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Shabbat Parashat Toldot | 5771
Parashat Hashavuah: What’s in the Choice of a Wife?Harav Yosef Carmel
When Chazal want to give an example of a matter in the Torah that we would think is of little importance, the classic one is Eisav’s marriage to one of his wives. However, we will see this week that what appears in Tanach, at first glance, to be one way may actually be very different.
Much of Parashat Chayei Sarah is dedicated to Yitzchak’s marriage to Rivka, while just one pasuk in Parashat Vayeira discusses Yishmael’s marriage. Arguably the most central topic of Parashat Toldot is the question of which of Yitzchak’s sons would get his special blessings: Yaakov or Eisav. This topic is framed in an interesting way. It is preceded by Eisav’s first marriages (Bereishit 26:34-35). After the first round of blessings, we are interrupted with mention of Yitzchak and Rivka’s dissatisfaction with Eisav’s wives and the decision to send Yaakov away to marry (ibid. 27:46- 28:2). Afterward we are told that Yaakov received the blessing of Avraham. This is followed by Eisav’s decision to appease his father and marry one of the daughters of Yishmael instead of the local Canaanite girls (ibid. 28:9).
What these occurrences of proximity represent is that the choice of wives had an impact on who received which blessing. It appears that by the end of the story, Eisav understood that he could not compete with his brother without marrying someone more suitable, a woman from Avraham’s family. He found out that this was too little too late: too late because Yaakov had already received the blessing of Avraham (his new wife’s grandfather) and too little because he was only adding on to his existing wives, who apparently still set the tone. Thus, these ancillary p’sukim actually help us understand why the main story, about receiving the blessing, works out the way it did.
Without a doubt, Yaakov, the pure man sitting in tents, had many fine qualities, and Eisav, the hunter with many ethical drawbacks, had many problems. Yet, it is no coincidence that their choices of wives explain a lot about their respective suitability to continue the legacy of Avraham and Yitzchak. While every person’s life is prominently affected by his wife, the matter is all the more critical for a leader of a family whose offspring are to form the new nation.
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