Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #6: Tol’dot (History/Offspring/Life Story) B’resheit (Genesis) 25:19-28:9
Haftarah: Mal’akhi (Malachi) 1:1-2-7
B’rit Chadashah: Romans 9:6-16
This week’s parasha continues the historical process of the 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 war of the worlds that will continue until Armageddon described so graphically in the book of Revelation. Once again, it is imperative that we establish a strong foundation in our knowledge of the Old Testament in order to accurately understand the references to it in the “New Testament,” more accurately, the B’rit Chadashah (renewed, refreshed covenant). If our government leaders understood and governed based on this foundation, they would have realized a long time ago that peace with the Arab nations cannot and will not occur by having a quilting party or threats. G-d says as much. Let’s look closely at scriptural proof. Genesis 25:22 begins, “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.” Furthermore, in Genesis 16:12 that Yishma’el “will be a wild donkey of a man, with his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, living his life at odds with all his kinsmen.” Again, we see the sovereignty of G-d expressed as He chooses to reverse the general order of patriarchal rights and privileges of the firstborn. 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 from where our Jewish brethren are coming.
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 Y’hudah, the descendant of Jacob, and the Roman leader Antonius, the descendant of Esau, debated when the yetzer hara (evil inclination) [we call original sin], enters a person. Rebbe Y’hudah maintained that it enters at conception and Antonius maintained that it enters at birth. After Antonius brought scriptural proof to bolster his opinion, Rebbe Y’hudah acquiesced that it enters at birth. It is important to note the so-called “scriptural proof” is not defined.
The Midrash as cited, 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. 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. 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 while 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 for our actions. 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! G-d tells us in genesis 8:21 in the context of telling Noah that He will never curse the ground because of humankind because “ the imaginings of a person’s heart are evil from his youth; nor will I ever again destroy all living things, as I have done.”
This major theme of the war of the worlds in our parashah lead 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. Amalek as a nation descended from Esau’s marriage to one of Ismael’s daughters. Amalek 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) and according to G-d’s Torah. 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 Jacob’s view, Temple service is the obligation of the first-born. In our world, it is everyone’s obligation to serve our Creator above all else. As the establishment of a connection to G-d is the highest priority among all human needs, 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.
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. The blessing of his father tells us that he “You will live by your sword (Gen. 27:40).” He tells Jacob he will gladly trade places. He does not see Temple service as occupying a place of primary importance. According to Esau, Jacob’s message is the wrong one and 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, etc.- always carried out their imperialistic 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).
For further comparison between Israel when they turned from G-d and America and the world as they continue to turn from G-d, we may refer to Deuteronomy 32: “But Yeshurun [Israel] grew fat and kicked (you grew fat, thick, gross!). He abandoned G-d his Maker; he scorned the Rock, his salvation. They roused him to jealousy with alien gods, provoked him with abominations. They sacrificed to demons, non-gods, gods they had never known, new gods that had come up lately, which your ancestors had not feared. You ignored the Rock who fathered you, you forgot G-d, who gave you birth. Adonai saw and was filled with scorn at his sons’ and daughters’ provocation. He said, ‘I will hide my face from them and see what will become of them; for they are a perverse generation, untrustworthy children. They aroused my jealousy with a non-god and provoked me with their vanities; I will arouse their jealousy with a non-people and provoke them with a vile nation.” I encourage the reader to continue reading this narrative through Deut. 32:43 for more comparisons that may be made between the world; especially America, and Israel at the time of the writing. This is the attitude of Esau/Edom/Catholicism to this day. Even in various sects of Judaism, false gods are being followed; abominations against G-d are being sanctioned; transgender and homosexual and lesbian individuals are being ordained. Reconstructionist and reform Judaism do not agree with G-d’s mandate against homosexuality. These sects allow same sex marriage and homosexual intercourse. Conservative Judaism is riding the fence on the issue between the Orthodox opinion, and a more liberal view. In 2010, Humanistic Jews pledged to speak out against what they call” homophobic bullying.” It is not difficult to see where this is headed if we refer to Deuteronomy 28:15-63 and Revelation 22:15 as just two biblical references. The G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob cannot be mocked (Gal. 6:7) “ The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.”
Haftarah: Malachi 1:1-2:7
This week’s haftarah begins with mention of 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 Nadab and Abihu, 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 take our order! 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 us 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 automatically considered true believers (truly part of Israel). Furthermore we are reminded that G-d will call whom He will. Remember “many are called but few are chosen (Matt. 22:14)” 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 with subsequent obedience to His Torah, will find themselves inadequately prepared for the wedding just as were the virgins without oil in their lamps described in Matthew 25:1-13. 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 who truly have ears to hear. 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 listen and respond. “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). May we embody the love of G-d and the peaceful spirit of Jacob described in our parashah and be among the chosen. Amein.
Rabbi Tamah Davis-Hart