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Parshat Toldot

The parasha opens with the story of Yaakov and Esav in the womb and God informing Rivkah that “two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; One people shall be mightier than the other, And the older shall serve the younger.” Although we are familiar with the story let us think momentarily about the implications of this story for both Yaakov and Esav.

Embedded in God's explanation of the two future nations that Rivkah is housing is a declaration of fate. It would seem that regardless of their actions the fates of these boys were predetermined, they were completely unavoidable. If this is the case then the way in which we approach the story of the coming weeks and the antics of Yaakov and Esav must be framed in a way that understands the conclusion as predetermined.

The classic question of free will and determinism are familiar to most people who engage in deep thought. But rather than tackling the question front on let's examine the way in which the relationship between free will and determinism can shape our conceptions of justice. We must ask ourselves, in the case of Esav, or in the case of people who are born into certain circumstances if their fates are avoidable.

There are certainly those who argue that for the most part our futures are determined. The environments into which we are born in addition to the laws of nature mark out a path that we have no choice but to follow. All the more so the same applies if God has deteremined the path! And so we must ask ourselves, is Esav the bad guy? Can we blame him for his action? And finally, if it is all determined then what's the point?

Shabbat shalom

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