Shabbat Toledot - 5778 – Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies

By: Rabbi Adam Greenwald,
Executive Director, Miller Introduction
to Judaism Program


Abundant Love

  Torah Reading:  Genesis 25:19 - 28:9

  Haftarah Reading:  1 Samuel 20:18-42

And Isaac loved Esau... and Rebekah loved Jacob" (Gen 25:28)

Parshat Toledot is a story of unwise parental love and the tragedy it engenders. At the beginning of the story, Isaac and Rebekah spend many lonely years praying for a child, and their prayers are finally answered abundantly, with twins-- Esau and Jacob.

Rebekah and Isaac's long childlessness ought to make them particularly grateful for both of their boys. Yet, this isn't the case. From the outset, the parents divide their loyalties and their love. Isaac favors Esau, his rough-and-tumble son, the skillful hunter and family provider. Rebekah prefers her mild-mannered Jacob, who the text tells us liked to stay in the camp, presumably in her company.

The rest of the parshah is one long tale of the deceit, trickery, and misery that follows from Isaac and Rebekah's unequal application of love. By the end of the story, the family is irrevocably broken-- with Jacob on the run and Esau vowing bloody revenge. What began with so much promise ends with profound and permanent alienation.

The Book of Genesis is the story of the disastrous consequences of treating love as a zero-sum game, a limited commodity which must be rationed out and fought over. Again and again we read about characters who struggle for limited love-- Cain and Abel, Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Rachel and Leah, Joseph and his brothers. In every case the result is violence, loss, and grief.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes in his classic Honey from the Rock that learning that love is not a limited commodity is the great challenge of growing up. He writes:

"Is this not the great childhood problem-- and therefore the great human problem: To learn that it is good for you when other people love other people besides you? That I have a stake in their love. That I get more when others give to others."

Rabbi Kushner challenges us to put aside out juvenile assumption that love is a zero-sum game and instead invites us to imagine ourselves as part of a web of interconnection, in which all the love that we give out inevitably comes back to us. If our ancestors had only realized this basic human truth, the Book of Genesis would read very, very differently.

With our American holiday of gratitude for abundance, Thanksgiving, just a week away, may we fully open ourselves to the blessings of family, friendship, and love.


Rabbi Adam Greenwald, is the Executive Director of the Louis & Judith Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University. Before coming to AJU, he served as Revson Rabbinic Fellow at IKAR, a Los Angeles congregation often recognized as one of the nation's most creative and fastest-growing spiritual communities. Prior to ordination, he served two years as Rabbinic Intern at Congregation B'nai Israel in Tustin, CA and as Director of Education of the PANIM Institute's IMPACT: DC program. Rabbi Greenwald was ordained at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in 2011.

Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University