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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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The Blessing of Brotherhood: A New Story for Toldot


In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read of yet another set of biblical siblings who are opposites and rivals. Because of its economy of writing, the Torah seems to focus on plot-driving, sibling strife, but every time that I read Genesis, I find myself preoccupied with the moments that the Torah has left out. Sometimes, I am so moved by considering these moments that I write midrashim (stories about biblical characters or events) that answer the questions that fill my mind.

Imagining these moments does not diminish the tension that exists within our Torah or undo the events that are recorded in the Torah. Instead, these imaginings simply allow the characters, our spiritual ancestors, to become more fully human.

In Toldot, we read that Jacob tricked his father into giving him the blessing that his twin, Esau, should have received. The Torah tells us quite a bit about the emotions involved in that moment, explaining that Esau wept and that Isaac shuddered when Jacob’s actions were revealed. It is heartbreaking to read of Esau’s pain as he begs his father to offer him a blessing as well.

According to the biblical story, after Jacob’s deception, the brothers would not see one another for years, not until they were both adults and parents themselves. And even after all of that time has passed, in their moment of reunion, Jacob would approach his twin with great anxiety, expecting Esau to be the exact same person that he left behind when he ran away to his uncle’s home to avoid the consequences of his trickery. But Esau surprised him and welcomed him with open arms. Esau was ready to be brothers, but once again their paths and stories separated.

One of the questions that I find myself asking when I read the story of these brothers is:

What would have happened if Isaac had realized what Jacob had done before Esau returned and had made Jacob stay so that he could speak with both of his sons at the same time?

I imagine that it could have looked something like this:

When Esau returned to the tent with the food his father had requested, he saw that his brother, Jacob, was also there, doing his best to blend into the shadows. Esau squinted at him, something about Jacob was off. “Are you wearing my cloak? And why is there fur on your arms?”

Isaac interrupted before any more questions could be asked. “Your brother pretended to be you in order to receive your blessing.”

Esau exploded, “WHAT!?! Jacob! How could you do that? And… father, does that mean that you gave him my blessing??”

Isaac watched as Jacob hunched in on himself, trying to disappear and sighed deeply. “Boys, it is clear to me that your mother and I have indulged your rivalry for too long. You have forgotten that you are brothers. You have forgotten that the loss of the other would be a devastation. Trust me. I know that feeling all too well. Jacob, go and change into your own clothes. Come back when you are truly yourself.”

Jacob scurried away and returned as quickly as he was able.

When he re-entered the tent, he saw his father and brother sitting next to one another, his father’s arm around Esau’s shaking shoulders as he whispered soothing words.

Jacob moved toward them, and as he neared, his father and Esau stood. Then, without needing to say anything, the three moved to sit in such a way that each was able to see the others.

Isaac studied both of his sons, old and tired eyes passing back and forth, from one face to the other.

“Boys, I have failed you.”

Both Jacob and Esau gasped and started to protest, but they stilled when Isaac lifted his hand.

“I have failed you because I have failed to break the curse of rivalry that has existed between siblings in our family for generations. Both of you are precious to me and to your mother, but we obviously did not show you that enough.”

Isaac reached out a hand to Jacob who grasped onto it eagerly, “I have given you your brother’s blessing, and that is an act that I cannot undo.”

Jacob’s eyes welled, and he tucked his chin.

Isaac reached out to Esau who mirrored his brother by clinging to their father’s hand. For a moment, the three sat in stillness as they wept and thought of blessings given, stolen, and received.

“Brotherhood is its own blessing. Today has shown me that I have failed to teach you this lesson, but I will not fail now. Boys, reach out to one another so that I may bless you both.”

Both Esau and Jacob’s faces twisted in nearly identical grimaces at the idea of holding the other’s hand. But Isaac sat calmly, holding onto both of his children, and waited.

Jacob’s eyes lifted first, peeking at his brother. His breath caught as he saw the devastation on Esau’s face. He watched as Esau’s chest heaved and his tears ran freely. Jacob realized just how much he had taken from him. And, while his instinct was to turn away from the pain he saw, his father’s calm presence and steady hold pushed him to remain. He took a deep breath and slowly stretched his hand out. He placed it on his knee closest to his brother, palm toward the sky, ready in case Esau was willing. Then he dropped his eyes back down and waited.

Esau sat, trying to find calm again, for a long time. His father’s hand was his lifeline, keeping him tethered as the storms of emotions raged inside of him. Finally, finally, his breath began to even, and his heart stopped racing. As he came back to himself, he looked through his lashes at Jacob expecting to see him looking smug now that he had the blessing he had always desired. But Jacob looked more like a boy than the man he almost was. He looked fearful and fragile. Esau’s eyes moved over his brother until he saw that Jacob’s hand was placed passively on his knee, waiting to be grasped. There was something so sad and so hopeful in that open hand.

Esau’s eyes moved to his father’s face only to see that Isaac was already looking at him with a soft and understanding gaze.

Jacob heard shuffling as his brother shifted, but he kept his eyes on the ground, worried that Esau would lash out with understandable anger. But, then he felt his brother’s hand clasping his own, and he couldn’t stop himself from looking up in wonder.

The three sat, finally, if tentatively, connected. They held onto one another as all of the emotions of past hurts and injured futures passed between them.

Finally, after many minutes, Isaac offered them a new, shared blessing:

God of All, we offer gratitude for the blessing of family, those we are born into and those we make for ourselves.

May both of my sons be blessed with the strength they will need to create the futures they desire.

May both of my sons be blessed with companions to walk alongside them on their journeys.

May they find comfort in one another when their paths cross, and may they remember the importance of reaching out to one another, even in times of tension and pain.

May they support one another in their individual endeavors.

May the champion one another when others insult them.

May their brotherhood be a strong foundation for all that they will become.

May they be blessed because they bless one another.


Rabbi Rachel Kay Bearman serves Congregation Shaare Emeth and is a member of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, which coordinates the d’var Torah for the Jewish Light.



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