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Parshas Toldos - Vol. 11, Issue 6
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Chayei Sorah concludes by recording that Yishmael died at the age of 137 (25:17). As the Torah only relates information that is relevant in every generation, why is it necessary for us to know the age at which Yishmael died? Rashi explains that this information is useful not for its own sake, but because it indirectly enables us to calculate the years of Yaakov's life, and as a result of knowing how long Yishmael lived, we are able to determine that there are 14 years of Yaakov's life that are unaccounted for. How is this calculated?
Rashi writes (28:9) that Yishmael died at the time Yaakov left his parents' house to travel to the house of Lavan. Yishmael was 14 years older than Yitzchok, as Avrohom was 86 when Yishmael was born (16:16) and was 100 at the time of Yitzchok's birth (21:5). The Torah records (25:26) that Yitzchok was 60 when Yaakov was born, in which case Yishmael was 74 at that time.
If Yishmael was 74 at the time of Yaakov's birth and died at the age of 137 when Yaakov left his parents' home, Yaakov was 63 at that time, and he worked for Lavan for 14 years prior to Yosef's birth. Yosef became viceroy in Egypt at the age of 30 (41:46), after which Yaakov waited an additional nine years before descending to Egypt, seven years of abundance and two years of famine, at which point he told Pharaoh that he was 130 (47:9). Collectively, these periods of time account for 53 years of Yaakov's life after he arrived at Lavan's house, in which case he was 77 at that time, yet we calculated that he was only 63 when he left his parents' home. How do we account for the unexplained 14-year gap?
Based on the Gemora in Megillah (17a), Rashi concludes that although Yaakov left his parents' house when he was 63, he first spent 14 years studying in the yeshiva of Ever before traveling to Lavan. However, Rav Yitzchok Hellman of Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim points out a glaring difficulty with this explanation. Although 14 years of Yaakov's life are unaccounted for, if the Torah doesn't tell us what he was doing during that period, how did Chazal know that he spent this time in the yeshiva of Ever? Rav Hellman suggests that the source for Chazal's statement is an explicit verse in Parshas Toldos: V"Yaakov ish tam yosheiv ohalim - Yaakov was a wholesome man, dwelling in tents. Rashi explains that the tents to which the Torah is referring are the tents of Torah study. In other words, the Torah is teaching us that Yaakov's default state was to dwell in the tents of Torah study, and any period in his life during which the Torah does not tell us that he was engaged in some other project or activity, he automatically reverted to his natural status of yosheiv ohalim. As a result, once Chazal calculated that there were 14 years of Yaakov's life during which the Torah does not tell us what he was doing, they understood that he used that time exclusively for uninterrupted Torah study.
Rav Hellman adds that that as descendants of Yaakov, we must strive to emulate his singular dedication to Torah study. Although we all have family responsibilities, professional obligations, and numerous distractions throughout our daily lives, as Yaakov did as well, nevertheless we should endeavor to inculcate within ourselves a default state of yosheiv ohalim, and the moment our other duties and diversions cease, we should immediately return to our primary commitment in this world.
Rashi writes (24:39) that Eliezer related to Rivkah's family that he had a daughter whom he wished to marry to Yitzchok. He attempted to find an excuse to suggest the match, such as the possibility that the woman he would find for Yitzchok would be unwilling to return with him, but Avrohom dismissed the suggestion, explaining that Eliezer was descended from the cursed Canaan and was unsuitable to be joined together with the blessed descendants of Shem. How did Rashi know that this was Eliezer's intention? Perhaps Eliezer was merely asking a very real and practical question, namely what should he do if the woman refuses to return with him?
The Vilna Gaon answers that there are two words in Hebrew to express doubt about something occurring: pen and u'lai. However, the difference is that when the speaker hopes that the issue in doubt will occur, the proper term is u'lai, whereas if he hopes it will not come to fruition, the appropriate word is פן. When Eliezer said u'lai the woman won't come back with me, it reveals that he secretly hoped that she would refuse to do so. This could only be the case if he personally stood to gain something from a refusal, namely the possibility of a match for his daughter.
When Rivkah told Yaakov to pretend to be Eisav to receive his father's blessings, Yaakov expressed his concern to his mother that u'lai y'musheini avi - perhaps my father will feel me when I go in to receive the blessings, and when he feels my smooth arms, he will know it is me and not my hairy brother Eisav. As this is surely a scenario he didn't want to happen, why didn't Yaakov say פן ימושני אבי according to the Gaon's grammatical rule? A beautiful answer given by the Maharatz Chayos (Makkos 24a) is that Yaakov's dedication to truth was so strong that he actually hoped that Yitzchok would feel him and catch him in this trickery which was so anathema to his very essence, even if it would mean losing his father's blessings for him and all of his offspring. Alternatively, it is recorded that the Vilna Gaon himself answered this question based on a comment of the Seforno in Parshas Vayechi (48:10). The Torah relates that Yaakov hugged Ephraim and Menashe before blessing them. The Seforno explains that in order for a blessing to take effect, the person giving it must somehow connect himself to the one he is blessing. Although the most powerful way to connect is through seeing the other person, Yaakov was blind at the end of his life and was unable to do so. He therefore connected himself to his grandchildren through the next best alternative: touch. Based on this explanation, we may now explain that Yaakov used the expression אולי because he wanted his father to feel him in order that the blessings should take effect and be more potent.
Parshas Toldos revolves around Yitzchok's twin sons, Yaakov and Eisav. After Yitzchok grew old and blind, he decided to bless his older son Eisav, but his wife Rivkah overheard his plan and arranged to substitute the more righteous Yaakov to receive his father's blessings. When Eisav realized what had transpired and that the blessings intended for him had been cunningly taken by Yaakov, he began to cry. The Zohar HaKadosh (Vol. 2 12b) teaches that the tears shed by Eisav as a result of his intense pain over not receiving his father's blessings enabled his descendants to send Yaakov's offspring into galus (exile). The Zohar adds that when the tears shed by the Jewish people wash away Eisav's tears, they will be redeemed from exile.
Rav Shmelke of Nikolsburg questions this statement. Throughout the generations, suffering and afflicted Jews have cried millions of tears. Why haven't they been sufficient to eliminate the few tears shed by Eisav so many thousands of years ago? He answers that the Gemora (Chullin 98b) teaches that min b'mino eino batel - it is only possible to nullify an item by combining it with a more numerous item of a different type, but an object cannot be nullified by adding to it more of the same. Therefore, the tears cried by the Jewish people lack the ability to cancel out Eisav's tears. However, this reasoning is difficult to understand. How is it possible to say that the tears shed by Eisav and those shed by the Jewish people are considered the same type of tears? Do we really cry for the same reason as Eisav?
Rav Shmelke explains that Eisav cried over the loss of the blessings that Yitzchok gave to Yaakov, which were clearly materialistic in nature (27:28-29). From the fact that our copious tears throughout the generations have been unable to wipe away his, it must be that our tears are also for mundane and earthly issues, and for this reason they are considered comparable to Eisav's tears and unable to nullify them. If we would only begin to cry not over our unfulfilled physical needs, but our spiritual yearnings, then our tears would no longer be classified as the same type of tears that Eisav shed and would be able to nullify them, which would bring us the long-awaited fulfillment of the Zohar's promise for our redemption from galus with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days.
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) Rashi writes (25:26) that Yaakov came out of his mother's womb holding Eisav's heel. In what way did this conduct demonstrate his righteousness even at such a young age? (Paneiach Raza)
2) When Eliezer originally met Rivkah by the well, the Torah refers to her (24:16) as tovas mareh me'od - very pretty. When she moved with Yitzchok to Gerar, she is described (26:7) merely as tovas mareh - pretty. What happened that caused her to lose some of her good looks? (Chizkuni)
3) What legal right did Rivkah have to give Eisav's precious garments, which he entrusted to her for safekeeping, to Yaakov (Rashi 27:15) so that Yaakov could trick Yitzchok into thinking that he was really Eisav? (Toras Moshe, Lev Shalom, Chavatzeles HaSharon, Ma'adanei Asher 5771)
4) Why did Yaakov bring his father wine to drink (27:25) when his mother only commanded him (27:17) to give him bread and meat, and from where did he get the wine? (Daas Z'keinim, Chizkuni, Tosefes Bracha, Torah L'Daas Vol. 9)
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