Back to This Week's Parsha| Previous Issues
Torah Attitude: Parashas Toldos, Ups and downs
The angel told Hagar that her son Ishmael and his descendants will be like a wild donkey, attacking and fighting against everyone else. The rivalry between Jacob and Esau was brought to the attention of Rivka even before they were born and their conflict has continued between their descendants ever since. Until the present time, Esau continues to overpower Jacob. G'd obligated the Jewish people to swear that they will not take the land of Israel by force. Not only do we have to respect the nations of the world, we also have to be respectful to every individual. Beware never to put anyone to shame for everyone has the potential to rise to might and power. The Rabbi suspected that the postmaster was testing the Jewish people in his town to see how honest they were. Being nice to a young orphan can lead to having a strong supporter in the American government.
Jews worldwide are in shock over the horrific attack on peaceful civilians praying in a shul in Har Nof in Jerusalem. This latest atrocity is a stark reminder that until Moshiach comes we are still in exile, even in the capital of our homeland. Only a few weeks ago we read in Parashas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 16:12) how the angel told Hagar that her son Ishmael and his descendants will be like a wild donkey, attacking and fighting against everyone else. The Kabbalists explain that at the end of the exile under Edom the Jewish people will suffer from the hands of Ishmael. It says (Bereishis 16:12): "His hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand will be against him." Explains the Ibn Ezra, initially Ishmael will have the upper hand against everyone, but eventually everyone will overpower Ishmael and he will have his downfall (see Rashi at the end of last week's parasha).
The rivalry between Jacob and Esau
In the beginning of this week's parasha, the Torah relates how Isaac and his wife Rivka did not have any children for many years. When Rivka eventually got pregnant she had a very painful pregnancy. The Midrash explains that she went around asking other women if this was the norm. When they told her that it was not, she got worried why this was happening to her. The Torah tells us her reaction (Bereishis 25:22): "If so why is this to me. And she went to find out by G'd". Rashi explains that she went to the Yeshiva of the Prophet Shem to seek his advice and to clarify what was going on. The prophet told her in the name of G'd that she was expecting two children that would develop into two nations, one would overpower the other, and eventually the older one would serve the younger. Those twins were Jacob and Esau. Their rivalry was brought to the attention of Rivka even before they were born and their conflict has continued between their descendants ever since.
The history of Jacob and Esau
At the end of Parashas Vayishlach, the Torah tells in short the history of the descendants of Esau (Bereishis 36:1): "And these are the descendants of Esau, he is Edom." Later it says (Bereishis 36:31): "And these are the kings that reigned in the land of Edom before a king reigned over the Children of Israel". Rashi explains that this was the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy Rivka was told. The Torah relates how the rulers of Edom ruled before the Jewish people had any kings. As soon as the first Jewish king began his reign, the royal dynasty of Edom ceased to exist. As it says, (Kings I 22:48) "And there is no king in Edom but a governor rules them." Since the destruction of the First Temple the Jewish people have not had any kings from the tribe of Judah. At that time, the descendants of Edom ruled in Rome and they eventually destroyed the Second Temple and exiled the Jewish people from the land of Israel. In various forms they have been the supreme powers of the world ever since. And up until the present time, Esau continues to overpower Jacob.
Not take land of Israel by force
The Talmud (Ketuboth 111a) teaches that G'd obligated the Jewish people and the nations of the world to swear. He made us swear that we will not take the land of Israel by force, and that we will not revolt against the nations of the world. And He made the gentiles swear that they will not suppress the Jews overly during their exile. This clearly teaches that until Moshiach comes we must accept that the descendants of Esau have the upper hand.
The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (4:3) takes it a step further and says, "Don't put any person to shame and don't push anything away from you, because there is no person without his hour. And there is no thing without its place." This teaches us that not only do we have to respect the nations of the world, we also have to be respectful to every individual.
Beware the swineherd
The Midrash Rabba in this week's parasha (Bereishis 36:8), writes about the Roman Emperor Docletian. He was originally a swineherd in the vicinity of Tiberius. Once, some of the younger students from the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi got into a fight with him and beat him up. Later, when he was emperor he settled in the City of Pamaias. One Friday afternoon just before sunset he sent a letter to Tiberius. "I decree that the rabbis shall appear before me Sunday morning." He instructed the courier to give it to the rabbis just before the Shabbos, being well aware that the rabbis were forbidden to travel on the Shabbos and would not have sufficient time to travel overnight to reach him Sunday morning. The Midrash relates how Rabbi Shmuel ben Nachman met Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi and noticed that he looked very pale and sick. He asked him what had happened. Rabbi Yehudah told Rabbi Shmuel about the letter he had just received from the emperor. Rabbi Shmuel calmed him down and said to him, "G'd will certainly make a miracle for you." After Shabbos a Heavenly messenger transported the two rabbis in a miraculous way to appear before the emperor in the allotted time. When the emperor received them he said, "Just because your G'd does miracles for you, it does not justify belittling the emperor." The rabbis answered, "The swineherd Docletian was belittled but we all honour the Emperor Docletian. And to him we are subservient." The emperor answered them, "Nevertheless, never put to shame a little roman or any young weak person."
This clearly illustrates what the Mishnah teaches us. Beware never to put anyone to shame for everyone has the potential to rise to might and power. This is especially true as long as we are in exile. We must always keep in mind that we are bound by the oath G'd made us swear to be respectful of the gentile nations.
As a young man, Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky was the rabbi of Tzitavyan, a small town in Poland. When he came there he soon noticed that the postmaster made a point of giving extra change to his Jewish customers. When the Rabbi discovered this, he ordered every Jew in the town to be very careful to make sure that they did not accept any extra change. The Rabbi suspected that the postmaster was testing the Jewish people in his town to see how honest they were. Years later, when the Nazis were about to invade the town, the postmaster received advance notice what was about to happen. He immediately, at risk to himself, ran to warn the Jews in the town and many were able to flee before the Nazis arrived. How correct Rabbi Kamenetsky had been. One never knows where proper conduct and motivation may lead. Who could have guessed that an act of returning small amounts of money could later save lives?
Years ago a Jewish family by the name of Maiman lived in Seattle. In the same neighbourhood lived a young black orphan, Henry Jackson, who regularly came to their house to help on Shabbos. He was always treated very nicely and the Maiman family showed a genuine interest in the young boy. Later, Henry rose to become a famous senator affectionately known as "Scoop Jackson". Over the years, he has shown himself as a friend of Israel and has been sympathetic to many Jewish causes. This shows how being nice to a young orphan can lead to having a strong supporter in the American government.
We see many signs that we are in the last faze of our long and bitter exile. We pray and hope that we may soon see the fulfillment of the prophecy that the older one will serve the younger, and all the nations of the world will overpower Ishmael. And then everyone will accept the rulership of the King of the universe and the special role of the Jewish people.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
P.S. If you have any questions or enjoyed reading this e-mail, we would appreciate hearing from you. If you know of others who may be interested in receiving e-mails similar to this please let us know at email@example.com .
Shema Yisrael Torah Network