This issue is sponsored
Vol. 22 No. 6
R' Yitzchok Yaakov ben Betzalel z"l
whose Yohrzeit was on 23 Cheshvan
Poor Man Rich Man
(Adapted from the Ramban)
"Then Ya'akov gave Eisav bread and a lentil stew, and he ate and drank, arose and left; and Eisav despised the birthright" (25:34).
The Ib'n Ezra maintains that Eisav despised the birthright (which, he explains, was first and foremost, connected with his father's inheritance), because he saw that his father was impoverished. Citing commentaries who refute this explanation, bearing in mind that his (Yitzchak's) father Avraham had bequeathed him a fortune, he rejects their objection. Have they never heard, he asks, of a person, wealthy in his youth, losing everything later in life?
And he goes on to prove his point. Firstly, he asks, if Yitzchak was wealthy, why would he love Eisav for his venison?
Secondly, if Yitzchak ran a wealthy household, why would Eisav sell the birthright for a pot of lentils, and …
Thirdly, why did Yitzchak need to ask him for venison?
Fourthly, why did Ya'akov need to wear Eisav's precious clothes? Why did he not have a decent suit of his own to wear?
Fifthly & sixthly, why did his mother send him off to Charan empty-handed (to the point that he had to Daven to Hashem to give him food and clothes)?
Why did she not supply him with silver and gold before he left or at least, after he arrived in Charan? Why was he forced to guard Lavan's sheep to earn his keep?
And as for those who argue that G-d would not deprive a Tzadik of all his needs, Eliyahu ha'Navi, who owned nothing when he had to flee from Achav and Izevel to the valley of K'ris, teaches us otherwise.
Finally, he counters those who ask why G-d should impoverish a Tzadik of the caliber of Yitzchak. Perhaps, he asks, they can explain as to why He made him blind?
At the end of the day, he concludes, G-d's actions towards man are beyond our comprehension. Who can explain why some people are rich and some poor; some healthy, others sick?
The Ramban vehemently disagrees with the Ib'n Ezra and counters all his proofs. To begin with, he says incredulously, the I'bn Ezra must be joking to even suggest that Avraham bequeathed Yitzchak a lot of money, all of which he lost even before this episode (which caused Eisav to despise the birthright). Then, when he went to the land of the P'lishtim (in the next paragraph), he regained his lost wealth, as the Torah records there, only to lose everything once more, to the point that he craved his son's venison.
If, as he (the Ib'n Ezra) maintains, there are Tzadikim who suffer poverty, that does not apply to Tzadikim whom G-d specifically blessed, as he did Yitzchak (see above 25:21), since G-d's blessing incorporates wealth, property and prestige that endure (See Mishlei, 10:22). No, he concludes, the Avos were like royalty, whom kings visited and with whom they entered into covenants.
Eisav's derision of the birthright, he explains, was due, not to his father's poverty, but to his own evil character (bearing in mind that it is an institution that the Torah holds in high esteem). The Ramban gives a reason for Eisav's behavior which space does not allow us to discuss here. Suffice it to say that he changed his mind when he realized that the birthright would raise his status, and would grant him honour and authority over his younger sibling. Most of all, it would earn him his father's B'rachos, together with all that they entailed.
As for the venison that Yitzchak asked Eisav to serve him, explains the Ramban, it was customary in those days for kings to pick the tastiest foods for themselves, Indeed, foreign guests would bring them local titbits to sample. For his part, Eisav made a point of flattering his father to ensure that he would receive the B'rachos. In any event, it is not difficult to perceive the love that Yitzchak bore towards his firstborn son. And the reason that he chose to bless him after partaking of his delicacy was (not because he was short of good food, but) because he wanted his blessing to be given with a full heart, that 'his soul should be intertwined with that of his son', or because it was when he was in the state of contentment that enveloped him after eating venison that the Shechinah would rest on him, thereby transforming his blessing into a Divine one (See Melachim 2, 3:15).
That Rivkah dressed Ya'akov in Eisav's clothing, says the Ramban, has nothing to do with quality or looks. It was because Yitzchak constantly felt Eisav and his clothes (when he kissed him) and she wanted him to believe that Ya'akov was Eisav.
Finally. The Ramban explains, Rivkah deliberately refrained from sending him away with money, servants and camels, to enable him to flee from Eisav unnoticed. And equipping him with additional possessions would only have attracted Eisav's attention and encouraged him to chase after him and kill him - notwithstanding the Medrash, which relates how Ya'akov did indeed leave home laden with possessions, and that he arrived empty-handed in Charan because they were stolen from him.
* * *
(Adapted from the Ramban)
Yitzchak & Galus Bavel
" … There was a famine in the land, so Yitzchak went to Avimelech, King of the P'lishtim to G'ror" (26:1).
In Parshas Lech-L'cha, when Avraham arrived in Eretz Cana'an, the Ramban explained how everything that the Torah records concerning the lives of the Avos is simply a microcosm of what was destined to happen to their offspring once they became a nation. This is known as 'Ma'asei Avos Si'man le'bonim' (the deeds of the fathers is a sign of what would later happen to the children') . Hence, he explains there (12:6) that the Torah refers to Avraham reaching Sh'chem, and adds "that the Cana'ani were then living in the land", a sign that Israel would take ownership of Eretz Cana'an before the conquest of Cana'an even began (when Ya'akov purchased it from its current owners).
In another stunning example of this trend, the author in Parshas Vayeira, explained how the four kings, whom Avraham took on and annihilated, referred to the four nations (who the Medrash actually connect with the four nations (Babylon, Persia & Medes, Greece and Rome) who were destined to subjugate Yisrael in the course of their history and whom Yisrael would ultimately 'defeat'.
In effect, he points out, this idea gives meaning to many seemingly trivial events that otherwise appear superfluous, such as stories of wells that were dug and stopped up and the like.
In the same vein, Avraham's exile to Egypt on account of the famine in Cana'an was the forerunner of Galus Mitzrayim, for example where the girls were spared from drowning so that the Egyptians could marry them, corresponding to Par'oh's attempts to take Sarah by force. And by the same token, Yitzchak's exile to the Land of the P'lishtim (to the land where his father lived) was the portent of Galus Bavel (Ur Kasdim, where he would have gone had he not been forbidden to leave Eretz Cana'an). And unlike Avraham's exile to Egypt, Avimelech did not actually attempt to marry Sarah; in fact, initially, they treated Avraham with deep respect. Later they sent him away and finally, they made up with him and entered into a treaty with him. Likewise, when as a result of starvation, Yisrael arrived in Bavel, they were treated with respect - many of them were even appointed to positions of importance. Eventually, they allowed them to return to Eretz Yisrael and to rebuild the Beis-ha'Mikdash. They subsequently rescinded their consent, but finally, they gave their approval to rebuild it, provided they brought sacrifices on behalf of the king (of Persia) and his sons.
Incidentally, Ya'akov's exile to Charan paved the way for Galus Edom, but that is a story on its own.
Which Torah did the Avos Keep?
"Because Avraham listened to My Voice, and obeyed My charge, My commands, My statutes and My laws" (26:5).
According to Rashi, this Pasuk teaches us that Avraham and the Avos kept the entire Torah - including the Mitzvos de'Rabbanan (such as the 'Sh'vusim' of Shabbos), and incorporating the oral Torah and Halachos le'Moshe mi'Sinai. The Ramban, who cites a Medrash in support of this explanation, nevertheless queries it from Ya'akov and Moshe, both of whom set up Matzeivos (altars made of one stone) which the Torah would later forbid, from Ya'akov, who married two (and according to Chazal, even four) sisters and from Moshe, who married his aunt.
Ultimately he presents his well-known answer that the Avos, who were not commanded to keep the six hundred and thirteen Mitzvos, nevertheless volunteered to do so, but only in Eretz Yisrael, whereas all of the above-mentioned 'transgressions' were performed in Chutz la'Aretz. He also suggests however, that the Pasuk under discussion refers to the Mitzvos B'nei No'ach. This is how he explains the Pasuk:
"My charge" - the Rabbinical prohibitions pertaining to the marriages that are forbidden to the B'nei No'ach.
"My commands" - theft and murder.
"My statutes" - eating the limb of a live animal and the prohibition of Kil'ayim (interbreeding and planting a mixture of seeds).
"?nd My laws" - a system of civil laws and the prohibition of worshipping other gods.
All of these constitute the No'ahide code of law, which, the Torah is informing us here, the Avos adhered to to perfection.
The Unmentioned Prophecy
" … in order that my soul will bless you (Eisav) before I die" (27:4).
Yitzchak intended, the Ramban explains, to pass G-d's blessing to Avraham to inherit Eretz Cana'an over to Eisav, and to make him the one to uphold the covenant that Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu entered into with Avraham, since he (Eisav) was the firstborn.
Evidently, Rivkah never told Yitzchak about the prophecy that she received from Shem and Eiver, that "the older one will serve the younger one". Otherwise, says the Ramban, how could Yitzchak ignore the word of G-d and set out to bless Eisav?
Among the reasons as to why she failed to do so, the author suggests that when Rivkah saw the extent of Yitzchak's love towards Eisav, she figured that he would never bless Ya'akov at Eisav's expense, so she decided to leave the matter in G-d's Hands, relying on Him to confer the blessing on whoever was destined to receive it. (Interestingly, when it came to the crunch, she intervened, making sure that Ya'akov would be the recipient of Yitzchak's blessing and not Eisav.) She realized that, if she said nothing to Yitzchak, then when he did bless Ya'akov, he would do so with a full heart.
Alternatively, the author attributes Rivkah's failure to inform Yitzchak of the prophecy to part of G-d's master plan, that Ya'akov should receive the major blessing and Eisav the blessing that he would "live by the sword" (afor nd, one might add, that, as a result of the hatred that this would generate towards Y'a'akov, he would be at his throat until the end of time).
Eisav's Yir'as Shamayim
" … and he (Ya'akov) said 'because Hashem your G-d prepared the way before me'. Then Yitzchak said to Ya'akov, 'Come here, let me feel you my son!" (27:20/21).
Rashi explains that Yitzchak's suspicion was aroused because Ya'akov (whom he believed to be Eisav) mentioned the Name of Hashem, which Eisav was not in the habit of doing.
But this implies that Yitzchak considered Eisav to be a Rasha, which we know he did not, the Ramban points out.
And he explains that, on the contrary, he assumed that Eisav was afraid to mention G-d's Name because he was constantly in the field hunting, and that he was afraid that he might inadvertently mention it in a Tamei place - a sign that he was a G-d-fearing man.
He nevertheless disagrees with Rashi, attributing Yitzchak's suspicions to the fact that, in spite of Ya'akov's attempt to mimic Eisav's voice, he heard the voice of Ya'akov , as is implied in the next Pasuk, where, after feeling Ya'akov, he issued the famous comment 'The voice is the voice of Ya'akov, but the hands are the hands of Eisav'.
This explanation conforms to the author's second explanation in Pasuk 12 - as to why Ya'akov even attempted to pretend to be Eisav, seeing as Yitzchak would be bound to recognize, by his voice, that he was Ya'akov, and not Eisav.
It is fair to presume that Rashi, in the current Pasuk, declines to learn like the Ramban because he follows the latter's first explanation, that Ya'akov and Eisav had identical voices, as is common among brothers. And that is why he explains "the voice is the voice of Ya'akov" not literally, but with regard to the way he spoke (using the Name of Hashem).
* * *