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Bereishit Toldot

Parashat Toldot

Divar Torah by Miriam Lorie - 24th November 2022

Our parasha is named Toldot, and begins with the words וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדֹת יִצְחָק בֶּן־אַבְרָהָם “And these are the generations of Yitzhak, the son of Avraham”. Toldot can be translated as generations, progeny, or my favourite from the JPS translation: “the story of”. It comes from the root יָלַד, meaning to have children.

We can be forgiven for only paying this word attention now that it crops up as the title of our parasha, but in fact the word has already cropped up eight times in Bereishit, out of a total of ten occurrences in this book. The word Toldot is in fact what Rabbi Alex Israel calls the backbone of Bereishit. At these ten moments, the text gives us a signpost about what is to come. It is often followed by a genealogy, a family tree of names, but sometimes, as in our case, it precipitates stories. It is the Torah’s “are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin”. Let’s take an overview of the Toldot moments in Bereishit:

2:4: begins אֵ֣לֶּה תֹולְדֹ֧ות הַשָּׁמַ֛יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ “this is the story of the heavens and the earth” - it evokes the powerful notion that we human beings are children of both the natural and supernatural world.

5:1: begins זֶ֣ה סֵ֔פֶר תֹּולְדֹ֖ת אָדָ֑ם “this is the book of the story of humanity” - it introduces the genealogy from Adam to Noah

6:9: אֵ֚לֶּה תֹּולְדֹ֣ת נֹ֔חַ “these are the stories of Noah” - this introduces lists of Noah’s three sons and then the story of the flood

10:1 וְאֵ֨לֶּה֙ תֹּולְדֹ֣ת בְּנֵי־נֹ֔חַ “and these are the stories of Noah’s children” - lists follow describing the 70 nations who ‘spread out’ in the story of Bavel

11:10: אֵ֚לֶּה תֹּולְדֹ֣ת שֵׁ֔ם - “these are the stories of Shem” - Noah’s son Shem gets his own list. We are “Semites” after all

11:27: וְאֵ֨לֶּה֙ תֹּולְדֹ֣ת תֶּ֔רַח - “and these are the stories of Terach” - It is fascinating that while Avraham’s father gets his own Toldot, Avraham himself does not. His sons do as we’ll see…

25:12: וְאֵ֛לֶּה תֹּלְדֹ֥ת יִשְׁמָעֵ֖אל בֶּן־אַבְרָהָ֑ם - “and these are the stories of Yishmael son of Avraham” - even though Yishmael was not the “chosen” line, his descendents are honoured with a lengthy mention

25:19: וְאֵ֛לֶּה תֹּולְדֹ֥ת יִצְחָ֖ק בֶּן־אַבְרָהָ֑ם - “and these are the stories of Yitzhak son of Avraham” - this is our one!

36:1: וְאֵ֛לֶּה תֹּלְדֹ֥ות עֵשָׂ֖ו אֲבִ֣י אֱדֹ֑ום - “and these are the stories of Eisav, the father of Edom”

37:2: אֵ֣לֶּה תֹּלְדֹ֣ות יַעֲקֹ֗ב - “these are the stories of Yaakov” - this introduces Yosef’s story

With this code word, the Torah draws our attention to characters it is concerned with. Often this “heading” crops up late in a character’s life, as if their true story is in the seeds they planted. In many of these episodes, as you can see, only one person from the generation is chosen to be described going forward. A clear line is being drawn of the Torah’s chosen family line.

On the other hand, a lot of time and space is used describing the generations of those who are then not the concern of the Torah. It is as if the Torah is giving space to listing everyone and recognising their presence in the Torah story, before it can move on.

Looking back at your life to date, how would you tell your story? How would you select the people and narratives that have most impacted you? What stories would you most want to pass on to those who matter to you? And how can you also honour the parts of your story which you do not want to take forward? Can you accept the existence of the trials you’ve been through, giving this its own Toldot, alongside that which you choose to celebrate? What is YOUR Toldot?


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