Overcoming Negative Influences from our Upbringing



In Toledot we learn about two special brothers, Jacob and Esau, their upbringing, and their relationships with their parents in a dysfunctional family. No matter how dysfunctional they were, the stories in the Torah are meant to teach us principles that we can apply to our lives.  Let us not place too much importance upon the fact that the Torah is not chronological rather let us step back in time and think about what their lives can teach us today.

In the last parashah we learned about Abraham’s servant when he prayed for a wife for Isaac, he didn’t pray that she would be from Abraham’s family, or that she would be beautiful or intelligent. From his prayer, we can derive that he was looking for someone who would care about others, be gracious, a free spirit who took initiative. She wouldn’t ask others to tell her what to do and she wouldn’t be afraid to get up and go. She had a lot of courageous and was very secure in herself. Isaac would need such a wife to continue in his father’s footsteps to bring the people of Israel to fruition. Rivkah (Rebekah) was exactly that person. 

Things take time.  Today we live in an instant world, instant coffee, fast food but back then nothing happened overnight. When Abraham’s servant travelled to Aram, it might have taken one year. Remember they were travelling by camel which covered 8k per day. Rivkah and Isaac were married maybe more than 20 years and she still wasn’t pregnant.  It was Isaac who interceded to God for her to get pregnant. Remember Rivkah came from a pagan background and was not raised with the God of Abraham and Isaac. He spent a lot of time teaching her about His God.  Our sages tell us that when a woman was barren over a period and then after prayer, becomes pregnant, that will be a special child.   

With God’s chesed, his prayers were answered. Rivkah, however, had a lot of problems with this pregnancy, so she went on her own to “inquire of the LORD”! (Gen. 25:22b). This tells us that Isaac did an excellent job of teaching her about the Bore Olam. Immediately, Rivkah received a revelation about the twins that she would have.  However, it seems that, for whatever she had, she didn’t share this revelation with her husband Isaac.

Each of the twins had a very different character, and this is where we see the first mistake being committed by Isaac and Rivkah. They each had their favorite and they didn’t hide it. Isaac preferred Esau because he was everything that he was not … a hunter, independent, a go-getter. Rivkah was strong, a go-getter, a lover of adventure and on the other hand, she preferred her son Jacob who was opposite to her … he was a quiet man who liked to stay at home. Whenever this situation happens in a home, it creates division. The terrible thing was that Rivkah lied to her husband and made her son an accomplice in her deception and made him an enemy to Esau.  

Sarah and Rivkah were strong women, and both decided to give the Creator a helping hand in fulfilling His plan. Notice that Abraham never prayed for Sarah to have a child perhaps because Sarah was past her childbearing years. He did speak to God about having descendants.  Isaac did intercede because she was at the right age.  Sarah gave God a hand by bringing Hagar to Abraham and Rivkah gave a hand to the Creator by Isaac making up this plan to have Isaac bless Jacob for his inheritance. She believed she had that right and so she easily accepted the curse upon herself. This is exactly what happened. Once Jacob ran away from home, we never hear about Rivkah again, not even when she died. Her intentions were good, and she believed that Isaac didn’t have what it takes to choose the right leader, so she manipulated the circumstances to get things to go the right way. If she had trusted Isaac as her husband, she would have told him the revelation she received and explained everything she knew about their two sons, about how Esau despised his birthright and sold it for a pot of lentil soup.  Isaac was a capable thinker. 

What can we learn from this?

Even if we believe in the Creator, our background, our upbringing is so strong that it can still influence us to do the wrong thing. Rivkah came from a home where deception was the norm, where it was easy to plot quietly against someone to get what they want. We see that later from her brother Lavan’s treatment of Jacob. It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. 

We can learn a lot from the mistakes of Isaac and Rivkah. If we are not obedient to the Creator and we insist on doing things our way, we suffer the consequences. The Creator allows us to make our own choices, but He has given us values and parameters through which we can make healthy ones. Sometimes we have had values instilled within us during our upbringing which are difficult to change. It takes acknowledgement, work and bringing them to the Creator.  Every culture has different values; for example, in some cultures, it is more important to save face than to show who we are. This is predominant today in the world of politics.  Rivkah and Isaac played that game and almost destroyed the plan of the Bore Olam.

The Torah shows us real people, not superheroes; people who are very human with whom we can identify. We can learn from their stories and be careful that we do not make the same mistakes. They give us values by which we can live and the ability to have a catharsis in our lives where we can get rid of past behaviors that no longer serve us.  

What things are we bringing from our past that are a still stumbling block to have live and improve? I know someone who said, “I will never surrender” and this has destroyed her life. It is one thing to surrender to the Creator and quite another to surrender your bad habits and ideas from the past.  If we have any addiction that is hard to let go, the first step is to discover why we have it, there is always a history. What are we covering up or not dealing with or what you are running from?  When we hide our heads in the sand like the ostrich, we lose. 

How many of us hide instead of dealing with our problems? Rivkah did everything in an underhanded way because she didn’t trust her husband. Ladies, you are in a partnership with your husbands, maybe you know better and are more capable, but I advise you to share your concerns with them.  Husbands, I advise you to be smart and listen to your wives because they are more intuitive than men. Rivkah and Isaac would have saved themselves a lot of trouble, as well as many generations to come, if they had trusted each other and in the Bore Olam. It is reassuring to know that our heroes were not perfect. One thing that read over and over in the Scriptures is that our Creator never abandoned them, despite all their mistakes.

Shabbat Shalom