Toldot - Gen 25:19 - 28:9

B'resheet/Genesis 28:6   And Esav saw that Yitz'khak blessed Ya'akov and sent him to Padan Aram


One of the keys to this text is noticing that the first three words, , "and Esav saw that" also start verse 8: "And Esav saw that the Canaanite women displeased his father Yitz'khak" (B'resheet 28:8). Bible translations offer a variety of ways of translating this using other words that imply recognition: "When Esav realised ...", "When Esav learned ...", "When Esav understood ...". Esav is not simply seeing - the verb is the Qal prefix 3ms form of the root , "to see, look, view, observe" (Davidson) - he is understanding or realising something. This is more than just vision; this is recognition.

The way this text is used emphasises what is going on. In the previous verses, Yitz'khak blesses Ya'akov and sends him off to his family home in Padan Aram. He sends for him and blesses him (v. 1); he instructs him exactly where to go and what he is to do there (vv. 1-2); then we have the words of the blessing (vv. 3-4); finally the Torah tells us again that Yitz'khak sends him off and that Ya'akov goes as instructed (v. 5). That is already quite repetitious, so when our text essentially repeats it again and then goes on to add both the reason, the instructions and Ya'akov's obedience - "to take a wife from there, charging him, as he blessed him, 'You shall not take a wife from among the Canaanite women', and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and gone to Paddan-aram" (vv. 6-7, JPS) - for the second or third time, it becomes clear that the narrator is trying to make a point!

So what was it that Esav 'saw'? What did he now recognise that he had missed before? Perhaps the first thing he sees is that Ya'akov continues to be blessed, while he remains largely unblessed. Whereas in the previous chapter we saw Ya'akov receiving the family blessing of prosperity and status - "May G-d give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine. Let peoples serve you, and nations bow to you; be master over your brothers, and let your mother's sons bow to you. Cursed be they who curse you, blessed they who bless you" (27:28-29, JPS) - now Esav has just watched his father also give Ya'akov the blessing of the promise The Name ...

HaShem: literally, Hebrew for 'The Name' - an allusion used to avoid pronouncing the Tetragrammaton, the so-called 'ineffable' name of G–d
HaShem gave to their grandfather: the Land, the inheritance and peoplehood, "May El Shaddai bless you, make you fertile and numerous, so that you become an assembly of peoples. May He grant the blessing of Avraham to you and your offspring, that you may possess the land where you are sojourning, which G-d assigned to Avraham" (28:3-4, JPS).

The second thing that might suddenly have occurred to Esav is that his choice of wives had displeased his parents and perhaps was inappropriate. Two chapters back, we heard that, "When Esav was forty years old, he took to wife Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath daughter of Elon the Hittite; and they were a source of bitterness to Yitz'khak and Rivka" (26:34-35, JPS). Esav's father had not refused to arrange the marriage, however great his concern; he made the necessary moves in ANE society, but he and Rivka regretted the marriages. Now Esav saw that, "the Canaanite women displeased his father Yitz'khak" (28:8, JPS), something that had previously escaped him.

Perhaps Esav managed to join the two up and see a third thing. The Who Is ...

Sforno: Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno (1470-1550 CE), Italian rabbi, philosopher and physician; born in Cesena, he went to Rome to study medicine; left in 1525 and after some years of travel, settled in Bologna where he founded a yeshiva which he conducted until his death
Sforno suggests that "Esav sees that when Yitz'khak blesses Ya'akov, he commands him not to marry a Canaanite woman which would negate his blessing." Esav wonders if the reason why he has not been blessed is because of his choice of wives - which happened before Ya'akov impersonated him to take the family blessing. "Did I bring this on myself?" he asks. Who Is ...

Rashi: Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105 CE), French rabbi who wrote commentaries on the Torah, the Prophets and the Talmud, lived in Troyes where he founded a yeshiva in 1067; focuses on the plain meaning (p'shat) of the text, although sometimes quite cryptic in his brevity
Rashi suggests that Esav saw that Yitz'kah blessed Ya'akov and "sent him off to Padan Aram, and that Ya'akov obeyed his father and went to Padan Aram." Esav finds himself wondering if a little more obedience to his father might not have been appropriate. "Oh no, what have I done?" he concludes and so takes a third wife from almost within the family, "Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael son of Avraham, sister of Nebaioth" (28:9, JPS). Nahum Sarna explains, "Esav realises that his marriages outside the kinship group and his alliances with native women had contributed to his loss of the blessing, so he now tries to repair the situation."

Another word derived from the root is , the Qal participle meaning "the one who sees" and so the word is used as one of the titles for a prophet: a seer. One of the Elisha stories illustrates how this works: "Now when the attendant of the man of G-d had risen early and gone out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, 'Alas, my master! What shall we do?'" (2 Kings 6:15, NASB). The servant can see the army of the Arameans and is afraid. But Elisha replies, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them (v. 16, NASB). Elisha can see more than his servant - he can see the reality of the armies of G-d also deployed, so, "Elisha prayed and said, 'O L-RD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.' And the L-RD opened the servant's eyes, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:15-17, NASB). The servant's eyes are opened and he too can see what had actually been there all the time.

Isaiah could see the wickedness of the people of Judah: injustice, unrighteousness and transgression - completely blocking their relationship with G-d. "Now the L-RD saw, and it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. And He saw that there was no man, and was astonished that there was no one to intercede; then His own arm brought salvation to Him; and His righteousness upheld Him" (Isaiah 59:15-16, NASB). Although Isaiah could see what was around him, the L-rd could also see that no-one was prepared to do anything about it, so did it Himself; He spoke through Isaiah to warn the people what was coming and then moved to bring justice, zeal and righteousness among His people.

Others too realise what they have missed. In Matthew's birth narrative, he reports: "Then when Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi" (Matthew 2:16, NASB). Translated , "and Herod saw that ..." by Franz Delitzsch in his Hebrew New Testament, Herod not only sees - because the magi have not returned to him in a reasonable time - he knows, he understands, that he has been tricked. Later in the story, after Yeshua's crucifixion and resurrection, when the news reaches Samaria and a local man sees the signs and wonders being done by the apostles, "Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money" (Acts 8:18, NASB). Once again, the Hebrew would be , "and Simon saw that ..."; Simon can physically see the apostles laying their hands on people and the gifts of the Spirit being manifest, he understands the significance of touch and contact, but he cannot see clearly enough outside his own frame of reference to recognise that this is something completely different and so makes an inappropriate offer.

The idiom "Seeing is believing", supposedly based upon the response of Thomas to seeing the risen Yeshua, first appeared in John Clarke's collection of proverbs in English and Latin, "Parœmiologia Anglo-Latina", published in London in 1639. It is currently used as a slogan by football clubs, the Highways Agency, an international bank and the Prince of Wales. Don't let that obscure the point that we need to understand: sometimes we have to see someone else getting a blessing before we realise that we need it too. It is as if a blindfold is over our eyes and although we are looking straight at a situation, we just can't see what is going on. Then, when someone else receives a blessing, we suddenly see that we want or need that blessing too. Sometimes, like Ya'akov and Esav, it is too late: there was only one blessing and someone else has just taken it; other times there is enough for us to step forward and receive as well, but we still have to ask. In either case, we must act as soon as we see and grasp the situation.

Membership in the kingdom of G-d works in the same way. We can see the Spirit at work, we can see the difference that really knowing Yeshua makes in other people's lives. We can sense that we are missing out on something really important: knowing Yeshua and being a part of what He is doing in these days. The writing is on the wall and we need to be on board. Don't let everyone else get the blessing of knowing Yeshua and entering the kingdom of heaven, while you just sit on the bench and watch. To quote another rather more modern idiom, "Wake up and smell the coffee!" We need to be awake to what is going on in our lives and make sure that we are connected to the kingdom of G-d so that we can be blessed and be a blessing to others.

Further Study: Isaiah 42:6-9; John 20:26-29

Application: Do you suspect that you have been left behind or are missing out on the real meaning of life? Can you see something in others that you really need in your life too? Then it's time to act on what you can see and reach out your hand - all you have to do is ask!

© Jonathan Allen, 2016



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