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Parshas Toldos - Vo. 2, issue 1
Vayetar Yitzchok L’Hashem l’nochach ishto
ki akarah hi vayei’aseir lo Hashem vatahar Rivkah ishto (25:21)
Yitzchok and Rivkah were married for 20 years, and in spite of all of their efforts, they were unable to conceive and bear a child. They petitioned and beseeched Hashem to give them children. However, Rashi explains that they didn’t merely pray as one would typically do, but rather they entreated Hashem repeatedly and with tremendous fervor before they were finally answered. What was Hashem’s rationale for making them endure such intense and prolonged suffering? Why didn’t He answer their prayers immediately?
A number of commentators (Rav Meir Shapiro, Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv) note that Rashi writes (25:30) that Avrohom Avinu died 5 years prematurely so that he wouldn’t have to endure the pain of seeing his grandson Eisav commit terrible sins. Recognizing that this would happen made it incredibly difficult for Hashem to answer their prayers, for He understood that the sooner He would give them the children for which they were pleading, the sooner Eisav would be prepared to embark upon his path of wickedness, and the sooner His beloved Avrohom would have to die so as to be spared the anguish of witnessing Eisav’s actions. Therefore, Hashem put off answering the heartfelt pleas of Yitzchok and Rivkah until they had prayed repeatedly with so much intent that He was “forced” to grant their request.
Many times in life we are convinced that we need something for the sake of our long-term happiness and well-being. We pray and cry and pray again, eventually becoming frustrated at Hashem’s apparent cruelty in ignoring or rejecting what we feel are our heartfelt and reasonable requests. At such times, we should remind ourselves of the lesson we learn from Yitzchok and Rivkah and take comfort in the knowledge that sometimes Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, recognizes that what we are firmly convinced we need and deserve may in reality not be in our own long-term best interest.
Vayeitzei harishon admoni kulo k’aderes seiar vayikr’u sh’mo Eisav v’acharei chein yatza achiv v’yado ochezes b’akeiv Eisav vayikra sh’mo Yaakov (25:25-26)
Although Yaakov and Eisav were identical twins, they had little else in common. Their goals, values, and morals couldn’t have been farther apart. The Alter of Kelm and Mikdash Mordechai explain that the tremendous gap between them lies in one fundamental difference. The name Eisav òùå is related to the word asu’i – fully made – as Eisav was born with hair and teeth, much like an older child.
The name Yaakov on the other hand, is associated with the word eikev– heel – as Yaakov viewed himself as being at the very bottom of his life’s work. His name is therefore expressed in the future tense, as he understood that he wasn’t already a finished product and constantly had more work to do to keep growing to reach his completion and maximize his potential. As a result, he saw in his dream in next week’s parsha (28:12) a ladder which reached all the way to Heaven, for this is the potential of a person who constantly seeks to develop and improve himself.
The Alter explains that the reason human babies are born so weak and needing so much time and attention, in contrast to other animals which are born already mature and capable of caring for and sustaining themselves, is so that they will be prepared to learn from their parents and those who are older and wiser than they.
Eisav was born viewing himself as a completed package, and he was therefore lacking in his ability or interest to learn from others. This stands in stark contrast to Yaakov, who even at the age of 60 opted to invest an additional 14 years to study in yeshiva before seeking a wife (Rashi 28:9). Later, as he traveled with his family to Egypt to be reunited with his beloved son Yosef at the advanced age of 130, his first priority was to send his son Yehuda ahead for the purpose of establishing and setting up a yeshiva so that he wouldn’t miss out on even one day of his studies.
The verse in Hoshea states (11:1) ki na’ar Yisroel v’ahaveihu – Hashem declares His love for the Jewish people because no matter how much they learn and how old and wise they grow, they consistently view themselves as comparable to a na’ar – an adolescent with much still to learn. The greatest level a yeshiva student can hope to attain is that of talmid chochom – a Torah scholar – but even a sage who reaches such a level is still referred to as a talmid – a student with much still to learn. We live in a society which views its elders with anything but reverence, teaching that each successive generation is actually more advanced in the evolutionary chain, but we must combat this pervasive attitude by learning from our forefather Yaakov, who teaches us the importance of respecting and learning from our parents, elders, and teachers.
Vayachp’ru avdei Yitzchok b’nachal vayimt’u sham be’er mayim chaim vayarivu roei Gerar im roei Yitzchok leimor lanu hamayim vayikra shem habe’er Eisek ki his’asku imo vayachp’ru be’er acheres vayarivu gam aleha vayikra sh’ma Sitna vayateik mi’sham vayach’por be’er acheres v’lo ravu aleha vayikra sh’ma Rechovos vayomer ki atah hirchiv Hashem lanu ufarinu ba’aretz (26:19-22)
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 and every letter 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?
Rav Aharon Bakst suggests that the Torah relates this episode in order to teach the valuable lesson that “if at first you don’t succeed, try try again.” We hear so many stories of pious and righteous Rabbis that we might erroneously assume that if a person is on the proper spiritual level, everything will work out on the initial attempt without any unforeseen delays or obstacles. If it doesn’t, we may conclude that it is to be taken as a sign that this endeavor hasn’t found favor in Hashem’s eyes and should be abandoned.
To counter this mistaken philosophy, the Torah recounts the great lengths to which Yitzchok had to go in order to successfully locate an uncontested source of fresh water so that we should understand that there is no room for superstitious despair, and if a project still makes sense on its own rational merits, then one shouldn’t read ominous signs into the unexpected turn of events but should rather persevere and redouble his efforts.
Similarly, Chazal relate that before creating this world, Hashem first created other worlds and destroyed them, not once or twice but 976 times. Obviously, Hashem is almighty and omnipotent and He knew that those worlds wouldn’t find favor in His eyes and would have to be destroyed, so why did He create them at all? Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik explains that Hashem obviously had no need to do so for Himself, but rather He did so to teach us this fundamental rule in life from the very beginning of the Creation, that a person shouldn’t give up when things seem bleakest and look as if they’ll never work out the way he had hoped.
In this vein, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein tells an amazing story of a 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 of one of the stores caught on the girl’s dress.
By this point, he boy had had enough and was ready to accept the Divine “hints” about the potential match and didn’t wish to go out with the girl again. His unsuperstitious parents, however, wouldn’t accept his decision and convinced him to go out one more time. On the fourth date, the taxi they were in was involved in an accident, and both of them were lightly injured!
Although everything about the actual couple and their interactions seemed quite compatible, the boy was quite shaken and unwilling 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 match, although he did advise that the couple go out one more time. Their fifth date was indeed incident-free, and marked the beginning of a beautiful life together for the happy young couple!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (25:22) that when the pregnant Rivkah passed by the yeshiva of Shem and Ever the righteous Yaakov would struggle to run out, and when she passed a temple of idolatry the wicked Eisav would attempt to come out. Why did Yaakov need to leave Rivkah’s womb to learn Torah in the yeshiva when the Gemora in Niddah (30b) states that every fetus is taught the entire Torah by an angel? (Toras Chaim, Nesivos Rabboseinu, MiShulchano Shel Beis HaLevi, Ayeles HaShachar, Rav Betzalel Zolty quoted in Tal’lei Oros)
2) Rashi writes (25:22) that when the pregnant Rivkah passed by the yeshiva of Shem and Ever the righteous Yaakov would struggle to run out, and when she passed a temple of idolatry the wicked Eisav would attempt to come out. How can this be reconciled with the Gemora in Sanhedrin (91b) which states that a fetus doesn’t receive its evil inclination until it is actually born? (Maharsha Sanhedrin 91b, Moshav Z’keinim, Tosefos Rid, Mahar”i Bruna, Sefer Chasidim 1137, Gur Aryeh, Be’er Sheva Sanhedrin 91b, Sifsei Chochomim, Ayeles HaShachar, Peninim Vol. 2)
3) If Rivkah knew the truth about Eisav’s wickedness, why didn’t she ever insist that he be sent away so as not to negatively influence Yaakov, just as Sorah forcefully sent Yishmael away to protect Yitzchok? (Meged Yosef, HaEmek Davar)
4) Rashi writes (26:2) that Hashem told Yitzchok not to descend to Egypt during the famine as his father had done because Yitzchok had become sanctified like a sacrifice at the Akeidah and was therefore not to leave the land of Israel. How was he then permitted to go to Gerar, which Rashi writes (26:12) wasn’t part of the land of Israel? (Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, MiTzion Mich’lal Yofee, Ayeles HaShachar)
5) Rashi writes (26:8) that Avimelech gazed out his window and saw Yitzchok engaged in marital relations with Rivkah. How could Yitzchok and Rivka have marital relations during the day when the Gemora in Niddah (17a) rules that it is forbidden to do so? (Paneiach Raza, Taam V’Daas)
6) Rashi writes (27:9) that one of the two goats which Rivkah commanded Yaakov to bring served as Yitzchok’s Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice). Why did Yitzchok give Eisav a general command to hunt animals (27:3) without specifying that he should specifically seek a species which may be brought as a Korban Pesach? (Moshav Z’keinim, Ayeles HaShachar)
7) What legal right did Rivkah have to give Eisav’s clothes, which he had entrusted to her for safekeeping, to Yaakov (Rashi 27:15) so that Yaakov could trick Yitzchok into thinking that he was really Eisav? (Lev Shalom, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Taam V’Daas, HaNosein Imrei Shefer, Ayeles HaShachar, Eebay’ei L’hu)
8) When Yitzchok asked Yaakov how he was able to find an animal to slaughter and prepare so quickly, Yaakov answered that Hashem Elokecha – Hashem your G-d – arranged it for me (27:20). Shouldn’t he have said Hashem Elokeinu – Hashem our G-d – thereby including himself in the statement and not duplicating the error of the wicked son in the Haggada who excludes himself from accepting Hashem’s dominion? (Ayeles HaShachar)
9) Why wasn’t it forbidden for Yitzchok to tell Eisav that his brother came secretly and took the blessings from him (27:35), as this seems to be lashon hara (slander) which almost resulted in Yaakov’s murder? (Ayeles HaShachar, M’rafsin Igri)
10) Rashi writes (25:9) that Yishmael repented his evil ways before the death of Avrohom. Why did he subsequently allow (28:9) the wicked Eisav to marry his daughter? (Emunas Yirmiyah)
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