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11/13/2017 12:40:07 PM


Monday, November 13, 2017
by James Carlson

Last month, Walter Isaacson lectured at the JCC on the subject of his latest biography, Leonardo da Vinci. It is understandable that while he was lecturing on da Vinci, the word
"genius" would be heard frequently — frequently enough, in fact, that lsaacson's remarks incorporated the thesis of another book, The Geography of Genius. 

The Geography of Genius explains how genius in an individual can have a dependency on the intersection of time and place. Isaacson described 15th century Florence as being the right intersection to bring forth da Vinci's genius. Silicon Valley provides a contemporary example of time and place intersecting to sprout seeds of genius. 

But genius, in my opinion, is not necessarily restricted to scientists and brilliant entrepreneurs. Genius can be seen in people who perceive the world around them and take action that would not occur to others. We can use the genius label to describe an insight that changes the world. 

That type of genius is the subject of Toledot, this week's parshah. If the parshah were written today, it might have a more catchy title, like "How Rebecca Saved Judaism”. 

We first encountered Rebecca, the daughter of Bethuel, in last week's parshah, Chayei Sarah. Rebecca had the wisdom to treat Abraham's servant kindly in their meeting at the well. She also seems to have an inkling that it would suit a higher purpose to leave her father's camp with Abraham’s servant and meet Isaac as his bride. 

Early in Toledot, Rebecca receives a message from God regarding the twins in her womb. Rebecca learns that the elder will serve the younger. Later, as Esau and Jacob have grown, Rebecca is described as favoring Jacob over his older twin. There isn't an explanation for her favoritism, but perhaps we can see a foreshadowing of the way in which her partiality will play out when she devises the deception that causes Isaac to give Jacob the blessing rightfully destined for Esau.

Why did Rebecca prevent her husband from blessing his eldest son?

It's too bad that 60 Minutes wasn't broadcast in the biblical era, because Lesley Stahl might have asked Rebecca some interesting questions. Had she received another message from God? What was her motivation in manipulating the line of succession? Did she decide that Abraham's covenant with God could not continue through the son who had renounced his birthright for a bowl of stew?

Whatever the decision or motivation that led to fooling Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob, Rebecca's action had an element of genius. She was gifted with the insight that Esau did not have the makings of a patriarch. She favored the son who could continue this fledgling experiment with monotheism. And that is how Rebecca saved Judaism. 

James Carlson
Executive Director
Hills of Eternity Memorial Park

Sat, February 17 2018 2 Adar 5778