These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Parshat Toldot

Posted on November 13, 2015 by David Wallach

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Do you remember a moment that changed your entire life? I’m sure you remember the event, but do you remember the exact moment that everything changed?

Our Parsha this week, Toldot, could very well be an episode of a soap opera. It has drama, deception, heartbreak, family – everything needed to pull you in so you can’t look away, while you watch from the edge of your seat.

The parsha tells the story of an aging, blind Yitzchak, preparing to bless his eldest son, Esav. Rivkah, his wife, decides to intervene and dress Yaakov, the younger son whom she loves dearly, in guise as Esav to come in and get the blessing from Yitzchak that was destined for Esav. Long story short, Yaakov does indeed fool his father and gets the blessing, which leaves Esav devastated, as he vows to kill Yaakov in revenge.

The story begs so many questions: why did Rivkah intervene and not allow Esav to get the blessing? How could she be so deceitful? Why did Yaakov go along with the plan so far as to blatantly lie to receive the blessing? Was Yitzchak really convinced by the plan or was he just playing along?

As interesting as all of those questions are, I want to leave them and discuss what I believe is the most pivotal moment in the entire narrative.

Yitzchak has fallen for the guise, and has just completed his blessing for Yaakov, and the text says:

וַיְהִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר כִּלָּה יִצְחָק לְבָרֵךְ אֶת-יַעֲקֹב, וַיְהִי אַךְ יָצֹא יָצָא יַעֲקֹב, מֵאֵת פְּנֵי יִצְחָק אָבִיו; וְעֵשָׂו אָחִיו, בָּא מִצֵּידוֹ. בראשית כז:ל

There is one particular phrase in this verse that sparked my interest:  וַיְהִי אַךְ יָצֹא יָצָא יַעֲקֹב. It’s not entirely clear what these words mean. From the use of the verb יצא, it clearly has something to do with Yaakov leaving, but the double use of it in this sentence is perplexing.

For a moment, let’s take a look at the JPS translation of the verse:
“No sooner had Jacob left the presence of his father Isaac—after Isaac had finished blessing Jacob—than his brother Esau came back from his hunt.” (Genesis 27:30)

According to JPS, יָצֹא יָצָא indicates back to back events. Yaakov was just leaving and he was barely out the door as Esav came in.

Rashi seems to agree and says that יָצֹא יָצָא means “one left, and one came.” Filling in the pronouns, Rashi’s read would sound something like, “Just as Yaakov’s left, Esav came in.”

You can just picture the scene: Yaakov has just received his blessing and heads out the back door, while at the exact same moment, or maybe a second later, Esav comes in the front door. They missed each other by a split second.

Can you imagine what would have happened had Esav come home just a minute earlier? Had he walked in just before Yitzchak had placed his hands over Yaakov to give him the blessing? The whole story would be different. And not just the whole story itself, but maybe all of Jewish history as we know it.

Rashbam, on his commentary to these troubling words from earlier, really brings home the point. He notes that these words come “to tell of the miracles that were done for Yaakov, because had Esav come in one moment earlier, Yaakov would not have been blessed” One moment earlier and the blessing would have never been bestowed on Yaakov. It wasn’t a minute, it maybe wasn’t even a second. Just a moment. One single moment changed the entire story.

Can you remember a moment like that in your life? A single moment that changed everything? We’ve all had those, but often we overlook them. We have so many beautiful moments that change us for the better. Maybe you met someone who changed your life. Maybe you saw something that changed your life. All it took was a single moment. Not a story, not even a minute. Just a single moment.

Try to think – what are the moments that have changed your life? What are the moments you can create to impact another person’s life? All it takes is a moment to change the world.

Shabbat shalom!