Toldos Archive

True Basis

ויאהב יצחק את עשו כי ציד בפיו ורבקה אוהבת את יעקב (כה:כח).
“Yitzchok loved (past tense) Eisav, for game was in his mouth and Rivka loved (present tense) Yaakov (25:28).”

There are two tremendous questions on the simple reading of this verse. Firstly, why is there a reason given for Yitzchok loving Eisav, “because game was in his mouth,” whereas, regarding Rivka, the verse gives no explanation for her love of Yaakov? Secondly, the word describing Yitzchok’s love is written in the past tense- “Yitzchok loved Eisav”, whereas by Rivka it is expressed in present continuant tense: “Rivka loves Yaakov”, what is the explanation?

True Love
The Mishna in Avos (5:16) as explained by Rabbeinu Yonah states: “Any love which is hinged upon vanity and falsity, when the premise is removed, the love is gone as well, as was the love of Amnon for Tamar. However, any love which is not based on falsity, but is rather an intrinsic love of the person himself, for what he is spiritually, will last forever, like the love between David and Yehonason.”
We see the lesson of the Mishna eloquently displayed in our verse. (See Netziv in Ha’amek Davar who touches on this point.) Yitzchok’s love for Eisav was inferior for it was based on the misconceived notion of “for game was in his mouth”. Eisav fooled his father into viewing him as righteous with his false show of interest in serving Hashem. Rivka’s love for Yaakov, however, was of firm basis. It was an intrinsic love of Yaakov as a person, based on high ideals and truth; not hinged on false presumptions.
Yitzchok’s love, the verse tells us, was the “externally dependant” type, whereas Rivka’s was not. Therefore, the love of Yitzchok is expressed in past tense, connoting its short and fleeting existence. However, Rivka’s love continues forever, “she loves”, as it was not tainted by falsity. Perhaps this verse serves as the Scriptural source for Chazal’s maxim stated in Avos.

The Blessing of Torah

ויתן לך האלקים מטל השמים ומשמני הארץ ורוב דגן ותירוש… (כז:כח).
“May Hashem grant you the dew from heaven, abundance on earth, plenty of grain and wine” (27:28).

This was the opening text of the blessing which Yaakov “stole” from Esav. What is so special about it?
The Midrash Rabbah (66:3) states that these words encapsulate the entire spectrum of Torah. It is both fascinating and relevant to ponder this.
“‘May Hashem grant you the dew from heaven’, this refers to Chumash, ‘abundance on earth’, this refers to Mishna, ‘plenty of grain’, this refers to Gemara, ‘(plenty of) wine’, this refers to Aggadah”.
Let us develop this.
‘May Hashem grant you the dew from heaven’, this refers to Chumash. The Chumash is a gift which Hashem gave us from heaven. Moshe brought it down to us at Sinai.
‘Abundance on earth’, this refers to Mishna. The Mishna is the development of the written Torah. We toil and produce understanding in the oral Torah. Hence, Mishna is exactly comparable to an earthly crop. It is only produced through effort and toil and is produced by using God-given materials and developing them in the way that Hashem wishes them to be brought out.
‘Plenty of grain’, this refers to Gemara. There is no more vital staple in life than grain. “Everyone needs grain, this is Gemara” (Bava Basra 145b). Just as the Mishna is worked for on earth by us, so too Gemara, which is like grain, is developed on earth. The distinction is that the grain is even more fine tuned and refined. Gemara is the development and masterful completion that explains and clarifies the Mishna.
‘Plenty of wine’, this refers to Aggadah”. The climax of Torah learning is the achievement of deep spiritual understanding. This is known as the esoteric, Kabbalistic part of Torah. The Aggadah of Shas and Midrash bring out these secrets. They can only be understood by a pious and dedicated Torah scholar. Just as wine reveals secrets, so too a proper understanding of the Aggadah of Chazal yields the most beautiful understanding of Torah knowledge.
May we all merit to achieve much depth in all four of these departments!

Yitzchok’s Appreciation
The Commentaries struggle with a huge question. Why did Yitzchok love Esav? How was he fooled and blinded from seeing how evil Esav truly was?
Many answers have been suggested.
I believe that one general thought emerges that deserves our attention. Yitzchok was the one who represented the trait of Gevurah, strength. This trait means to master the art of self-control. Accordingly, Yitzchok had a life of ultimate dedication to Hashem represented by the Akeida, where he willingly offered his life to Hashem. He stood for full service and dedication to Hashem despite earthly and physical resistance.
Hence, to Yitzchok, a person who had the tendency to do bad and a desire to sin was the strongest candidate towards self-perfection and work. More so, someone so predisposed to evil, who was able to never-the-less overcome it, was truly greater than a “natural” Tzaddik.
This is why Yitzchok appreciated Esav. He saw his evil tendencies and knew that if he could inspire him to overcome them, he would truly be great.

Internal View

Imagine if one morning you asked a family member to pass you the Cheerios box and from now on your nickname became ‘Cheerios’. The verse (Bereishis 25:30) seems to say that this is precisely what happened to Eisav. He told Yaakov, “give me some of that red stuff (lentil soup) and thus his name became “Edom, red.” Why?!
The commentators explain that in this case, Eisav was expressing his mistaken world-view and not simply asking for the dish. Rashi explains that Avraham had passed away on that very day and Yaakov was preparing the traditional meal of round objects for the mourners. Deep and meaningful messages are expressed in the round lentils. Eisav was well aware of their significance and yet, in disdain, he mocked the entire theme and called the dish, “that red stuff.” This showed Eisav’s external focus.
Eisav sold his first born rite to Yaakov because Yaakov desired its holiness; he wanted to serve Hashem in the temple. Eisav only saw the external aspect of the service: “I don’t want something that can cause me to die.” Yitzchok so eloquently expressed the difference between his two sons. “The voice belongs to Yaakov and the hands are Eisav’s (Bereishis 27:22).” Yaakov is internal just as the voice (Torah and prayer as well); Eisav is external, just as the aggressive arms. This was the difference between spiritually and physicality.
I heard from Rabbi Noach Orlowek that he once posed the question, what is the difference between ‘fun’ and ‘happiness?’ A student answered him: “Fun is on the outside; happiness is on the inside.” Riding a roller-coaster is fun! Attending a wedding ceremony of a relative or friend or a meaningful event is happiness. The focus is on the spiritual meaning and quality of the experience.
Indeed, Eisav’s mistaken focus was what separated him from Yaakov and made him fail. Through Yaakov’s internal focus, he was able to achieve a feeling of “I have everything (Bereishis 33:11)! Eisav was never satisfied and could only describe his amassments as, “I have a lot (Bereishis 33:9),” but never enough. Yaakov teaches us how to approach this world and how to imbue our lives with value and meaning.

True Care

In this week’s parsha, Yitzchok and Rivkah turned to Hashem to beg Him for children. The verse (Bereishis 25:21) uses an interesting phrase and states that Yitzchok davened “opposite his wife.” Rashbam and Seforno state that this means that Yitzchok davened for his wife (see Rashi for an alternate explanation). What is interesting to note is why Yitzchok didn’t daven for himself, why is it that he specifically begged Hashem for Rivkah to have children? Additionally, Chazal state that even though both Rivkah and Yitzchok were davening here, it was Yitzchok’s prayer that was answered and allowed Rivkah to conceive. What was so special about his tefillah here?
Yitzchok is teaching us the beautiful trait of thinking about the needs of one’s wife before thinking about one’s own desires. Yitzchok and Rivkah were both in pain from being childless. Yitzchok turned to Hashem and beseeched Him to have mercy on his wife. His focus of care and devotion was something that penetrated the heavens and brought a Yaakov Aveinu into the world.
Chazal (Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer 32) state that Yitzchok took Rivkah to Mount Moriah, the place of the future Beis HaMikdash and showed her the spot on which he stretched out his neck to give himself over to Hashem at the Akeida. Yitzchok davened that in that merit they should be blessed with children. What is fascinating to note is that Yitzchok was 37 at the time of the Akeida and he married Rivkah three years later when he was 40 and she was 3 years old. It appears from the verses (see Rashi Bereishis 22:20) that Rivkah was born specifically at the same time that Yitzchok dedicated himself wholly to Hashem on that mountain.
Indeed Rabbi Shimon Schwab zt”l explains that it was at that time that Sarah died and a part of her neshama went into Rivkah who was just being born and who would be the next Matriarch of the Jewish Nation. Yitzchok and Rivkah were eternally tied and meant for each other. Their souls were bound and their lives connected, but they would not be blessed with children until they had the greatest merit. It was only when Yitzchok turned his focus on his wife’s needs and feelings and davened to Hashem to take care of her, then they were answered. When we daven for other people and share our hearts with others, this has a power to be heard more eloquently in heaven.

Two Divergent Paths

Rabbeinu Bechaya states that the day that Avraham died was the day that Eisav turned his back on his heritage and chose not to follow in the ways of his forefathers. It was on that day, when he and Yaakov were 15 years old that he intentionally committed the three cardinal sins and mocked the birthright and service of Hashem (see Bereishis 25:34 and Rashi there). It is disturbing to think that it was specifically the death of Avraham that prompted this rebellion. What is this all about?

Defining Essence
What is the difference between Yaakov and Eisav? Rabbeinu Bechaya explains that Eisav was called Edom because the word stems from the root of ‘adamah, dirt’. He allowed his drives to control him and pull him towards earthly distractions. Eisav was a hunter who enjoyed wasting his time with leisurely activities and indulging in festive meals. He specifically bought the food from Yaakov by paying for it with his only spiritual asset. Eisav said to Yaakov, “I don’t care about my birthright and ability to serve Hashem in the Mishkan, you can have it in exchange for the food and pleasure of the now.” Yaakov on the other hand was a refined person, an ‘ish tam, innocent person’ who enjoyed dedicating himself to learning Hashem’s wisdom and character development. The difference was that Eisav was an ‘ish sadeh, man of the earthly field,’ and Yaakov was an ‘ish tam, man of spiritual qualities’. Yaakov was committed to putting in the effort to grow. This lifestyle choice was brought out in the great contrast of when Yaakov entered Yitzchok’s room vesus Eisav’s entrance. Yaakov brought with him the fragrance of Gan Eden; Eisav brought with him the smell of Hell (Bechaya).

Hashem’s Perspective
What is most important is how Hashem sees a person. When Yitzchok thought to give the blessings to Eisav he called for his “beno hagadol, bigger (older) son Eisav (Bereishis 27:1).” In Sefer Ovadya (Chapter 2) Hashem refers to Eisav as, “the small one.” In the later verse (Bereishis 27:27) Yaakov is referred to as “the smaller (younger) son,” whereas ironically Hashem refers to him as, “the large (great) nation (Devarim 4:8).” The message is clear: On the outside Eisav may have looked big and successful, but his lifestyle was self-destructive and in Hashem’s eyes he was small and full of sin. Yaakov, on the other hand, may have been viewed as small by the outside bystanders, but in Hashem’s eyes Yaakov was the continuation of the Jewish nation and its third great pillar. In fact, Yaakov’s very image was carved on the Throne of Glory.

Life Choice
It is important to stress that both Yaakov and Eisav had freewill to choose their paths. Eisav could have been righteous and Yaakov could have been evil. In fact, Yitzchok was well aware of this and felt that Eisav needed a boost of encouragement because of his wayward nature. Eisav however was not sincere in his service. On the day of Avraham’s death, a great crossroad opened before the two teens. Life became more serious and it was precisely then that it was time to step up to the plate. Eisav revealed his inner essence and escaped whereas Yaakov committed himself to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious grandfather.
Eisav had a descendant who grew up in Edom and saw the fallacy of his great-grandfather’s hedonistic lifestyle. He threw off the shackles of falsehood and converted to Judaism. He worked on himself and even achieved the great height of becoming a prophet of Hashem. The great Ovadya the convert prophet from Edom was given a most awkward job. Hashem told him to write and say over curses and punishments that would befall Eisav for his sins. This is the entire book of Ovadya which is read in completion every week as the Haftorah for Parshas Vayishlach in which Eisav’s downfall appears. Ovadya had a right to talk, he grew up with the luxuries, perversions and sins just like Eisav, yet he made a positive choice and broke free. He joined Yaakov and he reached greatness. We too are faced with this choice on a daily basis.

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