“I have loved you,” says the LORD. “But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”—Malachi 1:2–3
The Torah portion for this week, Toldot, is from Genesis 25:19—28:9 and Malachi 1:1–2:7.
The Haftorah for the portion of Toldot takes us into the time of the prophet Malachi. At that time, the exile in Babylon had ended and the Jews were allowed to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple. It should have been a time of joy and celebration, but things were less than perfect. The Holy Land was in shambles, poverty was rampant, depravity was everywhere, and the newly constructed Temple was far less glorious than the first one it had replaced. The morale and the morals of the people were at a low point when Malachi came along both to comfort the people and to correct their ways.
Malachi began with encouragement, telling the people that God loves them, but the people asked, “How can He love us?” The Sages explain that the people of Malachi’s time felt unworthy and unlovable. They believed that any grace shown to them by God was only because of the merit of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But God told them, “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? . . . Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated.” In other words, if that logic were true, then God would have loved Esau, too. After all, he was also a descendant of the Patriarchs! God was telling the people that His love for the Patriarchs only went so far. Ultimately, a person’s relationship with God comes down to that person and God.
Three times a day, an observant Jew says the main Jewish prayer called the Amidah. It begins: “Blessed are you God, our God, and the God of our forefathers . . .” The Sages teach that we acknowledge God as our own personal God before we mention that He is the God of our forefathers in order to emphasize that our relationship with God must be personal.
Sure, we all benefit from being the spiritual heirs of such holy and beloved men and women, but it’s not enough. If we worship God only because our parents did, that’s not enough. If we go to church or synagogue only because it’s our family tradition, it’s not enough. First we must discover our own connection to the Lord, and only then can we enjoy the benefits of our heritage.
God is not inherited. A relationship with the Lord has to be earned and cultivated by every individual who walks this earth. We must all go through our own trials and develop our own faith. And then, when He loves us, it will be for our own sake and won’t be based on our family ties.