This is a basic overview of the parsha story in a format that can be adapted for a wide range of ages. Sources include parsha text, commentaries and midrash. When introducing midrash or other non-pshat elements, I use the words “some people think” or something similar (find out why). If you find these overviews helpful, or if there’s a typo, or something is confusing you or your kids, please don’t leave a comment. Just don’t. Whatever you do… don’t… comment.
Yaakov and Rivka are married now, but they aren’t perfectly happy…
There is something they want more than anything else in the world. They want a baby. Now, when we want something very much, what do we do? We daven! So what do Yaakov and Rivka do? Daven! They ask Hashem for a baby.
Hashem answers their tefillos. They are expecting a baby!
But Rivka thinks she must be having the strangest pregnancy in the history of the universe. Her belly is always wriggling. (Some say that when she passed by a yeshiva, her tummy would pull towards the yeshiva; when she passed by a beis avodah zarah (place of idol worship), her tummy would pull towards the beis avodah zarah.) Rivka has no idea what’s wrong, so she goes to ask Hashem. We think this means she asks a tzaddik – somebody like the navi Shem, Noach’s son.
Hashem tells Rivka, “You will have TWO babies – twins!”
More than that, though. He says, “One son will be a tzaddik. He will be the head of bnei Yisrael (the Jews). But one son will be a rasha. He will be an important leader of the non-Jewish nations (goyim). Eventually, those two babies are born, and BOY, are they different! The first baby looks hairy and red. They name him Aisav, from the word עשו/“asoo” – that means “made” – because he already looks grown up. Then, the second baby is born holding on to the first baby’s ankle or heel. The word for that part is עקב/”aikev” so they give him a name with those letters in it: Yaakov/יעקב.
And then… Those babies grow up! (the Torah sort of skips that part)
Yaakov is a tzaddik: always learning Torah and doing mitzvos. But Eisav grows up into a rasha: hunting animals and killing people. Rivka loves Yaakov best, but Yitzchak loves Eisav best, maybe thinking he’s a tzaddik, too.
Yaakov is busy cooking. (We think it was lentil soup, for a sad reason – lentil soup was served in those days to mourners. Rashi says Avraham had just died and Yaakov was cooking the lentils for Yitzchak.) Do you think Eisav, that murdering man, cares or even asks NICELY for a bowl of soup? Nope, he does not! He growls, “Give me some of that red, red stuff!” But Yaakov is clever. He knows Eisav doesn’t care about important things. So he says, “Sure! I’ll give you some soup if you give me your bechorah – your birthright. I get the oldest-son bracha instead of you.” Eisav shrugs and growls, “Who needs it?” and takes the soup.
Do you remember in the parsha two weeks ago, when there was a famine?
Avraham went down to Mitzrayim to get food. Later on, we’ll read about Yaakov also going down to Mitzrayim during a famine. In this week’s parsha, there’s a famine, too… but Hashem tells Yitzchak, “Stick around. Don’t go to Mitzrayim.” Some people say Yitzchak was so special that Hashem wanted him to stay in eretz Yisrael his whole life. Hashem promises Yitzchak that even if he stays, he will have as many children and grandchildren as the stars in the sky.
Torah stories often remind us of things that have happened before.
Do you remember in last week’s parsha? Avimelech wanted to marry Sara because she was so beautiful… and he almost did, because Avraham said she was his sister! That happened one time before with Paroh. And now, Rivka is so beautiful that Yitzchak, afraid for his life, tells Avimelech she’s HIS sister. But Avimelech finds out and asks Yitzchak, “What have you done?” He knows how powerful Hashem is, and he orders his people to leave Yitzchak and Rivka alone.
Yitzchak lived near Avimelech for many years, raising sheep and growing wealthy…
Everyone around him gets very, VERY jealous. To raise animals or grow food, we need water. You might live somewhere where water is easy to get, but in the desert, it’s not easy. Long ago, Avraham dug wells, but now Yitzchak’s jealous neighbours fill them up with dirt so he can’t have any water! Every time he digs a new one, they fill it up again! Finally, he moves back to Be’er Sheva, where Avraham once lived, and there, at last, they leave him alone. Be’er actually means “well,” and sheva means “seven” – the city had that name before, but now it also means Yitzchak’s seventh well.
After many years, Yitzchak is very old – 123 years!
It’s time for him to “bensch” (bless) Yaakov and Eisav. He’s blind; some people say since the akeidah, but other people think Eisav’s bad wives did avodah zarah with smokey fires that ruined his eyes. Yitzchak wants to give Eisav the bracha. He sends Eisav out to hunt delicious meat for a meal, but Rivka thinks Yaakov deserves the bracha, so she quickly cooks meat, then covers Yaakov in hairy clothing and Eisav’s vest. “How did you get meat so quickly?” asks Yitzchak, when Yaakov arrives. “Hashem helped me,” says Yaakov. Yitzchak knows Eisav would never talk about Hashem! He says, “The voice is Yaakov’s voice, but these hairy hands are Eisav’s!” But he smells Eisav’s vest and gives the bracha.
Then Eisav comes home and finds out!
“No!!!” he shouts. “Give me a bracha, too, father!” Eisav now hates Yaakov more than ever; he’s furious! Rivka knows something terrible will happen if Yaakov stays, so she quickly packs his things to send him to her family in Charan. Yaakov says goodbye to his parents and runs off, and you’ll never guess what happens along the way…
Oh. We’re at the end. We’ll read more of Yaakov’s story in next week’s parsha…