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Parshas Toldos - Vol. 10, Issue 6
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The Torah relates in what seems to be excruciating detail the story of the various wells dug by Yitzchok and his servants, the names they were called, and how their jealous neighbors repeatedly fought with them to challenge their ownership. As we know that every word in the Torah is carefully measured and is excluded unless absolutely necessary, why does the Torah spend numerous verses relating what seems to be such a mundane and inconsequential event?
The following amazing (and true) story will help us appreciate the answer to this question. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein tells of a now-happily-married couple whose dating period couldn't have gone worse. As the boy was returning home from their first date, he was lightly injured in a minor car accident. After he recovered, they went out again. On their second date, the house they were meeting in caught on fire and the girl was taken to the hospital for treatment. Still unfazed, they went out a third time. On that date, they were walking on the sidewalk when a flame which was coming out from a store caught on the girl's dress.
By this point, the boy had had enough and was ready to accept the Divine "hints" about the potential match. He decided that he didn't want to go out with this girl again. However, his highly rational parents wouldn't accept his decision and convinced him to go out one more time. On the fourth date, the car that they were in was involved in an accident, and both of them were lightly injured.
Although everything about the couple's interactions seemed quite compatible, the boy was shaken and adamant in his refusal to proceed. His father approached Rav Chaim Kanievsky to solicit his opinion about the entire episode. After hearing the incredible story, Rav Chaim said that he didn't see any rational reason to decline the otherwise compatible match, although he did advise that the couple go out one more time. In light of the opinion of Rav Chaim, the boy agreed to a fifth date, which was indeed incident-free and marked the beginning of a beautiful life together for the happy young couple. In light of this story, we can now answer our original question about the wells. Rav Aharon Bakst suggests that the Torah relates this episode to teach us the valuable lesson that in spiritual matters, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." We hear so many miraculous stories of pious Rabbis that we might erroneously assume that if a person is attempting to perform a mitzvah, everything will work out on his initial attempt without any unforeseen delays or obstacles. If it doesn't, we may despondently conclude that it is a Heavenly sign that this endeavor hasn't found favor with Hashem and should be abandoned.
To counter this mistaken understanding, the Torah recounts the great lengths to which Yitzchok had to go to successfully locate an uncontested source of fresh water. Our Sages teach (Bava Kamma 82a) that water is a metaphor for Torah. The lesson we can take from here is that there is no room for superstitious despair. If our projects of spiritual growth don't go the way we would have hoped, we should reexamine them. If they still make sense on their own rational merits, we shouldn't read ominous signs into an unexpected turn of events, but rather we should redouble our efforts until we succeed.
The Torah records that Yitzchok was blind at the end of his life, which enabled Yaakov to deceive him to receive the blessings that were intended for Eisav. Rashi explains that Yitzchok suffered so much from the wicked, idolatrous practices of Eisav's wives that he lost his vision. If so, why didn't their actions have the same effect on Rivkah? The Medrash explains that Rivkah wasn't impacted as intensely because she was accustomed to seeing idolatry in her father's house.
The Hadar Z'keinim points out that this Medrash is difficult to understand. The Gemora in Kesuvos (20b) rules that a witness is only permitted to testify about an event for up to 60 years after witnessing it. After that time his testimony is not accepted, since he is presumed to have forgotten the event. Since Rivkah was married for 20 years before having children and Eisav got married when he was 40 (26:34), 60 years had passed since Rivkah left her father's idolatrous house. Shouldn't she have forgotten it by now and been equally affected by the wicked actions of her daughters-in-law?
Rav Benzion Brook answers that although a person may no longer consciously remember an event after 60 years have passed, its imprint will remain with him eternally. Even though Rivkah left her father's house at the tender age of 3, the spiritual impact of her surroundings was permanently etched upon her soul. It was for this reason that Eliezer was so adamant that she return with him immediately, instead of remaining in her parents' house for another year as was suggested (24:55-56). Eliezer recognized the damage which was being done to Rivkah's lofty soul on a daily basis, and he insisted that she leave at once to prevent additional, irreparable harm from being done.
Rav Henoch Leibowitz points out that this is even more remarkable in light of the fact that Rivkah rebelled against everything her father stood for. She presumably hated idolatry even more than Yitzchok, for she had been exposed to it and rejected it. We may derive from here that even when one is fighting against negative environs and surroundings, he is nevertheless affected and pulled down by them. This lesson should highlight for us the importance of considering and monitoring the influences to which we allow ourselves and our children to be exposed.
The Arizal teaches that Rivkah was a gilgul (reincarnation) of Chava, the first woman. One of the purposes of reincarnation is to give a soul the opportunity to rectify the sins that it committed in an earlier lifetime. In what way did Rivkah correct the sin of Chava and atone for its consequences? After the serpent convinced Chava to eat from the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, she immediately gave some to Adam to eat. Rashi explains that she did so out of a fear that after her death, Adam would remain alive and would find another mate. As a result of his sin, Adam was cursed with death and with the pain and difficulty of sustaining himself.
Because Chava ensnared Adam in sin when he listened to her, her descendant Rivkah learned from her mistakes and rectified her sins. In contrast to Chava who caused Adam to eat something forbidden, Rivkah saved Yitzchok from eating from the food that Eisav brought him which was not properly slaughtered, and according to some opinions was dog meat (Targum Yonason ben Uziel 27:31).
Instead of causing Adam to become cursed, Rivkah told Yaakov in our verse not to fear the curse of his father, for she would accept his curse upon herself. Not only was Yaakov not cursed, but Rivkah's actions enabled him to receive the blessings to which he was rightfully entitled. Additionally, Adam's special garment was taken by Nimrod after the death of Cain. Eisav took this garment after killing Nimrod, and he gave it to his mother Rivkah for safekeeping. Rivkah returned this garment to Yaakov, its rightful inheritor.
The B'nei Yissachar takes this concept one step further. A number of commentators are bothered by the fact that Yaakov had to resort to such deceit in order to receive his father's blessings. As the legitimate inheritor of Yitzchok's spiritual legacy, shouldn't Yaakov have been able to receive what he deserved in a more straightforward manner?
Citing the Zohar HaKadosh, the B'nei Yissachar explains that Yaakov represented the tikkun (refinement) of Adam and his sins. Yaakov's arch-nemesis was his wicked twin brother Eisav, who is described by the Torah (25:27) as a "yodeah tzayid" - hunter. The Targum Onkelos renders this phrase "gevar nachshirchon," hinting that Eisav represented the nachash - serpent. Because the serpent enticed Adam and Chava to sin through tricky, underhanded methods, Yaakov had to rectify its previous triumph by successfully taking the blessings away from Eisav using similarly devious tactics.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) When Eisav returned from hunting in the field, he asked Yaakov to give him some of the red lentil stew that he was cooking (25:30). Why did Yaakov give him both bread and stew to eat (25:34) when Eisav had only requested the stew? (Maharam Schiff end of Bava Kamma, Maharil Diskin)
2) What merit did Yitzchok have for which his name remained intact throughout his entire lifetime, in contrast to his father Avrohom and his son Yaakov whose names were changed from their given birth names? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 26:15)
3) Rashi writes (27:33) that when Eisav entered the room to receive his father's blessings, Yitzchok began to tremble in fear because he saw Gehinnom open beneath Eisav, and this stood in sharp contrast to the fragrant aroma of Gan Eden which accompanied Yaakov when he entered the room (Rashi 27:27). As Eisav's wickedness had been concealed from his father until now, what suddenly changed which caused Yitzchok to recognize the truth and see Gehinnom open underneath him? (Imrei Daas)
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