Rebecca is barren, so Isaac prays to God on her behalf. God responds to Isaac’s prayers and Rebecca conceives twins. The twins struggle with each other within the womb, and this struggle will continue once they are born. The firstborn Esau, is red and hairy. He is a hunter and is favored by Isaac. The younger son, Jacob, is a quiet individual whom Rebecca favors.
One day, while Jacob is cooking stew Esau comes in starving and demands some. As payment, Jacob insists that Esau sell him his birthright. Esau agrees to the stated price and has some dinner.
Esau takes two wives from among the Hittites. Isaac and Rebecca are not happy with this. Isaac grows old, and the time for blessing his sons is near. Isaac instructs Esau to hunt and prepare a meal for him after which Isaac will bless him. Rebecca overhears the conversation, and recalls God having told her that her older son would serve her younger son (Genesis 25:23). She needed to take action, so Rebecca convinces Jacob to deceive his father. With Rebecca’s help, Jacob does so and receives Esau’s blessing for himself. Rebecca, fearing that Esau will take revenge against Jacob, tells Jacob to flee to Haran, to her brother Laban. In order to have Isaac approve of Jacob’s journey, Rebecca convinces Isaac that Jacob should be sent to Laban to find a bride from among her family.
In Genesis 25:20 we read: “And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebecca, the daughter of Betual the Aromite, from Padan Arom, the sister of Laban the Aromite, for himself for a wife.” Rashi raises the question that the information in this verse about Rebecca’s background seems superfluous. The Torah had already stated that Rebecca was the daughter of Betual, the sister of Lavan, and was from Padam Aram. The answer, says Rashi, is that this restatement is in praise of Rebecca. She was the daughter of an evil person, the sister of an evil person and lived in a community of evil people. Nevertheless, she did not learn from their evil behavior.
Many people try to excuse their faults by blaming others as the cause of their behavior. “It’s not my fault I have this bad trait, I learned it from my mother and father.” “I’m not to blame for this bad habit since all my brothers and sisters do it also.” We see from Rebecca that regardless of the faulty behavior of those in our surroundings, we have the ability to be more elevated. Of course, it takes courage and a lot of effort to be different. The righteous person might be considered a nonconformist and even rebellious by those in his environment whose standard of values are below their level. But a basic Torah principle is that we are responsible for our own actions. Pointing to others in your environment who are worse than us is not a valid justification for not behaving properly.
If you ever find yourself saying, “It’s not my fault I did this. It’s because of the way I was raised,” change your focus to “I’ll make a special effort to improve in this area to overcome the tendency to follow in the footsteps of others.” Blaming others for your faults and saying that you cannot do anything to change them will be a guarantee that they will remain with you.
I will address the complicated issue of Rebecca and Jacob “stealing” Esau’s firstborn blessing at another time. It, like life, is more complicated than it looks.