rebekah wants to show Isaac how easily he can be deceived; his love of Esau is based on false premises. He thinks that Esau deserves commendation because he makes sure that Isaac gets his favourite foods.

    But Isaac is not necessarily going to be persuaded by talk or logic. Time is running out and if Esau gets the blessing now, just before Isaac’s death, the future which God has mapped out for the family will be frustrated.

    Let’s ask, too, why Jacob goes along with his mother’s plans without an apparent protest.

    The Targum deals with this question by not only putting into Rebekah’s mouth the assurance that any blame will be hers and not his, but by reporting (based on rabbinic tradition) that she heard an oracle that this was what God wanted, and she had to find a dramatic way of doing what the prophecy told her.

    True, she appeared to employ a pretence, but she could not think of a better way.

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