Parashat Toldot - Genesis 25:19-28:9
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Questions for Young Children
• How would you feel if your mom or dad liked your brother or sister best?
• Do you know your brother or sister’s favorite food?
• Have you ever said, “I’m dying of hunger?” What does it mean when you say that?
• Is it hard to say “sorry” after an argument with your brother or sister?

Questions for Older Children
• Esau says he’s at the point of death, so of what use is the birthright? (25:30)
Do you believe he’s dying? Why would he say that?
• Why does Jacob need to steal the birthright and also fool Isaac?
• Do you ever fight with your brother or sister? Why? Do you think you will always fight?

Questions for Teens and Adults
• What do you think is the role of God in all this deception and fraud?
• Esau and Jacob could be labeled Jungian archetypes. Do you know people who fit those profiles?
• What do you think of each parent having a favorite child? Have you ever felt like the favored one or the one in disfavor with a parent?
• If you were a family counselor, what would you recommend to the family to help them reconcile?

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Invite your family and guests to connect other foods to the parasha.
For example…

If you feel like going all-out this week, coordinate your entire dinner with the parasha.

     Prepare an all-red meal. Roasted red peppers, Indian red curry sauce, or tomatoes can help to create the red look. And for dessert—raspberries and strawberries can top or fill a cake.

     Set the table with a red tablecloth and napkins or create an all red centerpiece.

      How did Esau get his name?
      How much do you think a name shapes a person?
      Beginning in the early centuries the common era, Jewish texts referred to Christians as descendants of Edom. Why do you think that the rabbis use “Edom” instead of just saying “Christians,” Notzrim?     

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We move from the generation of Abraham and Sarah to Isaac and Rebecca in this parasha. Like Sarah, Rebekah has difficulty conceiving but after Isaac pleads with God, she becomes pregnant with twins—contentious twins. The elder is a big, red, and hairy and named Esau and the younger is called Jacob.

The parasha sets up the rivalry immediately: Esau is favored by Isaac and Jacob is favored by Rebekah. Esau likes the outdoors, Jacob prefers staying indoors. The climax is Esau selling his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of lentil stew. The transaction, however, is not complete until chapter 27 when Isaac bestows the actual blessing of the first-born to Jacob. Jacob secures this blessing and the birthright through deceit and is aided by Rebekah in the process. The end of the parasha finds Jacob on the run from Esau and on the hunt for a wife from their own family back east in Paddan-aram.

Find the food connection…

וַיֹּאמֶר עֵשָׂו אֶל-יַעֲקֹב, הַלְעִיטֵנִי נָא מִן-הָאָדֹם הָאָדֹם הַזֶּה--כִּי עָיֵף, אָנֹכִי; עַל-כֵּן קָרָא-שְׁמוֹ, אֱדוֹם

“And Esau said to Jacob, Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished.”
---Genesis 25:30

וְיַעֲקֹב נָתַן לְעֵשָׂו, לֶחֶם וּנְזִיד עֲדָשִׁים, וַיֹּאכַל וַיֵּשְׁתְּ

Jacob then gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate.
---Genesis 25: 34

Lentil Soup! Easy answer.

The Side Dish

Toldot sparked the idea of matching food to the Torah portion for me. In Toldot lentil stew is a temptation just as fruit played the temptation role in the Garden of Eden. Nepalese Lentil Soup is an unusual version of lentil soup, but everyone at my table (including toddlers) prefers this to the more pedestrian version. And besides it’s red!  For Hebrew punsters --- Nepal has the consonants n-p-l which is the Hebrew root for fall (n-f-l).  Lentil stew was certainly Esau’s downfall.

Sibling rivalry stews throughout the book of Genesis beginning with Cain and Abel. Since Ishmael and Isaac don’t kill each other, there’s an improvement with this set of brothers—at least in Abraham’s time.  Next in the sibling rivalry line-up are our twins of this parasha—Esau and Jacob.  You can read what happens to them.  Genesis concludes with the greatest sibling rivalry story ever written—Joseph and his brothers.  Sisters aren’t excluded from the rivalry as Rachel and Leah have the birthing contest to end all contests.

Our dad promised us, “When you grow up, your siblings will be your best friends.”  He was right about my sister and me.  We are best friends just as our dad’s best friend was his younger brother.  If that’s not the case for the adults reading this, I hope you can overcome contentious childhood memories before time puts an end to possibilities of reconciliation.

Do Esau and Jacob reconcile?  You decide in two weeks when we read Parashat Vayishlah.

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A Dash of Hebrew
Toldot—the name of this parasha, is used in modern day Hebrew as the translation for the word, "History," along with the English cognate-- Historia. I like the word toldot because the root is the same as the root for giving birth or a child: yud-lamed-dalet (y-l-d). It reminds us that history is personal. Much as we may focus on global events like revolution, it is the individuals who set in motion those events and individuals whose lives are affected. The Book of Genesis reminds us of the power of the individual both in the story line and in the Hebrew language.

A Dash of Advice
This parasha should encourage you to make a will! I have no legal training, but I do encourage you to investigate ethical wills. The first one I read decades ago was composed by Yehudah Ibn Tibbon in 1191. Few children will fight over ethical wills like Esau and Jacob fought over their birthright and it offers a parent the opportunity to teach. The Hebrew root of “parent” and “teacher” are the same in Hebrew, yud-resh-hey (y-r-h)—no coincidence there. For a survey of historical Jewish ethical wills, you can consult Hebrew Ethical Wills edited by Israel Abrahams. For a guide to writing ethical wills that includes a historical survey, Ethical Wills and How to Prepare Them edited by Rabbi Jack Riemer is a comprehensive resource. If you're curious about the relationship of halakha and making a will, the article from the American Bar Journal, "Basic Principles of Estate Planning within the Context of Jewish Law," will give you a taste of the complex issues involved.(

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Nepalese Red Lentil Soup                                  resized red lentils
Vegan and gluten free--Serves 6 to 8


  • Cooking spray or 2 Tbsp. cooking oil
  • 2 c. chopped red onion
  • 1 Tbsp. minced ginger
  • 1 Tbsp. minced jalapeño pepper
  • 6 c. water
  • 2 c. red lentils (available in Indian food section of grocery or Trader Joe’s)
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp. 5-spice powder
  • 1/2 c. chopped cilantro
  • 2-3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice.


  1. Sauté onion, ginger, pepper in oil or spray on medium high heat about 5 min.
  2. Stir in water, lentils and dry spices.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook on low heat 15 min.
  4. Cool and purée with immersion blender or in food processor.
  5. When ready to serve heat and stir in cilantro and lemon juice before serving.

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