In this Shabbat’s weekly Torah portion Toldot Genesis 25:19 – 28:9 , Isaac and Rebecca endure twenty childless years, until their prayers are answered and Rebecca conceives. She experiences a difficult pregnancy as the “children struggle inside her”; God tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.
Esau emerges first; Jacob is born clutching Esau’s heel. Esau grows up to be “a cunning hunter, a man of the field”; Jacob is “a wholesome man,” a dweller in the tents of learning. Isaac favors Esau; Rebecca loves Jacob. Returning exhausted and hungry from the hunt one day, Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew.
In this week’s Haftara Prophets reading Malachi 1:1 – 2:7, opens with a mention of the tremendous love God harbors for the children of Jacob, and the retribution He will visit upon the children of Esau who persecuted their cousins. This follows the theme of this week’s Torah reading, whose two protagonists are Jacob and Esau.
The prophet Malachi then rebukes the kohanim (priests) who offer blemished and emaciated animals on God’s altar: “Were you to offer it to your governor, would he be pleased or would he favor you? . . . O that there were even one among you that would close the doors [of the Temple] and that you would not kindle fire on My altar in vain!”