The narrative continues and we read about the generations of Abraham. Isn’t it interesting how the portion begins with,

“And these are the offspring of Isaac son of Abraham – Abraham begot Isaac.” Genesis 25:19

But then 2 verses later it says,

“Isaac entreated HaShem opposite his wife, because she was barren.” Genesis 25:21

This should come as no surprise to us who believe the promise to Abraham just as he believed. We should not even have to continue reading to know that Isaac and Rebecca bear children.  Though we would miss out on beautiful demonstrations of G-d’s faithfulness and power if we did not continue. I believe that is why it was important to state that Rebecca was barren. It is another wonderful proof that nothing is impossible for G-d!

In looking at the Hebrew we find a word in Genesis 25:22 that has not been used thus far.

“The children struggled [ וַיִּתְרֹֽצֲצוּ ] together within her…”

Not only is this the first usage of the word but it is the only time this word is used as “struggle.” The most common translation of the word is “oppress.” The literal meaning of the word [ וַיִּתְרֹֽצֲצוּ ] fits perfectly with G-d’s answer to Rebecca’s question.

“And HaShem said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.’” Genesis 25:23

Anytime you have a stronger and older person being ruled by a younger person there will be a struggle. It is easy to be swayed by physical traits. The world would acknowledge the bigger, stronger, and older as the ruler, but G-d establishes the younger as the ruler. (King David is another great example) Regardless of the oppression Esau and his descendents place on Jacob and his descendents G-d will not break His promise. We reflect on this biblical truth today as we witness Israel being preserved and protected amidst the Arab oppression. The descendents of Esau will continue to make war against Israel, but there will be a day (may it be soon and in our days) when Messiah Yeshua comes and physically manifests His kingship.  On that day all the earth will see that Messiah Yeshua, a descendent of Jacob, rules over the nations. Hallelujah!

Also contained in this portion is a perplexing question. When Esau returned from hunting and served delicacies to his father Isaac after Jacob had just received the blessing scripture says,

“Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, ‘Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.’” Genesis 27:33

This verse contains the first use of two words for “tremble” [ וַיֶּחֱרַד ] and [ חֲרָדָה ], which is understood throughout scripture as afraid or fearful. The perplexing question is, of what or of who was Isaac afraid? Was he afraid that Esau was going to harm Jacob? Was he afraid because he thought he somehow disobeyed G-d? In this passage it seems like Isaac did not need any assistance in knowing that Jacob had taken the blessing. Who else could it have been? I believe Isaac was afraid because he knew he had blessed the wrong person. He may have been worried about the effect his blessing would have upon the promise of descendents. Nevertheless, G-d used this whole situation to fulfill the promise given to Rebecca about which son would rule the other. Another explanation is offered in the book, Midrash Tanhuma-Yelammedenu: an English translation of Genesis and Exodus from the printed version of Tanhuma-Yelammedenu with an introduction, notes, and indexes by Samuel A. Berman:

“Scripture states elsewhere in allusion to this verse: The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the L-rd shall be set up on high (Prov. 29:25). Because of the fear that Jacob brought upon Isaac, it would have been fitting for him to have cursed him. Who compelled him to bless Jacob? Whoso putteth his trust in the L-rd shall be set up on high. R. Levi said in the name of R. Hama the son of Hanina: Isaac was terrified twice, once when he was bound upon the altar, and again when Esau entered. There is no way of knowing which event frightened him more, but since the word exceedingly is mentioned in this verse, you may presume that this was the more terrifying experience. The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: Because of the evil inclination, you do not pursue My ways in this world, but in the future I will place within you a new heart;  And I will put a new spirit within you; you I will remove the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh (Ezek. 11:19).”

Further reading on the topic reveals,

“The trembling, the anxiety of Yitzchak, has troubled commentators since Chazal. The midrash, feeling the dread implied in the word ‘charada gedola,’ says this refers to a feeling of gehinom; he felt the opening of hell, of death, before him.”1

In this case, it is not about the answer, it is about the search. The cause of Isaac’s trembling is debated, even among the commentators, yet it is still helpful to inquire and discuss.  The Torah is our guidebook for living and it is our responsibility to read, study, and obey.


PARASHAT TOLDOT by Rav Ezra Bick; (c) Yeshivat Har Etzion1997