Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #6: Tol’dot (History) B’resheit (Genesis) 25:19-28:9Haftarah: Mal’akhi (Malachi) 1:1-2-7 B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:6-16
This week’s parashah continues the historical process of perpetuation of the G-dly and un-G-dly lines of Abel and Cain, Isaac and Ishma’el; now Jacob and Esau. This is a spiritual war of the worlds that will continue until Armageddon described so graphically in the book of Revelation. This is a spiritual war that cannot be won with sanctions, cowerdess, or peace talks. As with understanding all scripture, it is imperative that we establish a strong foundation in our knowledge of the Old Testament to accurately understand the references to it in the “New Testament”, the B’rit Chadashah. If our government leaders only followed the G-d of Israel, they would have long ago realized that peace with the Arab nations cannot and will not occur by having a quilting party or threats. G-d says as much in Genesis 25:22: “The children fought (jostled in the Hebrew) with each other inside her so much that she [Rivkah] said, ‘If it’s going to be like this, why go on living?’ So she went to inquire of Adonai, who answered her, ‘There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” Keep in mind Rivkah was barren for 20 years before conceiving. All of the matriarchs were barren until G-d intervened, demonstrating His sovereignty and right to choose to reverse the general order of patriarchal rights and privileges of the firstborn and the ability of women to have children. Cain was the elder brother and he was jealous of the younger Abel. The promises of the covenant were given to Isaac, although Ishma’el was also blessed. Now, Rivkah is told things will be different between her sons also. G-d’s statement to Rivkah poses a dilemma for Orthodox Jews who do not subscribe to the concept of original sin as do Messianic Jewish believers. Let’s examine how this dilemma is resolved to give us a better understanding of the Orthodox perspective.
Rashi states a Midrash that says “Whenever she [Rivkah] passed the entrance to the House of Study of Eber, Jacob struggled to exit. [Whenever she passed the entrance to houses of idol worship], Esau struggled to exit.”
The above Midrash seems to imply that Esau and Jacob were already fixed in their tendencies to evil and righteousness, respectively, before birth. However, that would contradict the Torah principle of free will. It would also contradict another teaching of the Sages. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b) relates that Rebbe Yehudah, the descendant of Jacob, and the Roman leader Antonius, the descendent of Esau, debated when the yetzer hara (evil inclination)[we call original sin], enters a person. Rebbe Yehudah maintained that it enters at conception and Antonius maintained that it enters at birth. After Antonius brought scriptural proof to bolster his opinion, Rebbe Yehudah acquiesced that it enters at birth. It is important to note the so-called “scriptural proof” is not defined other than G-d stating that “the imaginings of a person’s heart are evil from his youth (Gen. 8:21). We must learn to scrutinize all information; especially that relating to our spiritual welfare. We must not place our own agenda in scripture to make it “say” what we want it to say. This is eisegesis. We must use the exegetical approach meaning allowing the Ruach (Holy Spirit) to assist us in understanding what we read. Subsequent comparison of scripture with scripture will validate or refute our conclusions. We must learn how to systematically research G-d’s Torah as we will increasingly be bombarded with false information. Friends and family will expose those trying and desiring to learn and follow G-d’s Torah to all sorts of unreliable information on the internet and from other sources. Some Christian churches have and will rename themselves and pose as Messianic congregations but will continue their Christian practices. The only differences may be use of a few Hebrew words, tallits, and possibly kippot. They do not teach the Torah of G-d. If you have not encountered family, friends, or others telling you these sorts of things, get ready. Yahshua knew it would happen (Matt. 24:23). We see it every day and it will only get more intense.
The previous Midrash cited by Rashi seems to attribute the yetzer hara (evil inclination) to Esau prior to birth. However, Maimonides explains that a person’s nature does not cause him to be righteous or evil. Rather, the choice is completely in his own hands. Rashi explains (Genesis 25:27) that it was impossible to distinguish between the different natures of the twins while they were still minors, but as soon as they reached the age of 13, their true characteristics emerged: Jacob went off to learn Torah, while Esau went off to corrupt behavior.
It seems strange that Esau’s negativity emerged so suddenly – especially since the Talmud (Shabbat 105b) states explicitly that a person’s inclination toward negativity (yetzer hara) does not operate in this fashion. The yetzer hara, rather than advocating sudden change, entices us to sin by urging, “Just do this one small thing.” The next day, it tries to persuade us to perform another small misdeed – until eventually, a person can be convinced to serve idols. So if the nature of the yetzer hara is to gradually wear down our defenses, how could Esau have gone off the Torah path so abruptly the moment he turned 13?
Based on our Sages’ explanation of the nature of the yetzer hara, we must conclude that Esau’s behavioral shift was in fact a gradual process. We can understand this by looking more carefully at the wording of Rashi’s comment. Rashi states that when Jacob and Esau were children, it was impossible to physically distinguish the difference between them – not that there were no differences! Although Esau’s external behavior may have been the same as Jacob’s; nevertheless, something about them was not the same. I submit there were physical differences based on their appearances as adults.
What was the spiritual difference? We can suggest that Esau was a “big picture” person, who was more concerned with generalities than with details. Although as a child he performed the same mitzvoth as Jacob, he disregarded the nuances and subtleties of the commandments. It was this inattention that ultimately led him reject the Torah path entirely.
This is where we must qualify the Messianic Jewish believer’s understanding of original sin. While we agree that the choice to act on evil impulses or succumb to our basic animal instincts is ours alone, original sin remains with us throughout our lives with physical death as a consequence, save those who will be raptured and perhaps those sealed to serve during the Tribulation. It is original sin within us that mandates we make choices in Torah observance or sin. Original sin is within our genetic code since the Fall of Adam and is therefore present before birth. Orthodox Jewish believers resolve the problem of in-born traits with individual free will and a belief that no two people are born with identical character traits. These traits are under the influence of many factors, but they are not inherently good or bad. They are “neutral” or pareve, and can be influenced either way. A predilection towards anger, for instance, is not necessarily an evil trait. There are situations when anger is an appropriate response. Unbeknownst to Orthodox Jews, Yahshua’s response to the unfair selling practices in the Temple was a perfect example! Similarly, all natural tendencies tend to be directed in both positive and negative directions. The tendency to shed blood, for instance, can be utilized as a butcher or surgeon, or alternatively directed towards crime and murder. Although the character traits are predetermined, their function and control are totally in the hands of the individual. The truth of this statement cannot be overemphasized. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for our actions if we are alert and oriented. We use our free will in using our character traits for good or bad, and suppressing these tendencies when necessary. We must fight a mini- war of the worlds in the spiritual since every day of our lives. Choices cannot be made if there is only one option!
Dismissing the importance of details in serving G-d can lead to two primary dangers. Recall if you will, the narrative of Nadav and Avihu! First, our Sages advise (Avot 2:1), “Be as careful with a ‘minor’ mitzvah as you are with a ‘major’ one, for you do not know the reward for the mitzvoth.” Who are we to say that what seems like a minor detail is in fact unimportant? Since we do not know the extent of the reward for our actions, it is foolish to disregard details as being unnecessary.
Furthermore, even if we are correct in our assessment, and what seems small to us is in fact small, the cumulative result of a person’s inattention to detail may eventually result in his performing more serious transgressions. The care and attention we put into performing the details of G-d’s commandments can serve as a buffer zone to prevent us from performing more serious misdeeds.
We see this idea described in Deuteronomy 7:12, which enumerates all the blessings that will come to the Jewish people “if you listen (eikev tishm’un)” to G-d. The word “eikev” literally means “heel,” as Rashi explains: “If you observe the seemingly insignificant commandments that a person tramples with his heel, then all the blessing will come.” If we are careful with the small mitzvoth, eventually we will merit all of them. This shows how much we risk losing if we focus only on the big picture and ignore the fine points of mitzvoth. Keep in mind the difference between Rashi’s understanding of “Jew” and YHVH/Yahshua’s defined in Romans chapters 2-3.
Hebrew names describe the essence of the named. Esau’s name hints to his lack of concern with details. Rashi explains (Genesis 25:25) that the name “Esau” comes from the word “asui,” meaning “completed.” Esau was interested only in the finished, final product, not the details – and this approach led to his eventual rejection of the big picture. The name Esau may also be related to the Arabic “a’tha (thick-haired); a synonym for the word “se-ir”, a word play on “se-ar” (hair). Esau represents the uncivilized man who has shaggy hair and lives in open spaces.
The name Yaakov, on the other hand, contains within it the word “eikev” (heel); the verb of which means to “overreach” as he tried to overreach his brother. Jacob is born holding on to his brother’s heel, demonstrating his attention to the details that are so easily trampled on and overlooked. For Jacob, the nuances and details of the mitzvot are top priority. This awareness strengthens his commitment to the framework within which the details belong.
This major theme of the war of the worlds in our parashah leads to the consequences that can and will be traced through the history of Israel the nation and Israel (true believers) recorded in G-d’s Torah. Those of note who descended from Esau include Amalek, and Edom. Amelek as a nation descended from Esau’s marriage to one of Ishmael’s daughters. Amelek was the first nation to attack Israel following the Exodus (Ex. 17:8). They attacked the weak and infirm from the rear in a manner no less cowardly than the subtlety of Hasatan who attacks us at our weakest points. Edom as a kingdom established by Esau became the Roman Empire according to the Sages (Leviticus Raba 13.5). We are presently in our final Diaspora, called the “Diaspora of Edom” that began with the destruction of the second Temple at the hands of Rome. Today’s Western world has evolved out of the Roman Empire which converted to Christianity in the 4th century CE and established the Christian Church. Just look where the Western world is at the moment! I submit to you that America’s view is that of Esau, not Jacob.
In allegorical language, our present age may be seen as “Esau” and the age to come as “Jacob.” Jacob’s hand held Esau’s heel from the beginning. The “heel” of the first age is characteristic of Esau’s impulsive, indulgent personality and the “hand” of the coming age is characteristic of the holiness of Jacob (the House of Jacob). Consider the fact that we are to seek an “ascending” relationship with G-d that may be compared as moving from the “heel” to the “hand”; a going up; Aliyah.
In Jacob’s view, service to G-d is the obligation of the first-born. In reality, it is everyone’s obligation to serve our Creator above all else. Traditionally, the first child born in each generation should naturally dedicate his or her life to this activity, occupying as it does, the place of primary importance in the plethora of possible careers. In Orthodox Judaism, the first-born male assumes this role over a first-born female; at least for now! G-d calls on humankind regardless of gender or order of birth to love Him with all our heart, soul, and might (Deut. 6:4).
Esau has no patience for this. He has the power to bring order to the world without focusing on another existence. He will use his powers of persuasion and if necessary, the power of the sword. After all anything is justified if it can bring the world to a state of perfection and eliminate all the evils that infect it, up to and including death. He tells Jacob he will gladly trade places. He does not see service to G-d as occupying a place of primary importance. Jacob’s message is the wrong one. According to Esau, the obligation of the first-born is to focus on this world, not to spend life dreaming of the next. The Roman Empire and all its successors- that have included the Spanish, French, British, Prussian, Austrio-Hungarian, America, etc.- always carried out their policies in the name of world progress and the promotion of true civilization. If we replace the words “America” in place of “Esau” in this paragraph, it is obvious our country has become more like Esau than ever before in its history. The entire global community including America has not progressed past Esau’s vision. We still believe that all our problems have earthly solutions that can be solved with mans’ wisdom. True believers know what mans’ wisdom leads to (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
This week’s haftarah begins describing the tremendous love G-d has for the children of Jacob, and the retribution He will visit upon the children of Esau who persecuted their cousins. Malachi then rebukes the priests who offer “seconds” on G-d’s altar: “ were you to offer it to your governor, would he be pleased or would he favor you?…O that there were even one among you that would close the doors [of the Temple] and that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain!” Here is a perfect example of even less than legalistic keeping of G-d’s laws. The priests went through the steps of making the sacrifices, but like Nadav and Avihu, they decided to take short-cuts and do it their way. When will we learn that G-d is not at the other end of a fast-food restaurant speaker waiting to modify his commandments “our way?” The haftarah ends with a strong enjoinder to the priests (and I say those like them) to return to the original covenant that G-d made with Aharon as the High Priest. “True teaching was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. In peace and equity he went with Me and he brought back many from iniquity.” Taking short-cuts will place on a highway to Hell. We must learn to follow the instructions of the One who paved the road with love and fear.
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:6-16
“But the present condition of Israel does not mean that the Word of G-d has failed. For not everyone from Israel is truly part of Israel;7 indeed, not all the descendants are seed of Avraham; rather, ‘What is to be called your ‘seed’ will be in Yitz’chak’. 8 In other words, it is not the physical children who are children of G-d, but the children the promise refers to who are considered seed.9 For this is what the promise said: ‘At the time set, I will come; and Sarah will have a son.’ 10 And even more to the point is the case of Rivkah; for her children were conceived in a single act with Yitz’chak, our father;11 and before they were born, before they had done anything at all, either good or bad (so that G-d’s plan might remain a matter of His sovereign choice, not dependent on what they did, but on G-d, who does the calling). 12 it was said to her, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ This accords with where it is written, ‘Ya’akov I loved, but Esav I hated.”14 So are we to say, ‘It is unjust for G-d to do this’? Heaven forbid! 15 For to Moshe he says.” I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will pity whom I will pity,’16 Thus it doesn’t depend on human desires or efforts, but on G-d who has mercy.”
The first verse of this passage provides proof that all who live in geographical Israel or are biological Jews are not necessarily true believers (truly part of Israel, the future bride of Yahshua), or even Jews as defined by Yahshua in Romans chapters 2-3. Furthermore, we are reminded that G-d will call who He will. Remember “many are called but few are chosen?” This statement is the conclusion to the parable of the wedding feast. Yahshua spoke this parable to show what the kingdom of heaven will be like when the end of the age comes. In the parable, the king sends his servants out to gather the wedding guests to the wedding feast. But those invited refuse to come, some because they were too busy with eating, drinking, and pursuing the earthly life, others because they were totally hostile toward G-d and obedience to His Torah. So the king commands his servants to go out and invite anyone they find, and many come and fill the wedding hall. But the king sees one man without a wedding garment (repentance), and he sends him away. Yahshua concludes by saying that many are called/invited to the kingdom, but only those who have been “chosen” and have been reconciled to G-d through Yahshua’s sacrifice will come. Those who try to come by their own route, taking short-cuts, negating Yahshua’s sacrifice and subsequent following His Torah will find themselves inadequately prepared for the wedding just as the virgins without oil in their lamps. The absence of light with no “oil” (spiritual) results in darkness in which YHVH/ Yahshua will have no part. These will be sent into “outer darkness.” Many people hear the call of G-d that comes through His Torah, the Holy Spirit’s prompting, observance of His creation, and our conscience. But only the ‘few” will respond because they are the ones that are truly hearing. Yahshua said many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matt. 11:15; Mark 4:9; Luke 8:8, 14:35). The point is that everyone has ears, but only a few are listening and responding. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
Rabbi Tamah Davis