Toledot: Go out to the field

Now my son, listen carefully as I command you. Go to the flock and bring me two choice kids…(Bereishit: 27:8)
Export your truth
from the tent’s cool haven, where
gentle rays caress your sacred tomes.

Narrow your eyes against the blinding light
tramp the fields, muddy your feet,
leave your mark on the pliant ground.

Strain at the plough with one hand
your book teetering in the other
as you furrow both earth and brow.

Trickle the seeds on the soil you tilled
tend them daily, await the sprouting,
anticipate your hard-earned harvest.

Stand in the field squinting skywards
as the sun withers plants
or the rain flattens crops.

Go to the flock to choose two kids
grasp their warm bodies
and bring them for slaughter.

Get your hands dirty, your skin weathered,
carry your faith tucked under your arm
but go take your place in the field.

Rebekah commands Jacob to go out to the field, to the flock. Rav J.B. Soloveitchik asks: “Why such a stern and serious command?” He answers, “Rebekah can see how Esau is a man of the field, a hunter, the man who ventures out into the world, does things, takes control, while Jacob is sitting in tents. And she worries that Esau will remain the only person out in the field, the only statesman, the diplomat, the speaker, the ruler, and he will dominate the economy, the street, the outside world. And if he is the only person out there, he will also drive Jacob from his tents, from his tents of Torah. Rebekah is afraid that if Jacob will be secluded in Be’er Sheba, isolated in the study-hall of Shem and Eber, then Esau, the man of the field, will also drive him out from there. So she tells Jacob, “Go out to the flock, go out to the field, go out to the street, take your Torah out from the tents into the wide world!””
“And this,” says Rav Soloveitchik, “is the mandate. To hold the plough in one hand and in the other hand – the Gemarah. Of course it’s easier to hold a Gemarah with two hands. But if we have to go out into the public arena, we cannot allow it to remain an impure place, as our enemies would like.
“If Jacob goes out into the field, then the field will also be sanctified. As we read in Isaac’s words, “See! The smell of my son is as the smell of the field which God has blessed.” (Bereishit 27:27).”
“Jacob,” adds Rav Soloveitchik, “is an equal participant in the field, in society, in modern life. And when Jacob goes out to the field, that is a sanctification of the field, he brings holiness into the field.”

This imbalance between Esau and Jacob is also addressed in Midrash Rabba on Parashat Toledot regarding the later verse, “So Jacob drew near to his father Isaac who felt him and said, “The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.”” (Bereishit 27:22): Rabbi Berachya said, Whenever Jacob lowers his voice, then Esau’s hands dominate. Rashi comments on this Midrash that in the text, the word for “voice – kol” spelled kaf-vav-lamed, (and which is repeated in this phrase) is written the first time incompletely, lacking the vav. So he concludes that the point here is that when Jacob’s voice is incomplete and lacking, then immediately the hands become those of Esau – Esau prevails.

In a blog post on the website Limmud on One Leg, Michael Pollack suggests that what is being revealed in the stories of Jacob in this parasha is “about freeing ourselves of stereotyping…about showing that every human being has depth and subtlety way beyond the surface.”
He compares Esau, the impulsive active outdoor type, with Jacob, the cool, thoughtful, bookish intellectual.
Michael Pollack looks ahead to when Jacob, having fled his home, arrives at Laban’s and has to change to become more like Esau. “He needs to shift a rock which no one else could move. He needs to leave his life of books and tents and agriculture and take up the tough life of a shepherd out with the flocks in rough terrain.” He concludes, “We thought we knew Jacob, but we really never ‘know’ another human being. The greatest of us develop and grow and can emerge unrecognisable. To be human is to change.”


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