J.J Gross
J.J Gross

The evolution of a patriarch: New and recycled notes to Parshat Toledot


אני אלהי אברהם אביך ואלהי יצחק
I am the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac (Gen. 28:13)

Clearly the Almighty is underscoring the passive and copycat role of Isaac who appears incapable yet of shining under the overarching shadow of Abraham. This is also consistent with the statements of the Sages that Isaac was damaged by the Akedah, if he was not actually damaged congenitally as is often the case with biological children of aged parents. The Scriptural evidence of Isaac’s shortcomings are abundant, manifest by his passivity at the Akedah; his imitating his father’s behavior in numerous instances where such imitation was unwarranted (e.g. passing his wife off as his sister); his wandering in the fields muttering to himself; his inability to express love for his wife except in his mother’s bed; his lack of discernment in choosing Esau over Jacob; his ignorance of what has transpired under his very nose (e.g. the selling of the birthright to Jacob).


Jacob has a long way to go before he ceases being the namby-pamby momma’s boy and immature איש תם יושב אהלים and emerges as the real man, ישראל Israel.

הארץ אשר אתה שוכב עליה לך אתננה ולזרעך
I will give to you and to your progeny the Land on which you now lie ( 28:13)

To which Jacob’s reaction is:

מה נורא המקום הזה
How awesome is this place (28:17)

Jacob doesn’t yet grasp the full picture. He thinks God is referring to the spot on which he is sleeping, not the totality of the Land. He is like the Diaspora Jew who comes to Israel, leaves a note in ‘this awesome place’ — he is (still) merely a pilgrim with no real commitment and no grand vision.

וידר … אם יהיה אלהים עמדי ושמרני בדרך .. ונתן לי לחם לאכל ובגד ללבש [כא] ושבתי בשלום אל בית אבי והיה ה לי לאלהים

And he swore … If God will be with me on my way, and will protect me … and will provide me with bread to eat and clothing to wear. And I shall return in peace to the house of my father then Hashem shall be a God for me (28:20-21)

Having just heard directly from God in his dream, Jacobs sets material conditions for an ultimately retroactive acceptance of God who must first prove Himself. Clearly he has learned nothing from his father and grandfather, and must do a lot of growing up before he can become  venerated as a patriarch.


וישא יעקב רגליו וילך
And Jacob lifted his feet and went (29:1)

This is, to say he least, weird phrasing. Why not simply say, And Jacob rose (ויקם יעקב) which is the typical phrasing used in the Torah?

I notice here an interesting parallel to the phrasing in Parshat Noah regarding the Ark (Genesis 7:17):

וישא את התבה ותרם מעל הארץ
(and the waters) elevated the ark and it was raised above the earth

Just as in Parshat Noah the elevation וישא is of a spiritual nature – an elevation above the norm – likewise here, too, with Jacob the word וישא should not be interpreted as ‘lifted’ i.e. and Jacob ‘lifted’ his feet, but rather as Jacob ‘elevated’ his feet. Finally he is about to take the first tentative stepsin his spiritually uplifting oddyssey .


Jacob is consistent with his material ambitions. He is equally enamored of the sheep belonging ‘Laban the brother of his mother’ as he is of ‘Rachel the daughter of the brother of his mother’. One wonder whether he would have been as interested in Rachel if her father would have been impecunious – sort of like the immature and utterly inexperience yeshiva bochurs who will only make a shidduch with a girl who is both beautiful and rich. Note, too, the constant reference to ‘Laban the brother of his mother’. For it is to Laban, the professor of deception, that he has been dispatched by Laban’s sibling in craftiness in order to acquire the streetsmarts needed to become a leader.

…כאשר ראה את רחל בת לבן אחי אמו ואת צאן לבן אחי אמו …
וישק את צאן לבן אחי אמו

… when he saw Rachel the daughter of Laban the brother of his mother, and the sheep of Laban the brother of his mother, and he gave the sheep of Laban the brother of his mother to drink (29:10)

וישק יעקב לרחל
And Jacob kissed Rachel (21:11)

Note that the word וישק “And he gave to drink” is IDENTICAL to the word וישק “And he kissed”.


There are three times in this Parsha where Jacob impressively lifts a heavy stone. The first is after his dream with the Ladder. The second is at the well in front of Rachel. And the third is at Gal-Ed/Yegar Sahaduta when he makes a covenant with Laban who had pursued him and his family with malicious intent. Apparently these are all superhuman feats of strength intended to either fortify Jacob’s self confidence and/or inspire awe in his adversaries.

Please feel free to read an earlier posting on this parsha. My apologies for any repetition.

3 Kislev 5778
21 November 2017

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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