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Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The sight he beheld was not one of mere brotherly and sisterly affection. Instead, it was marital love. * 2nd reading of Parshas Toldos, with integrated commentary of Rashi.

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

In the land of Gerar, under the warm embrace of the setting sun, Isaac, son of Abraham, found his abode. It was a place unfamiliar, yet it promised respite from their wandering. Rebecca, his wife, a woman whose beauty was whispered about like a fabled tale, stood by his side, her presence a comforting constant in this land of strangers.


The locals, curious as the breeze that danced through the fields, began to murmur questions about the new arrivals. Their eyes, reflecting a blend of curiosity and caution, turned frequently towards Rebecca. Amidst this newfound attention, a sense of unease began to coil around Isaac’s heart like a serpent.


Why do they inquire so? he pondered, his thoughts clouded with the memories of tales his father had shared – tales of beauty becoming a perilous gift.


When the men of Gerar approached, their words cloaked in casual curiosity, they asked about Rebecca. Isaac, whose heart was a battlefield of fear and love, hesitated. A memory flickered – his father, Abraham, facing a similar quandary, had once called his wife a sister. With a breath that felt like the first after a dive, Isaac uttered, "She is my sister."


His words were not mere fabrications but a shield forged from fear. A fear that whispered tales of men who coveted and men who killed for beauty such as Rebecca's. In Gerar, where the unknown loomed like shadows at dusk, Isaac chose a veil of deception, hoping it would be a barrier against the storm he feared might come.


Yet, in this simple utterance, a truth lingered, unspoken but profound. Rebecca was not just his wife but a companion so deeply intertwined with his soul that the bond transcended mere labels. In calling her his sister, Isaac revealed a kinship that went beyond blood, a partnership molded by shared journeys, hopes, and the unspoken understanding that only those who have walked through life’s fires side by side can know.


As the days unfurled like a scroll in Gerar, Isaac and Rebecca settled into the rhythm of this new land. Their presence, once a novelty, now became a part of the fabric of daily life. The sun rose and set, and the couple grew more at ease, their initial apprehensions melting away like morning mist.


In the privacy of their abode, their bond, a blend of love and laughter, flourished. Unbeknownst to them, their moments of intimacy and joy were not as private as they believed.


Abimelech, the king of the Philistines, a man whose authority was etched in the lines of his face, peered out of his window one day. His gaze, usually reserved for matters of state and the surveying of his lands, inadvertently fell upon Isaac and Rebecca. The sight he beheld was not one of mere brotherly and sisterly affection. Instead, it was a tableau of marital love and intimacy, a revelation that shattered Isaac’s carefully constructed facade.


This unexpected glimpse into their world stirred a realization in Abimelech. His earlier assumptions about the couple's relationship crumbled, revealing a truth that lay hidden under the guise of a protective lie. In his mind, a thought echoed – had they been unharmed and untouched in all this time, there was no need for the guise of fear.


Isaac and Rebecca, oblivious to the eyes that had witnessed their private moment, continued to weave their life together. Their love, a testament to the depth of their connection, was now an open secret, seen by the one who ruled the land in which they were but sojourners.


The narrative of Isaac and Rebecca in Gerar took a subtle but significant turn, under the watchful eyes of a king who had peered through a window into the truth of their lives.


Abimelech's realization of Isaac's deception brought with it a wave of concern and a touch of indignation. The king, who had observed the intimate jesting between Isaac and Rebecca, now faced the weighty implications of this revelation. In a meeting filled with tension and unspoken questions, Abimelech confronted Isaac.


What have you done to us? Abimelech asked, his voice echoing a mix of bewilderment and reproach. His words were not just a query but a reflection of the potential chaos that Isaac's actions could have unleashed upon Gerar. The king's mind was clouded with 'what ifs', pondering the consequences had one of his men, or even he himself, unknowingly crossed a sacred boundary with Rebecca.


Abimelech's concern was rooted in the understanding that such an act, driven by the misleading belief that Rebecca was available, could have entangled his people in a web of guilt and moral transgression. The possibility that the king or any of his prominent men might have been drawn into an unwitting relationship with Rebecca was a scenario fraught with ethical and spiritual peril.


Isaac's choice to mask the truth of his marriage was a defensive strategy, born from a deep-seated fear for their safety. However, in his attempt to protect, Isaac had unknowingly risked imposing an unwitting guilt upon Abimelech and his people. It was a delicate dance of intentions and consequences, where the desire to safeguard one's own had collided with the potential violation of another's sanctity.


In the heart of Gerar, amidst the whispering winds and watchful eyes, King Abimelech, having confronted Isaac, took a decisive step. His words, still resonating in the air, were a testament to his wisdom and his understanding of the gravity of the situation. With a sense of urgency, he gathered his people, ensuring that his message was heard by all.


Abimelech's command was clear and unequivocal: "Whoever touches this man or his wife shall be put to death." His voice carried the weight of his authority, and his decree echoed through the streets and homes of Gerar. It was a proclamation that drew a protective circle around Isaac and Rebecca, a declaration that their safety and sanctity were not to be violated.


This command, swift and firm, was more than a protective measure; it was a reflection of Abimelech's commitment to justice and the well-being of his people. By explicitly safeguarding Isaac and Rebecca, he was also preserving the moral fabric of his society. His decree was a strong stand against any potential harm or misunderstanding that could arise from Isaac's earlier deception.


For Isaac and Rebecca, this royal decree was a turning point. It transformed their status from sojourners shrouded in secrecy to honored guests under the king's protection. The fear that had once led Isaac to hide the truth of his marriage was now replaced by a sense of security, granted by the very leader he had feared.


As the days in Gerar melded into a rhythm of life, Isaac, under the protective decree of King Abimelech, found himself settling into this foreign land with a newfound sense of purpose. The land of Gerar, though not as esteemed as the Land of Israel, beckoned with its own unique promise.


In a year marked by scarcity, where the whispers of famine echoed through the fields, Isaac took to the soil. With hands that spoke of faith and resilience, he sowed seeds in this land that was known for its harshness. The ground, unyielding and tough, was a stark contrast to the fertile lands he knew. Yet, Isaac, driven by a deep-seated belief in the divine, embarked on this endeavor with a hopeful heart.


Miraculously, the land responded. In that year of hardship, the fields of Gerar flourished under Isaac's toil. The crops grew, not just meeting the expectations set by the land's potential, but exceeding them a hundredfold. This abundant yield was not just a triumph of agriculture but a manifestation of divine blessing. The land, once deemed hard and unforgiving, transformed into a testament of abundance.


The significance of this harvest extended beyond the physical. It was a powerful symbol of resilience and divine favor. The bountiful yield served as a reminder that even in times of scarcity, with faith and effort, abundance can be found. For Isaac, the act of sowing and reaping in this land was also a spiritual journey, a testament to his faith in the face of adversity.


The remarkable harvest also had a practical implication. It provided an opportunity for tithing, an act of gratitude and acknowledgment of the divine hand in their prosperity. The harvest became a medium through which Isaac could express his devotion and thankfulness.


In Gerar, among the fields that once seemed barren, Isaac’s story unfolded – a narrative of faith meeting fruition, of a foreign land yielding unexpected blessings, and of a man finding hope and abundance in the least likely of places. This chapter in Isaac's journey was a vivid illustration of perseverance, faith, and the mysterious ways in which blessings can manifest, even in the hardest of lands and times.

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Updated: Nov 20, 2023

With integrated commentary of Rashi.

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur


After Isaac's encounter with God in Beer-sheba and the establishment of his presence there through the building of an altar and the digging of a well by his servants, an atmosphere of divine favor and prosperity enveloped the area. This divine blessing was further acknowledged when Abimelech, accompanied by his companions and Pichol, his army commander, visited Isaac. Despite their past conflicts, a feast was prepared in the spirit of newfound peace and reconciliation.


With warm hospitality, the aroma of savory dishes filled the air, as plates brimming with an assortment of delicacies were passed around. Each bite blended tradition and flavor, a culinary tribute to this momentous occasion. Laughter and conversation flowed as freely as the wine, fostering camaraderie and celebration among former adversaries. They ate heartily, savoring each morsel in shared merriment, under the canopy of the evening sky, unified by the timeless ritual of breaking bread together.


As dawn broke, casting hues of gold and crimson across the sky, a solemn ceremony unfolded in the crisp morning air. Isaac, Abimelech, and his companions, stood facing each other. Promises were made, and oaths sworn with the rising sun as their witness. Each word was a vow of honor and understanding, marking a new chapter of peace and mutual respect. Isaac, with the wisdom of experience, escorted them, his demeanor calm yet resolute, in a symbolic passage acknowledging their newfound peace.


Their departure was marked by harmony, not bitterness. This sense of tranquility resonated in the cool morning breeze, as each party went their separate ways, bonded by the promises made at daybreak.


On that very day, Isaac's servants, who had toiled under the relentless sun, brought exhilarating news: they had found water. This discovery, in a land where water was precious, was a symbol of life, sustenance, and hope. Isaac, filled with gratitude, recognized this as more than a physical find; it was divine providence, a testament to perseverance and faith.


The news of the well spread rapidly, symbolizing stability and a promising future. In the midst of the arid land, this well stood as a beacon of life, a testament to the enduring spirit and faith of Isaac and his people, who dared to thrive against all odds.


*


On that very day, a new chapter unfolded in Isaac's journey. His servants, who had toiled under the relentless sun, returned with news. They approached Isaac, their faces alight with the unmistakable glow of accomplishment, their eyes reflecting the shimmering promise of a newfound treasure.


We have found water, they announced, their voices ringing with a mix of relief and triumph. These simple words carried a weight far beyond their surface meaning. In a land where water was as precious as gold, this discovery was not just a mere finding; it was a symbol of life, of sustenance, of hope.


Isaac listened, his heart swelling with gratitude. The well they had dug, through layers of earth and stone, had yielded its hidden gift. This was more than just physical refreshment; it was a sign of divine providence, a testament to perseverance and faith.


The news of the well spread, rippling through the community like the waves across the surface of the newfound water. It signified stability and a future, a source that would quench their thirst and nourish their fields. In the midst of a vast, arid land, this well was a beacon of life, a testament to the enduring spirit of those who dared to dig deep into the earth, fueled by faith and the unyielding will to thrive.


*


In a gesture that intertwined faith and fate, Isaac named the newfound well Shibah, a name resonating with the echoes of a covenant, a sacred agreement sealed with an oath. This act of naming was more than a mere label; it was a testament to the bond between the divine and the earthly, a recognition of the unseen hand guiding their destinies.


The city that blossomed around this well, fed by its life-giving waters, came to be known as Be'er Sheva, a name that carried the memory of that covenant within its very syllables. Be'er Sheva, stood as a constant reminder of the pact made, a pact that was as enduring as the water that surged from the earth.


The story of Be'er Sheva transcended time, echoing down through generations. It became a symbol of the enduring promise, a place where the past and the present merged in the murmuring waters of Shibah. The well was not just a source of physical sustenance; it was a wellspring of spiritual assurance, a sign that the covenant would endure, as unyielding as the earth itself and as fluid as the waters it cradled.


Thus, Be'er Sheva stood, etched in history and memory, a city named for an oath, a well named for a covenant, a testament to the unbreakable bond between the divine promise and the perseverance of those who believe.


*


As Esau reached the age of forty, a significant milestone loomed over his actions. He mirrored his father in age but diverged drastically in character and choices. Esau, often likened to a swine in his actions, had a history marred by deceit and dishonor. The swine, a symbol of impurity, pretends to be kosher by displaying its hooves, misleading onlookers. Similarly, Esau masked his true nature under a veneer of respectability.


For forty years, Esau led a life of moral recklessness, seizing women from their husbands with no regard for the sanctity of marriage. At forty, perhaps seeking a semblance of legitimacy or mimicking his father's life trajectory, Esau decided to marry. He chose Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite, as his wives.


This decision, however, was more an act of superficial imitation rather than a genuine transformation. Esau's marriages were less about following in his father's footsteps and more about maintaining appearances, a gesture to mask his earlier transgressions. His choices reflected a complex interplay of trying to align with his father’s legacy while being ensnared in his own misguided actions.


Esau's story, contrasted with that of his fathers, highlights the stark differences in their paths and the choices that shaped their destinies. While Abraham and Isaac’s lives were guided by faith and moral conviction, Esau’s was a tale of divergence, marked by superficiality and a lack of true moral compass.


*


In the quietness of Isaac and Rebecca's home, a dissonant note began to sound, growing louder and more jarring with each passing day. The source of this discord was none other than the wives of their son Esau – Judith, the daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and Basemath, the daughter of Elon the Hittite. Their presence in the household was not just a mere inconvenience; it was a deep-seated vexation of the spirit, a phrase rich in its implications.


The Hebrew term מֹרַת רוּחַ, translated as 'a vexation of the spirit', conveys a sense of defiance, rebellion, and provocation. It is akin to the word מַמְרִים, meaning 'rebellious', used to describe a spirit of opposition. The actions and attitudes of Esau’s wives were a continual source of irritation and sorrow to Isaac and Rebecca, deeply rooted in their idolatrous practices.


This had profound impact. Isaac and Rebecca, who had built their lives on the foundations of faith and obedience to God, now found themselves confronted with a challenge within their own family. The idol worship of Judith and Basemath stood in stark contrast to the values they held dear, creating an undercurrent of tension and spiritual conflict.


This scenario in Isaac and Rebecca's household serves as a poignant reminder of how conflicting beliefs and values can create rifts in relationships, even among close family members. The distress caused by Esau’s choices and the influence of his wives highlights the importance of shared values and beliefs in maintaining harmony within a family.


*


As the years etched their mark on Isaac, his eyes gradually dimmed, no longer able to discern the world around him. This fading of sight was not just a mere consequence of age, but it held deeper significance, intertwined with the very fabric of his life’s journey.


One explanation for Isaac's diminishing sight pointed to the heartache he felt in his own home. The smoke from the idolatrous rituals of Esau's wives clouded not just the air but also cast a haze over Isaac's vision, a constant reminder of the spiritual dissonance within his family.


Yet, another layer to this narrative harked back to a pivotal moment in Isaac's youth – his binding on the altar. During this intense episode, the heavens themselves were said to have opened, revealing Isaac in his moment of ultimate submission. Angels watched, shedding tears of compassion, which fell upon Isaac's eyes. These celestial tears, laden with the weight of that profound moment, eventually dimmed his earthly vision, leaving a permanent mark of that near-sacrificial experience.


A third perspective suggested a more pragmatic reason: this impairment of his vision was necessary for the future unfolding of events, specifically for Jacob to receive the blessings meant for Esau. His blurred sight was not just a physical ailment but a pivotal factor in the divine plan, leading to a crucial turning point in the legacy of the patriarchs.


In these interpretations, Isaac’s physical blindness becomes a symbol of deeper spiritual and familial dynamics, reflecting the complexities and the intertwined destinies within his family.


*


Isaac's failing eyesight, more than a mere symptom of age, bore the imprints of his life's journey, each reason intertwined with the threads of his existence.


The smoky haze from Esau's wives' idol worship not only clouded the air of his home but also veiled his sight, a poignant symbol of the spiritual rift within his own household. This constant presence of idolatry, right in the heart of his family, was a source of deep sorrow for Isaac, manifesting physically in the dimming of his eyes.


Reflecting further, Isaac's impaired vision harked back to a defining moment of his youth – his binding on Mount Moriah. As he lay on the altar, the realms above were moved. The angels, witnessing his profound submission and Abraham's unwavering faith, wept, their tears falling from the heavens onto Isaac's eyes. These were not ordinary tears; they were laden with heavenly empathy and the gravity of the moment. Over time, these tears led to the dimming of his sight, forever imprinting that divine encounter onto his very being.


A more earthly interpretation is that Isaac's blurred vision was a necessary precursor for the unfolding of a divine plan – it was essential for Jacob to receive the blessings. This was not mere chance but a divine orchestration, where his physical blindness played a crucial role in the path that history was to take, shaping the destiny of a nation.


In these layers of interpretation, Isaac’s loss of sight transcends the physical. It becomes a metaphor for the deep spiritual and emotional currents running through his life, echoing the complexities and entwined fates within his family. Isaac's blindness was more than a physical condition; it was a reflection of both his life's profound experiences and the mysterious workings of the divine plan.


*


As Isaac's days lengthened and his vision waned, a poignant moment unfolded. In his dimly lit world, he called upon Esau, his elder son. His voice, though aged, carried a clear command, "My son," to which Esau responded with readiness, "Here I am."


Isaac, drawing from the depths of tradition and the wisdom of experience, instructed Esau, "Now, take your tools, your sword, and your bow. Go out to the field and hunt game for me." The words were more than a mere request for a meal; they were imbued with layers of meaning and instruction.


The term "your sword" (תֶּלְיְךָ) Isaac used was deliberate. It was a call for Esau to sharpen his tools, a practice deeply rooted in their heritage. Isaac's words echoed the teachings of their ancestors: "One should not sharpen a knife, but it may be honed against another," a principle that underscored the importance of preparation and meticulousness. Isaac, in his wisdom, was reminding Esau not just to hunt but to do so with precision and integrity, ensuring that what he brought back was not merely game, but fit for consumption according to their laws and customs.


Moreover, Isaac’s directive to "hunt for me" carried an implicit moral code – he commanded that Esau hunt from the ownerless, from the wild, and not to take what was not rightfully his. This was a subtle yet powerful reminder of the values Isaac and Rebecca had sought to instill in their sons – integrity, respect for property, and adherence to ethical standards.


In these instructions, Isaac was not simply asking for a meal. He was imparting a lesson, a reminder of their traditions and moral compass, in a world where his physical sight may have dimmed, but his vision for what was right and just remained as clear as ever.


*


In the quiet of his room, where the light of day scarcely penetrated, Isaac, now old and with vision dimmed, called upon Esau, his firstborn. His voice, though weak, carried the weight of impending finality. “My son,” he beckoned, and Esau responded with a prompt, “Here I am.”


Isaac's words were a blend of paternal love and a deep-rooted tradition. “Prepare for me those delectable dishes, the way I cherish them,” he said, his voice tinged with a mixture of nostalgia and yearning. It was more than just a request for his favorite meal; it was an invocation of memories, a reminder of the flavors and aromas that had peppered the journey of his life. CW


“Bring them to me so I can eat,” Isaac continued, his words heavy with the awareness of his mortality. In his request, there was an unspoken acknowledgment of the transient nature of life and the looming shadow of death. It was not merely food he sought, but a final, tangible connection to the world he would soon leave behind.


“And then,” he said, “my soul will bless you before I die.” This was not just a father's blessing; it was a sacred rite, a passing of the torch from one generation to the next. In Isaac’s grasp lay the power to bestow a legacy, a final benediction that would carry forward his hopes, his dreams, and his covenant with the divine.


In this quiet chamber, as Isaac awaited the taste of his favored dishes, there lay a profound intersection of the physical and the spiritual, the temporal and the eternal, a moment where the past and future converged in the simple act of a meal and a blessing.


*


As the afternoon sun cast long shadows across the land, Esau, the skilled hunter, ventured into the open fields. He had left his father's presence with a clear mission – to procure game for the special meal Isaac desired. Meanwhile, Rebecca, a silent listener of this exchange, perceived the profound implications of this moment.


In Isaac's request for Esau to hunt and bring game, there was an underlying contingency, a subtle but crucial detail that Rebecca discerned. Rashi illuminates this point: the phrase "to bring" hinted at more than just the act of returning with game. It suggested that should Esau fail to find wild game, he would not hesitate to resort to less honorable means – even theft – to fulfill his father's request. This potential to acquire the desired game through dubious methods reflected on Esau's character, as well as the precarious balance of morality and duty within this family drama.


Rebecca, acutely aware of the stakes involved, understood that this was not merely about satisfying an elderly father's craving. This was about the transfer of the family's spiritual legacy, a covenantal blessing that had the power to shape destinies. Her awareness of this critical moment set the stage for the unfolding events, where the paths of righteousness and deceit would intertwine, and the future of their lineage would hang in the balance.


*


In the privacy of their home, away from prying ears, Rebecca called her younger son, Jacob. Her voice was low but urgent, a mother's instinct finely tuned to the undercurrents of their family dynamics. "Listen closely, Jacob," she began, her eyes reflecting a mix of concern and resolve.


I overheard your father talking to Esau, your brother, she continued, her words carefully chosen. The tone of her voice conveyed more than just the words spoken; it hinted at the gravity of what she had heard.


The significance of her eavesdropping was not lost on Jacob. In their household, words carried weight, especially those spoken by Isaac. Rebecca's revelation was not mere gossip; it was a forewarning of events that could alter the course of their lives. In the fabric of their family story, this was a crucial thread, one that Rebecca had astutely picked up on and was now entrusting to Jacob.


In that private conversation, Rebecca and Jacob were not just mother and son; they were co-navigators in a complex journey of faith, family, and destiny. The weight of ancestral promises and the subtleties of human choices were overlapping, and Rebecca's role as a matriarch with insight and foresight was unmistakably highlighted.


*


Rebecca's voice carried a note of urgency as she relayed Isaac's words to Jacob. "Your father has asked Esau to bring him game and prepare his favorite foods. He intends to eat and then bless Esau before the Lord, before his death."


The phrase "before the Lord" was significant. Isaac's intention to bless Esau was more than a fatherly gesture; it was to be a solemn act, carried out with divine acknowledgment and approval. In Isaac's mind, this blessing was more than a personal expression of love and favor; it was a sacred transmission of patriarchal authority and promise, sanctioned by the Lord Himself.


This moment was not just about the transfer of a family legacy; it was steeped in the deeper spiritual significance of continuity and divine approval. Isaac, aware of the weight of his role as a patriarch, sought God's consent in his decision, recognizing that his blessing carried implications far beyond the immediate family context.


Rebecca's repetition of Isaac's words to Jacob highlighted the gravity of the situation. It was a reminder that their family's actions were not in isolation but were deeply entwined with a divine plan that spanned generations. This was a moment of profound decision-making, where human actions intersected with divine will, shaping the destiny of a nation.


*


Rebecca's words to Jacob were firm, carrying an unmistakable tone of command. "Now, my son, listen carefully to my voice and follow exactly what I am instructing you to do."


In this moment, Rebecca was not just a mother speaking to her son; she was a matriarch shaping the course of their family's destiny. Her directive was clear and unequivocal, leaving no room for doubt or hesitation. The urgency in her voice underscored the critical nature of what was about to unfold, a pivotal moment that would redefine the path of her descendants.


Rebecca's instruction was not merely a suggestion; it was a command, based on her understanding of the weighty implications of Isaac's impending blessing. It was a call to action that required obedience and trust, a defining moment where Jacob's response would have far-reaching consequences, not just for their immediate family but for the generations to come.


In this narrative, Rebecca emerged not just as a mother but as a key architect of her family's future, guiding and directing with a clarity born of insight and foresight. Her words were an anchor, a steady guide in the turbulent waters of family dynamics and divine destiny.


*


Rebecca's plan was meticulously crafted, each detail carefully considered. She instructed Jacob, "Go now to the flock and take from there two choice kids of the goats for me." Her directive was precise and deliberate. She emphasized "for me," asserting ownership over the kids, underscoring that they were rightfully hers, not procured through deceit or theft. This was in accordance with the provisions Isaac had written into her marriage contract, allowing her the entitlement to take two kids every day.


The choice of two kids was not random. According to early interpretations, one of these kids was intended to be sacrificed as a Paschal offering, an act imbued with deep religious significance, while the other was to be prepared for another offering. Rebecca knew her husband's preferences well; she was aware that the taste of a kid was akin to the taste of a deer, a favorite of Isaac. This attention to detail ensuring that Jacob would replicate Esau's usual offering was crucial to the success of her plan.


In this narrative, Rebecca's actions reflected not only her deep understanding of her family's dynamics but also her astute awareness of the cultural and religious practices of her time. She navigated the complex situation with a blend of wisdom, foresight, and maternal instinct, all aimed at ensuring the fulfillment of what she knew to be the destined path for her younger son, Jacob.


*


Rebecca's words to Jacob were imbued with a sense of urgency and purpose: "And you shall bring them to your father so that he may eat, in order that he bless you before his death." She was acutely aware of the gravity of the moment. The blessing of Isaac, a man nearing the end of his life, was a conduit of future fortune and divine favor, a crucial turning point in the direction of their family’s future.


Her instructions to Jacob were clear and unequivocal, reflecting her determination to ensure that the blessing would be granted to her younger son. This was not founded in favoritism; Rebecca believed in a greater destiny for Jacob, a conviction rooted in divine prophecy and her own insight into her sons' divergent paths.


The act of bringing the prepared food to Isaac was symbolic, serving not just as a gesture of filial respect and care but also as a strategic move in the unfolding drama of their family history. Rebecca’s maneuvering in this episode showcases her pivotal role in shaping the legacy of the patriarchs, driven by a blend of maternal instinct, foresight, and a deep understanding of the prophetic narratives entwined with her family's destiny.


*


Jacob's words to his mother, Rebecca, captured his hesitation and uncertainty: "Behold, my brother Esau is a hairy man, whereas I am a smooth man." He was keenly aware of the physical differences between him and his brother, leaving open to discovery by his father. These differences were more than skin deep, they symbolized the contrasting paths that each brother would follow.


Esau, the hunter, was defined by his rugged exterior, a man of the outdoors, his body bearing the marks of his direct, sometimes abrasive interaction with the world. Jacob, on the other hand, was smoother, both in complexion and in character, reflecting a more contemplative, thoughtful nature.


This distinction was not lost on Jacob as he contemplated his mother's plan. He understood that impersonating Esau was more than just putting on a disguise; it meant assuming an identity that was fundamentally different from his own. This moment of introspection highlighted the deeper moral and existential dilemmas Jacob faced, as he stood at the crossroads of a decision that would shape not just his own destiny, but that of an entire nation.


*


Jacob's concern was palpable as he voiced his fears to his mother, Rebecca: "Perhaps my father will touch me, and I will appear to him as a deceiver, and I will bring upon myself a curse and not a blessing." He was acutely aware of the consequences this course of action could bring, understanding that the line between blessing and curse was thin and easily crossed.


Jacob's worry about being touched by his father Isaac and recognized as an imposter highlights the deeper concern of authenticity and integrity. The Hebrew word יְמֻשֵּׁנִי (yemusheni), translated as "will touch me," mirrors the word מְמַשֵּׁשׁ (memashesh) used in Deuteronomy, meaning "feeling." This connection underscores the tactile nature of Isaac's potential discovery, a literal and metaphorical 'feeling out' of the truth.


Jacob's trepidation at being perceived as a deceiver was not merely about being caught in a lie. It reflected a deeper struggle within himself, a conflict between his mother's directive, his respect for his father, and his own moral compass. This moment captures the complexity of Jacob's character, a blend of obedience, cunning, and a keen sense of the ethical implications of his actions. His hesitation reveals a man caught in the web of familial duty, prophecy, and personal conscience, a pivotal moment that would define his path and the legacy he would carry forward.


*


Rebecca's response to Jacob's apprehension was one of assurance and determination. "On me is your curse, my son. Only hearken to my voice and go, take [them] for me." Her words entailed more than a mother's command, they reflected a deep understanding of the possible consequences of her plan.


Rebecca's readiness to assume the burden of a potential curse reveals her strong conviction in the righteousness of her guidance. She was not merely instructing Jacob to deceive his father for personal gain; rather, she was navigating a complex tapestry of destiny and prophecy, aware of the larger picture and the role her family was to play in it.


The phrase "עָלַי קִלְלָֽתְךָ֖ בְּנִ֑י" (Alai kelalatekha b'ni), meaning "your curse [be] upon me, my son," demonstrates Rebecca's willingness to bear the spiritual and moral consequences of this decisive act. Her words, "אַ֛ךְ שְׁמַ֥ע בְּקֹלִ֖י" (Ach shema b'koli), "Only hearken to my voice," highlight her awareness of the critical nature of this moment, urging Jacob to trust in her insight and foresight. Her words encapsulate the essence of a matriarch who is profoundly attuned to the divine plan and committed to ensuring its realization through her actions and decisions.


*


Jacob, though initially hesitant, ultimately yielded to his mother's guidance. He went to the flock, carefully selecting the two finest kids as his mother had instructed. Bringing them to Rebecca, he watched as she skillfully prepared the savory dishes, infusing them with the flavors and aromas that she knew would appeal to Isaac's taste.


Rebecca's expertise in the kitchen was a reflection of her intimate knowledge of Isaac's preferences. The phrase "וַתַּ֤עַשׂ אִמּוֹ֙ מַטְעַמִּ֔ים" (vat'as imo mat'amim), "and his mother made tasty foods," underscores her attentiveness to detail and her deep understanding of her husband's likes and dislikes. This was not just about preparing a meal; it was about recreating a familiar and cherished experience for Isaac, one that he associated with Esau's hunting prowess.


In this narrative, food becomes more than sustenance; it is a symbol of love, care, and deep familial connections. Rebecca's actions demonstrate her commitment to ensuring the fulfillment of the destiny she believes is meant for Jacob. Her meticulous preparation of the dishes is a manifestation of her role as a matriarch who actively shapes the course of her family's story.


*


Rebecca, in her unyielding commitment to the prophecy foretold to her, took decisive action. She went into her own quarters, to a special place where she kept Esau's most prized garments. These unique clothes were known as הַחַמוּדֹת – the cherished, the esteemed. According to one interpretation, they were the very garments that Esau had coveted from Nimrod, garments of significant value and distinction.


This detail about the garments being with her in the house hints at a deeper understanding of Esau's relationship with his wives. Despite having multiple spouses to whom he could have entrusted his treasured attire, Esau chose to leave them with his mother. This decision reflected his awareness of his wives' actions and his lack of trust in them. Esau, despite his rugged exterior and hunter's lifestyle, was astute in matters of trust and suspicion.


Rebecca then dressed Jacob, her younger son, in these garments. This act was laden with symbolism. By cloaking Jacob in Esau's garments, Rebecca was not only ensuring that Jacob would feel and smell like his brother but was also transferring a form of Esau's identity onto Jacob. It was a tangible expression of the transfer of blessings and birthrights and a pivotal moment where destinies were being rewritten. A mother's resolve was steering the course of history.


*


Rebecca's meticulous orchestration of the deception was rooted in her profound understanding of her husband's sensory world. She knew that Isaac's sense of touch would be a crucial factor in the ruse. Therefore, she took the hides of the kids – soft, yet textured, mimicking the feel of Esau's hair-covered skin.


With careful hands, she placed these skins upon Jacob's hands and around the smooth skin of his neck. Rebecca was transforming Jacob into a version of Esau that Isaac could perceive in his blindness.


The juxtaposition of the smoothness of Jacob's neck against the roughness of the goat hides created a tactile illusion, a masquerade that would pass the test of Isaac's touch. This detail highlights the extent of Rebecca's commitment to ensuring that the blessings would be bestowed upon Jacob, aligning with the prophecy she held dear.


In this moment, Rebecca's role as a matriarch transcended the norms, as she became the architect of a pivotal moment in the history of the Jewish people. The transformation of Jacob was not just physical but symbolic, representing a shift in the lineage and the fulfillment of a divine plan.


*


Rebecca's actions in this moment reveal a mother's deep involvement in the destinies of her children. With the tasty foods and bread that she had painstakingly prepared, she handed over the meal to Jacob. This was a meal designed to deceive, yes, but also to fulfill what she perceived as a divine plan. In that act of giving, she was ensuring the transfer of a legacy, a future, and a path that would forever alter the course of their family and their people.


In placing these items into Jacob's hands, Rebecca was instilling in him a sense of purpose and of destiny. Her actions spoke of her belief in a greater plan, one that she felt compelled to guide to fruition.


This scene, with its layers of meaning and emotion, paints a vivid picture of a pivotal moment in the narrative of the Jewish patriarchs. It is a moment where the personal and the prophetic intertwine, where a mother's love and a prophetess's insight merge to steer the course of history.


*


Jacob approached his father, his heart heavy with the weight of deception. "My father!" he called out, his voice perhaps trembling with a mix of fear and determination.


Isaac, his vision dimmed not just by age but by the weight of his past and the tears of angels, responded with a simple, open-hearted "Here I am." But his next words revealed a hint of uncertainty, "Who are you, my son?"


In this exchange, the tension of the moment is palpable. Jacob stands on the threshold of a pivotal act, one that will shape not just his destiny but that of an entire nation. Isaac, blind in more ways than one, is vulnerable yet perceptive. He senses something amiss, a disturbance in the familiar rhythm of his family life.


This scene is a confluence of faith, destiny, and moral ambiguity. It challenges us to consider the complex interplay of right and wrong, of ends and means. Here, in the dimness of Isaac's tent, the future of a people hangs in the balance, hinging on words spoken and identities concealed.


*


Jacob, cloaked in the garments and guise of his brother, stood before his father. He uttered the words, "I am Esau your firstborn." In these words, a hidden truth lurked beneath the surface. What Jacob implied was, "I am the one bringing you [food], and Esau is your firstborn." It was a delicate dance of words, a half-truth balanced on the edge of deceit.


I have done as you have spoken to me, Jacob continued, his words a careful mix of truth and deception. He had indeed done many things as his father had instructed, but not as Esau, the firstborn, would have.


Please rise, sit down and eat of my game, so that your soul will bless me, he urged. The phrase "sit down," or שְׁבָה in Hebrew, was more than an invitation to sit; it was a call to gather around the table, to partake in a meal, a communal act loaded with significance. It was a moment where the sacred and the everyday were intertwined, where a father's blessing held the weight of destiny.


In this intricate web of truths and half-truths, Rebecca and Jacob navigated their way towards what they believed was a divinely ordained future. Yet, the moral complexities of their actions remained, a testament to the often-convoluted path of faith and fate.


*


Isaac, with his dimmed vision, sat in the quiet of his room, waiting for Esau. When Jacob entered, disguised as his brother, Isaac was perplexed. "How is it that you have found [it] so quickly, my son?" he asked, his voice laced with curiosity and a hint of suspicion. The hunt, after all, was usually a task of patience and time.


Jacob, standing before his father, cloaked not only in Esau's garments but also in a veil of deceit, replied swiftly, "Because the Lord your God prepared it before me." In these words, Jacob invoked the divine, attributing his quick success to the providence of God. It was a clever ploy, using the reverence for the divine to mask his ruse.


This statement was more than just an excuse for his speedy return; it was a subtle manipulation, playing on Isaac's deep faith and trust in God's guidance. It was a moment where faith, fate, and deception intersected, creating a complex tapestry of moral and ethical dilemmas.


*


Isaac's intuition stirred as he heard Jacob's voice. The words he heard spoken were too refined and too careful. Esau was never one to invoke the divine. This inconsistency, like a faint but persistent echo, gnawed at Isaac's mind.


Please come closer, so that I may feel you, my son, Isaac said, his voice laced with a mix of uncertainty and hope. It was a moment of truth, a test to see whether the son standing before him was indeed Esau.


Isaac's request was more than a plea for physical confirmation. It was a search for reassurance, a father's yearning to trust his senses, which time had dulled. The act of feeling Jacob to discern the texture of his was part of a larger aim; it was about piecing together the fragments of a rapidly unfolding mystery.


Isaac’s words, "whether you are really my son Esau or not," illustrated the weight of a father's love, confusion, and the dawning realization that something was amiss. It was a poignant testament to the complexity of familial bonds, where love, duty, and deception often intertwine. Isaac, though physically weakened, was astute enough to sense the undercurrents of deceit. The narrative was poised at a delicate juncture, where a father's touch could unravel a carefully woven plan.


*


As Jacob cautiously approached his father, the air was thick with tension, anticipation. Isaac, despite his dimmed sight, was acutely aware of the world through his other senses. His fingers traced the unfamiliar contours of the hands before him, rough and hairy, like those of Esau.


However, it was the voice that stirred a flicker of doubt in Isaac's heart. It was gentle, almost pleading in its tone — "Please rise" — a stark contrast to Esau's usual brashness, as he would demand "Let my father arise!" This disparity, subtle yet glaring, puzzled Isaac.


The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau, he murmured, the words hanging in the air, laden with confusion and disbelief. In that moment, Isaac's world, a world that relied so heavily on trust and the familiar, seemed to teeter on the edge of uncertainty.


Jacob stood there, a figure of deception cloaked in his brother's garments, his hands mimicking another's identity. The contrast between the voice and the hands symbolized a deeper conflict — the struggle between truth and pretense, and the conflicting identities of two brothers whose paths were inextricably linked and yet divergent.


In this poignant scene, the narrative conveys more than just a moment of deception; it reveals the complexities of identity and the profound impact of a father's blessing, sought after with a blend of earnestness and subterfuge. Isaac, caught in the midst of this intricate web, found himself grappling with doubt, his paternal instincts clashing with the evidence presented by his senses.


*


In a moment heavy with destiny, Isaac, his fingers tracing the texture of his son's hands, found himself at a crossroads of perception and reality. The hands he felt were coarse and hairy, mirroring the rugged hands of Esau, his elder son. Yet, the lingering uncertainty, fueled by the soft, respectful voice that was so unlike Esau's, could not be entirely ignored.


Despite his doubts, Isaac proceeded, led more by his tactile sense than his intuition. It was the feel of the hands, not the sound of the voice, that guided his decision. He did not recognize Jacob, for the deceptive disguise was convincing enough to eclipse the truth. The hands, covered with the hides of the kids, were the deciding factor, convincing him of Esau's presence.


And so, Isaac bestowed his blessing, unaware of the true identity of the son standing before him. This act, seemingly simple yet profoundly significant, was a pivotal moment in the narrative, where destiny was redirected. The blessing, meant for Esau, was now irrevocably given to Jacob, altering the course of their lives and the history of their descendants.


In this episode, the themes of identity, deception, and the weight of paternal blessing converged. Isaac, blind and uncertain, made a choice that would echo through generations, a decision shaped by what his hands perceived, rather than what his ears heard or his heart suspected.


*


Isaac, his fingers still grasping the hands he believed to be Esau's, hesitated. The soft-spoken voice of his son, Jacob, had stirred a disquieting suspicion within him. "Are you [indeed] my son Esau?" Isaac inquired, his words heavy with uncertainty.


Jacob's response was a careful balance between truth and deception. He did not boldly claim to be Esau, nor did he utter falsehoods. Simply saying, "I am," he left room for interpretation, allowing his father to believe what he wished to believe.


The room hung in tension as Isaac grappled with the ambiguity of the situation. His senses, blinded by age and confusion, could only provide him with partial truths. The touch of the hands and the tone of the voice clashed in a silent struggle within his mind.


Jacob's response was a testament to his cleverness and resourcefulness, while Isaac's wavering faith in his own senses mirrored the broader theme of deception and its consequences in the unfolding narrative.


*


Isaac, still shrouded in uncertainty, sought reassurance from the savory aroma that wafted through the air. "Serve [it] to me so that I may eat of the game of my son," he implored Jacob, "so that my soul will bless you."


Jacob, who had embarked on this journey of cunning deception, now played his role with utmost dedication. With a sense of duty mixed with trepidation, he served his father the carefully prepared meal. Father and son shared a moment, though shrouded in layers of subterfuge. The room seemed to hold its breath, as if it too was aware of the gravity of the situation.


Isaac, now partially satiated, longed for the soothing embrace of wine. Jacob, ever the attentive son, brought him a goblet, and Isaac drank. The wine coursed through his veins, warming him, dulling his suspicions, and granting him the courage to bestow upon Jacob the coveted blessing.


In this tableau of deception and desire, the intricate tapestry of family dynamics and human nature was woven. The power of a blessing, once given, would shape the destinies of father and sons, setting the stage for a narrative that would resonate through the ages.


*


The air was thick with anticipation as Isaac, his senses still clouded by the wine, beckoned to Jacob, "Please come closer and kiss me, my son."


Jacob, standing on the precipice of deception, approached his father's bedside. He leaned in, and their cheeks met, a tender and intimate gesture. The kiss held a deeper significance, not just the act of a son honoring his father, but a moment charged with the weight of blessings and destiny.


In that fleeting embrace, a connection passed between them, a connection that transcended the layers of subterfuge that had brought them to this point. It was a connection forged in the crucible of family love, devotion, and the desire for paternal approval.


Isaac, still unaware of the switch that had taken place, would soon bestow upon Jacob the blessings that would shape their future. The intricate dance of human relationships and the unfolding drama of their lives continued to be guided by the unseen hand of destiny.


*


Jacob, heart pounding, had successfully deceived his father. He had kissed Isaac, and the aged patriarch breathed in deeply, inhaling the fragrance of his son's garments. But this was no ordinary scent; it was the aroma of destiny, the scent of a field that the Lord had blessed.


Isaac, in his blissful state, marvelled at the fragrance enveloping him. "Behold, the fragrance of my son is like the fragrance of a field, which the Lord has blessed!" he exclaimed, his voice filled with awe.


It was a moment that captured the essence of their lives. Isaac, the blind and elderly father, and Jacob, the cunning yet deeply yearning son, were bound together in this sacred act of blessing. The fragrance carried not only the aroma of the field but the weight of their shared history and the promise of a future shaped by divine providence.


Little did Isaac know that the son he had just blessed was not the hirsute Esau but the crafty Jacob, who had secured his brother's birthright through cunning and now his father's blessing through deception. The intricate tapestry of their family's story continued to weave itself, guided by the unseen hand of fate.

How can the world’s basic operating system, not going to be rebooted overnight, coexist with prophetic visions and expectations of miraculous events like the resurrection of the dead?

by Rabbi Boruch Merkur

This discussion focuses on the tension between two distinct yet interconnected ideas in Jewish thought: the concept that the world will continue to operate in its usual manner and the idea of miraculous events, such as the early resurrection of the particularly virtuous during the Messianic era. How can these seemingly conflicting notions be reconciled?


THE WORLD OF MOSHIACH AS THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT

The Talmud in Berakhot (34b) teaches: “Rava says: What is the meaning of: ‘For there shall be no needy among you’ (Deuteronomy 15:4)? Is it possible for there to be a time when there is no needy person among the Jewish people? Doesn’t that suggest a huge miracle? Rather, the verse means that there will be no completely impoverished person among you, but there will still be poor people.”


In line with this, Maimonides (Rambam) writes in Hilchot Melachim (12:1): “Do not presume that in the Messianic age any facet of the world’s nature will change or there will be innovations in the work of creation. The world will continue according to its natural order.” Rambam teaches us not to expect the laws of nature to suddenly change when the Messiah arrives. Everything will continue to operate “according to its natural order.”


The principle of “according to its natural order” entails a warning that we should not expect a supernatural hero to appear and immediately transform the world into paradise. In fact, the world, for the most part, will continue as it always has done, following the laws of nature and human behavior.


However, in Jewish thought, as articulated by Rambam himself, the resurrection of the dead—Techiyat HaMeitim—is an essential doctrine, one of the Thirteen Principles of Faith, indicating its centrality to Jewish belief (affirmed by scriptural references such as Isaiah 26:19 and Daniel 12:2, and is elaborated upon in Talmudic discourse). At first glance, people rising from the dead would be a blatant violation of the world’s natural order.


Clearly, there is tension between these two views. On one hand, we have the very grounded, almost pragmatic view that the world’s basic operating system is not going to be rebooted overnight. On the other hand, there are prophetic visions and expectations of miraculous events such as the resurrection of the dead. How can these versions of the future coexist?


EARLY RESURRECTION

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 91b-92a) discusses who will be resurrected, but it leaves room for interpretation in terms of the timing of this momentous event. The Talmud states: “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: All those who are destined to arise at Techiat HaMeitim (the Resurrection) are destined to arise with their blemishes (that they had during their lifetimes), as it is stated: ‘And your people also shall all be righteous; they shall inherit the land forever’ (Isaiah 60:21). The verse does not say ‘righteous ones’ (tzaddikim), but rather ‘your people also shall all be righteous’ (yitzdaku), indicating that they shall become righteous at that time.


This source suggests that not everyone who is resurrected will be righteous from the outset; rather, some will become righteous at that time. This implies that there might be different categories or levels of people who are resurrected.


A mystical interpretation of this Talmudic concept is unveiled in The Zohar:


Rabbi Yitzchak said: ‘There are three categories of souls that will be resurrected.


The first category is the souls of the righteous who have been hidden in the Garden of Eden since the day that they departed from this world. They will be resurrected first, as it is written: “And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life” (Daniel 12:2).


The second category is the souls of the righteous who have been hidden under the Throne of Glory since the day that they departed from this world. They will be resurrected after the first category, as it is written: “And some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence” (Daniel 12:2).


The third category is the souls of the righteous who have been wandering in the air since the day they departed from this world. They will be resurrected after the second category, as it is written: “And they that are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament” (Daniel 12:3).’


Here, the Zohar outlines different categories of souls based on their location and level of holiness and assigns them different times of resurrection.


There is a strong tradition established here that the exceptionally righteous will be resurrected first, possibly soon after the arrival of the Messiah. This could be based on the idea that these souls are closer to God and therefore more deserving of eternal life. Alternatively, this assumption could be based on the idea that these souls have a special role or mission in the Messianic era, and therefore need to be resurrected earlier.


This premise seems to contradict the notion that the world will continue “according to its natural order,” which implies that the world will not experience any drastic changes or miracles in the early stages of the Messianic era.


How can these two seemingly opposing views be reconciled?


RECONCILING THE NATURAL MODEL OF REDEMPTION WITH THE MIRACLE OF RESURRECTION

The intricate balance between a Messianic redemption that unfolds "according to its natural order" and the concept of an early resurrection for exceptionally righteous individuals can be explored through various scholarly interpretations:


1. Phased Transition: Abarbanel provides a chronological framework where the Messianic era unfolds in stages, each with increasing divine intervention. He describes these stages in detail:


- The first stage is about the return and rebuilding: "The first stage is when Israel will return to their land and rebuild Jerusalem and its Temple…” This period is characterized by actions that are natural and human-driven.


- The second stage introduces divine revelation: "The second stage is when God will reveal Himself to them and perform great wonders and miracles for them…” Here, the supernatural becomes gradually more apparent.


- The third stage expands to global recognition: "The third stage is when all the nations will recognize God and His Messiah, and submit to His rule…” This suggests a transformation in global consciousness.


- The final stage culminates in resurrection: "The fourth stage is when God will resurrect all those who are destined to arise.” This ultimate stage introduces the miraculous event of resurrection, which is seen as a culmination of the process rather than a sudden occurrence.


Abarbanel’s phased approach suggests a measured transition that accommodates the natural before evolving into the miraculous.


2. Exceptional Cases: Alshich acknowledges the possibility of exceptions for extraordinary individuals, providing an analogy to convey their uniqueness:


- "There are some individuals who are so holy and pure that they merit to be resurrected before everyone else. These are like ‘the first fruits’ (bikkurim) that are offered in the Temple before all other produce. They are also like ‘the choicest of your valleys’ (mivchar amekecha) that are mentioned in Isaiah 22:7, which refer to those who dwell in lowly places but are exalted by God.”


Alshich’s metaphorical language captures the distinction between general resurrection and the precedence given to the exceptionally righteous. This approach proposes that divine providence allows for certain individuals to transcend the common order due to their elevated spiritual status.


3. Spiritual vs. Physical Resurrection: Arizal introduces the concept of gilgul, which implies different modalities of resurrection, possibly occurring without conflicting with the natural world:


- "There are two types of resurrection: one is called ‘the revival of souls’ (techiat haneshamot) and the other is called ‘the revival of bodies’ (techiat hagufot). The revival of souls is when a soul returns to this world in a different body than before, either for its own rectification or for the rectification of others. The revival of bodies is when a soul returns to its original body that it had in its previous incarnation.”


Arizal’s distinction between the revival of souls and bodies suggests that a soul’s return may initially occur in a manner that aligns with the natural order—perhaps in a different guise or form—before a more literal physical resurrection takes place.


4. Qualitative Changes: The Chassidic tradition, particularly as explicated in the Tanya, proposes a shift in the very fabric of reality come the Messianic age. This thought posits:


- In the era of the Messiah, "the divine will be so revealed that even physical existence will reflect God’s oneness.”


This suggests that in the Messianic era, the boundaries between the natural and the miraculous may dissolve, as miracles become the natural expression of a world that has reached a heightened state of divine revelation. Here, the early resurrection of the exceptionally righteous isn’t seen as a breach of natural law but as an anticipation of a universal condition where miracles are woven into the fabric of everyday existence.


In sum, our exploration into the delicate balance between the natural world and miraculous events within the context of the Messianic era uncovers the profound layers of Jewish thought on the subject. The resolution of this apparent dichotomy is found in a deeper appreciation of both the laws of nature and the acts of divine intervention. This nuanced understanding embraces a spectrum of possibilities, from the gradual unfolding of events to the recognition of extraordinary phenomena, and from the nuances of resurrection to the transformational shifts in the fabric of reality. Each framework provides a distinct lens through which we can view the Messianic era. These reflections serve as a reminder that the divine blueprint interweaves the mundane with the wondrous, the everyday with the supernatural, all of which mirror the Creator’s endless wisdom and kindness.

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