Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Toldos: Nouns and Pronouns

Post-Parshah Point: Toldos

Parshas Toldos focuses on the early life of twin brothers Yaakov [Jacob] and Esav, and their relationships with one another and with their parents Yitzhak [Isaac] and Rivkah [Rebecca]. We are told near the beginning of the parshah (Gen 25:28) that each parent had a favored child; Yitzchak preferred Esav, and Rivkah Jacob. A detailed analysis of wording used in the parshah shows that the latter partiality was much more severe than the former.

Throughout Toldos we see conversations and other one-on-one contacts between nearly all the pairs of individuals in this family: Yaakov and Esav (25:29-34), Yaakov and Yitzchak (28:1-4, plus 27:19-29 with Yaakov in Esav's guise), Yitzchak and Esav (27:31-40), Rivkah and Yaakov (27:6-17, 42-45), and even Yitzchak and Rivkah (26:8, 27:46). The one pair who have absolutely no interaction depicted anywhere are Rivkah and Esav. Even more significantly, though Rivkah calls Yaakov "b'nee", "my son", several times (27:8, 13, 43) she never once refers to Esav as her son, even indirectly. He is always "Esav your brother" (27:6, 42) or just "your brother" (44-45). Even in the narrative verses, Esav is never described as simply Rivkah's son, but always with the qualifier "her older son", and then only when contrasted with Yaakov "her younger son" (27:15,42). It seems that the disconnection between Rivkah and Esav goes far beyond a simple preference for her younger son.

And this lack of relationship appears to be mutual. A clear illustration of this can be seen at the very end of the parshah. We are told previously that both Yitzchak and Rivkah disapproved of Esav's marriage to Hittite women (26:24-25). Rivkah was arguably even more distressed about this than Yitzchak was (see 27:46). Yet after Yaakov leaves to find a more acceptable spouse, Esav's realization is only that "the Canaanite girls are displeasing to his father Yitzchak (28:8), not to "both his parents". His mother's feelings on the subject don't even enter into it!

A separate point, but also illustrating the incredibly precise usage of nouns and pronouns in parshas Toldos. When Yaakov disguises himself as Esav to obtain the paternal blessing due the oldest son, Yitzchak becomes doubtful of his identity almost at once. In fact, many meforshim state that he was aware of the ruse before even delivering the blessing. Verse 27:20 is pointed out as a key grounds for Yitzchak's suspicion, based on Yaakov's pious mention of "God's help", clearly not a typical manner of speech for his brother. That this was indeed the giveaway is hinted in the introductory wording of v. 20 and 21. The first verse begins "vayomer Yitzchak el b'no", "And Yitzchak said to his son" - generically. Then the second verse, after Yaakov's devoutly-phrased response, begins "vayomer Yitzchak el Yaakov", "And Yitzchak said to Yaakov". The Narrator is letting us know that indeed, Yitzchak realized at this point just which specific son he was speaking with!


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