The Influence of our Upbringing

Kislev 2 5780 תּוֹלְדֹת, ב’ כסלו תש”פ

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 would be courageous and secure about 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.

After many years had passed, Rivkah wasn’t getting pregnant, so Isaac interceded, and 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 which she didn’t share with her husband. 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 and on the other hand, she preferred her son Jacob who was opposite to her … he liked to remain in the tent. Whenever this situation happens in a home, it creates division. The worst thing however that Rivkah did was to lie to Isaac and to make Jacob an accomplice in this deception and an enemy to Esau.

Sarah and Rivkah being strong women both decided to give the Creator a helping hand in fulfilling His plan. Sarah knew that she was past her childbearing years, so she gave Hagar to Abraham while Rivkah devised a scheme to get the blessing of inheritance for Jacob. Both had heard God’s plans, but they couldn’t wait. Jacob was afraid of the consequences of this deception but Rivkah assured him that she would take the curse upon herself. This is exactly what happened. Once Jacob ran away from home, we never hear about her again or when she died. Her intentions were good but how she manipulated the circumstances to get things to go the right way, was not good. If she had trusted Isaac her husband, she would have told him the revelation she received and explained everything she knew about their two sons.

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. We see that later from her brother Lavan’s treatment of Jacob. We can learn a lot from the mistakes of Isaac and Rivkah. If we are not obedient to the Creator and 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 and not 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.

We can see real people, not superheroes in the Torah, people who are very human with whom we can relate. We can learn from their stories, to 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 stumbling stone to have an all-round healthy life? 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. Sometimes you have an addiction that is hard to let go; the first step is to discover what you don’t want to deal with or what you are running from. When we hide our heads in the sand like the ostrich, we lose. Our problems need to be dealt with, not swept under the rug. Rivkah did everything in an underhanded way because she didn’t trust her husband. Ladies, you are in a partnership with your husbands and I advise you to share your concerns with them. Husbands, I advise you to 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 although our heroes were not perfect, the Creator never abandoned them, in spite of all their mistakes.