Toledot: Who Are You?

He came to his father, and said, “Father?”
And he said, “Yes, who are you, my son?” (Bereishit 27:18)

I answered my father
that I was…
Esau his first-born.
Really I wanted to say
that I was Jacob the good son
who listened to his mother.
Gentle and studious,
I valued my heritage.
Yet I was also the trickster
who deceived my father
and cheated my brother
reducing him
to wild and bitter tears.
I earned Esau’s hatred
and fled lest he kill me.
When my father asked,
“Who are you, my son?”
I wonder what he really meant.
I wonder who I really am.


Isaac asks, “Who are you my son?” and Jacob replies, “Anochi Esav bechorecha…” which translates as, “I am Esau your first-born”. However, by pausing after “Anochi “, the reply could be construed as, “I am …, Esau is your first-born.” Rashi interpolates, “I am (he who brings food to you), Esau is your first-born.” This reflects Jacob’s undoubted reluctance to lie to his father even though his mother has forcefully persuaded him to carry out the deception. Ibn Ezra* comments that having acceded to his mother’s command, Jacob is compelled to play his part to the end. Even so, later, when Isaac’s suspicions are aroused, and he says, “Are you really my son Esau, or not?” Jacob again replies, “It is I,” and Rashi notes that here too, he does not say, “I am Esau.”
The Etz Hayim commentary of the JPS notes that the question, “Who are you?” can also mean, “What sort of a person are you?” Jacob will spend many years pondering that question. Over time, Jacob acquires some of Esau’s positive qualities, becoming a more whole person by finding a better synergy between his sedentary, sheltered life and the outdoor life as a shepherd. As he undergoes many vicissitudes, including being the victim of other deceptions, he learns a different way of being.

*Rabbi Abraham Ben Meir Ibn Ezra (1089–1164) was one of the most distinguished Jewish men of letters and writers of the Middle Ages. Ibn Ezra excelled in philosophy, astronomy/astrology, mathematics, poetry, linguistics, and exegesis. He wrote commentaries on most of the books of the Bible, of which, however, the Books of Chronicles have been lost. His reputation as an intelligent and acute expounder of the Bible was founded on his commentary on the Pentateuch – and numerous commentaries have been written on his commentary.
Ibn Ezra’s exegesis concentrates on the simple sense of the text, the Peshat, by grammatical principles. Although he derives much of his exegetical material from his predecessors, his original perspective is evidenced in the witty and lively language of his commentaries.

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