Twin Studies: Toldot 5774 by Cantor Lipp

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 1:01pm -- AJ Blog

Scientists studying nature versus nurture have often utilized identical twins, separated at birth, to help find out what kinds of things parents can influence in their kids. They’ve found that many qualities we might hope to instill are really based more on our kids’ genetics than their upbringing. When it comes to intelligence, for instance, it seems that parents have only a marginal impact. For income, there is an effect for kids when they’re in their twenties but over a lifetime that that influence becomes negligible. 

The three areas where parents DO have power is over whether their kids smoke, abuse alcohol and how they treat the waitress in a restaurant. In other words, we do have the ability to guide our children’s moral compass regardless of their genetics primarily based on our own behavior.

In our portion, we have a twin study that couldn’t be used by modern scientists for at least two reasons: 1. They weren’t separated at birth; and 2. They are clearly not identical twins. On the other hand, we have, in our portion, a dys-lexicon of un-identical and almost identical twin words. For instance, Jacob buys Esau’s Birthright (b’chorah) and steals his Blessing (b’racha).  In Hebrew, the letters of the roots of the words are identical but two of the letters are switched. Further, the chosen son (Bachur) must escape (Boreach). Again, the roots have the same the letters but they are displaced. 

The most impressive twinning of words occurs earlier in the portion however, prior to the birth of the twins. And unlike Esau and Jacob, these are truly identical twins. Rebecca, like her mother-in-law Sarah, has a difficult time conceiving and so Isaac pleads with God (va-ye-tar). In the same verse God answers-his-plea with exactly the same letters (the vowels are changed -- va-ye-a-ter). In order to translate this accurately, we would have to have a word for beg that included an element of appeal in the word for the one who granted the petition.  Isaac Pleas.  God Resplonds.  Va-ye-tar -- Va-yei-a-ter.

It’s an early philological example of what Abraham Joshua Heschel would articulate in his brilliant work of Jewish philosophy, God in Search of Man. Even when God responds to our most fervent wishes, there is an element of prayer in that reciprocal gesture. Shabbat is the perfect moment each week for us to breath in that reciprocity.


Shabbat Shalom 

David Lipp