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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Toldos

And Yitzchak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, daughter of Besuel the Arami from Paddan Aram, sister of Lavan the Arami (25:20)

Rashi remarks that although Rivkahís background was well-known, the Torah repeats it to reinforce its praise of her. She was the daughter of a wicked man and the sister of a wicked man; she was raised in an environment that was wicked. Yet, she was able to maintain herself on a high level of virtue, remaining uninfluenced by her environment. We may question this statement. Is there nothing else about Rivkah that evokes praise for her? In Parashas Chayei Sarah, the Torah lauds her remarkable sensitivity and her commitment to performing acts of loving-kindness. The Torah teaches us that the spiritual emptiness which pervaded the house due to the death of his mother, Sarah Imeinu, dissipated when Yitzchak married Rivkah. Are we still to assert that Rivkah's only unique trait was her ability to resist environmental influences?

Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, suggests that Rashi is relating in which area Rivkahís remarkable virtues manifested themselves. In other words, her ability to resist the environmental influences is indicative of her unique personality, which catalyzed her acts of chesed. Rivkah is distinguished by her ability to overcome the challenge of her surroundings. It is not her virtue--it is her unique personality. This is why Rivkah towers above others.

What is so unique about resisting the effect of oneís environment? Horav Epstein explains that human nature compels the individual to make every effort to be like his peers. This is a result of the middah of kinah, the character trait of jealousy. We dress like those in our surrounding environment; we act like them; we are influenced by their ideals and values. We respond in this manner because we have an innate tendency to be envious. Hashem created us with the attribute of kinah, so that we should strive to emulate the positive achievements of our peers. "Kinaas sofrim tarbeh chachmah," jealousy among scribes increases wisdom. One should seek to become a scholar or a G-d-fearing Jew likes his friend. Thus, we can utilize this middah to attain a positive effect. In contrast, the yetzer hora, evil inclination, incites us to employ the character trait of jealousy in a negative manner.

Does man have a guarantee that if he succeeds in attaining a high level of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, he will not slip back to a lower level? No! The virtue and righteousness we achieve are not inherent. They do not belong to us. Yitzchak Avinu was blind and relegated to a sequestered lifestyle at home. There was hope for him. Chazal tell us that Yochanan Kohen Gadol reigned for eighty years as the epitome of holiness before reverting to become an apostate. Is there any guarantee? No! The outside influence can permeate our psyche to the point that we no longer are in control.

A person about whom we can emphatically assert that he is not inspired by external influences, who is above the pressures and prompting of his environment, is truly a virtuous person. Indeed, Rivkah had many remarkable qualities, among them her sensitivity towards others. What guaranteed the lasting power of these wonderful attributes? What ensured that these qualities would endure? What proof do we have that they were integral qualities? Her ability to resist and transcend her environment was her most laudatory virtue. Without that, her wonderful qualities were precariously vulnerable to the harsh environment in which she lived.

Perhaps my father will feel me and I shall be as a mocker in his eyes; I will thus bring upon myself a curse rather than a blessing. (27:12)

Yaakov feared that his deception would be discovered. If so, rather than receive blessing, he would have been cursed. We may question Yaakovís concern. In the final analysis, he did serve his father. Yitzchak noted that the "voice" was not consistent with the "hands"; yet, he blessed Yaakov. What prompted Yaakov to fear a curse? Horav Zeíev Weinberger, Shlita, renders a thoughtful explanation. When Yitzchak discovered that there was "something" inconsistent about the person who stood before him, he felt it could be attributed to one of two factors. Yaakov could have been dressed as Eisav, which would give reason for concern, but something that could be interpreted positively. There will be periods during Klal Yisrael's exile when "Yaakov" must resort to the "Eisav" medium in dealing with his enemies. While it is not something to which we aspire, at times we must deal with the wicked in a "language" to which they are acutely attuned. As long as we remain "Yaakov" in our own conviction, however, there is still a place for blessing.

Another alternative confronted Yitzchak, one that was truly devastating. Perhaps this was Eisav speaking like Yaakov! Eisav could be reverting to "acting" like Yaakov. If we peruse Jewish history, or, in fact, look around contemporary times, we will note the devastation that has been wrought by those who speak like "Yaakov," but whose goals represent Eisav's way of life.

When Yitzchak heard Yaakov mention Hashemís Name, he knew who really stood before him. Eisav never used the Name of the Almighty. Yitzchak saw that while Yaakov was compelled to resort to guile and to present himself in a false manner, he did not deviate from his conviction in Hashem. There was yet hope for blessing. Yaakov would not compromise on his observance, even if it meant relinquishing the blessings. Eisav, on the other hand, was completely satisfied to renounce the birthright for a bowl of red lentil soup.

Rivkah took her older son Eisavís clean garments and clothed Yaakov her young son. (27:15)

Rashi explains that these garments were actually Eisavís precious garments, which he had stolen from the great King Nimrod. Eisav, who was meticulous in the honor he bestowed on his father, always served Yitzchak while wearing these precious garments. Obviously Eisavís attitude towards Kibbud Av, honoring his father; did not transform him into a moral human being. He continued in his evil ways, despite his meticulous performance of a single mitzvah. How are we to understand the paradox that was Eisav? How can someone who dons precious clothes to serve his father "moonlight" as a murderer?

The commentators respond in various ways to this anomaly. The Yehudi míPechischa suggests an insightful explanation which teaches a timeless lesson. A young man of questionable character once came to visit the Rebbe. He was concerned that the tzaddik would accurately perceive him, so he "prepared" himself prior to his visit. He went to the mikveh, made specific religious preparations and dressed himself in "frum" clothes, garments that would present him as G-d-fearing. He let his payos, earlocks, grow and made cosmetic changes that would give him the appearance of an observant Jew.

The Yehudi, sensing that something was not kosher, asked the Jew to explain how Eisav was able to remain Eisav given that he had served his father so meticulously. He must have been with Yitzchak often; how could he have continued along his sinful way? The Yehudi looked at the Jew and offered a response. He explained that Yaakov attended his father wearing his usual weekday garments. This means that Yaakov did not alter his appearance; Yitzchak saw the real Yaakov--without embellishment. He came as he was---with his good and "bad" characteristics. Yitzchak was able to notice Yaakovís faults and reprove him. Yaakov accepted his fatherís guidance and corrected his deficiencies. Eisav, however, made a point of wearing only his best clothes. He disguised all of his faults. His life was a sham, so why not continue his disguise when he presented himself before his father? Yitzchak was privy to see only Eisavís good side. He could not suggest to Eisav that he correct any flaws, because they were hidden from him. Consequently, Eisav remained evil.

The man who stood before the Yehudi understood the Rebbeís message and left a different person. We must remember that when we present ourselves falsely, the only one we hurt is ourself.

And Eisav raised up his voice and wept. (27:37)

Eisavís tears have had a significant impact on the fate of Klal Yisrael. We have been considered unscrupulous for stealing Eisavís birthright. Eisav was rewarded for his tears. He experienced peace and tranquillity as a result of his weeping. Moreover, the Zohar Hakadosh says that Moshiach will not come until Eisavís tears will dry. This is the analogy: We will remain under Eisavís power until we repent and shed tears that will overwhelm Eisav's tears. What do Chazal mean by this? Ostensibly, Klal Yisrael has long ago surpassed the level of Eisavís tears. What aspect of his tears condemned us so?

Eisav was sincere when he cried. He wept for the blessings that he had lost. He wept for something positive that now eluded him. What do we cry about? Do we cry because we cannot perform mitzvos properly? Do we cry because we cannot understand the Gemara? Eisav wept for blessings. We weep for the pain and suffering which have accompanied us throughout history. We may learn how and what to cry for--from Eisav. When we demonstrate that same sense of loss over mitzvos and berachos as Eisav did, then our tears will overwhelm his. It is not the quantity of our tears, but their catalyst that is important.

And Yaakov listened to his father and to his mother. (28:7)

Yaakov followed his parentsí instructions not to take a wife from the girls of Canaan. The Midrash refers to Yaakov as a chacham, wise man, because he listened to his parentsí advice. They cite a pasuk in Mishlei 12:14, "One who listens to advice is a chacham." Let us analyze Yaakovís remarkable wisdom. Eisav is waiting to kill him. His parents told him that his "bashert," future wife, was waiting for him in Charan. He did not have many options. He had the choice to stay and be killed or to leave and meet his destined wife.

Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, observes that specifically herein lies Yaakovís astuteness. While logic dictated that he should leave, he left only because he heeded to his parents. He ignored every other reason for going. He responded only to his parents' directive that he leave. His chachmah was his ability to listen.

Perhaps he should have stayed and confronted Eisav. After all, he was very strong. We see that he was able to lift a giant boulder that rested upon a well, a feat that would have taken an entire group of shepherds to perform. Maybe he should have rid himself of Eisav, once and for all. Yaakov realized, however, that a wise man realistically has only one approach to consider. He listens to advice from someone more astute and more experienced than he.

Many individuals experience difficulty listening to someone, taking advice from an elder or especially a peer. The alternative is to do things according to oneís own line of thinking. Shlomo Haímelech tells us that he who listens is a wise man. By implication, he who does not listen is a fool. The litmus test of an individual's objectivity is his willingness to heed advice.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, takes a similar approach to explain an apparent inconsistency in the Torahís attitude towards punishment. We find that when Avraham sent Hagar, Sarahís maidservant, away with Yishmael, Hashem responded to the childís cry. According to the Midrash, the angels pleaded with Hashem not to perform a miracle to save Yishmael. They argued that because his descendants would persecute and murder Jews, he did not deserve to live. Hashem said that he would respond to Yishmael "ba'asher hu shom," according to his present deeds and not according to what would happen in the future. The question that plagues us is why is Yishmael different from the ben sorer uímoreh, the wayward and rebellious son, who is put to death in response to his inevitable future behavior. "Let him die while he is innocent, and let him not die when he is guilty (of capital crime)." What distinguishes the ben sorer uímoreh that we do not look at him "according to his present state"? Horav Solomon suggests that the answer lies in the Torahís characterization of the rebellious son, "(He) does not listen to the voice of his father and the voice of his mother." One who refuses to listen has demonstrated that his future will follow the course that he has charted for himself. He will not change. For one who refuses to listen there is no hope. Yishmael, on the other hand, repented later on in life. If one listens, there is hope; if one shuts his ears, he closes off his possible options.

Horav Ezrachi cites Rabbeinu Yona in Shaarei Teshuvah 2:12, who cites a remarkable Midrash. Chazal say, "If a person falls from a roof and breaks his bones and hurts and bruises himself; he will need a dressing for every individual organ that was hurt. If a person sins with all his organs, blemishing them spiritually, he only needs one dressing--for his ear." If a person is willing to listen, then regardless of previous spiritual damage, he can be healed. If his ear is not functioning, then no dressing will attain much healing power.


1. Why does the Torah emphasize Rivkahís background and environment?

2. How old was Yitzchak when he began praying for children?

3. Which great person died on the day that Eisav sold the bechorah?

4. A.Where did Eisav store his precious garments?
B. Why?

5. Why did Eisav say he would wait till Yitzchak died before he would take revenge on Yaakov?

6. Which woman became engaged to Eisav during her father's lifetime and married him after her father died?

7. How old were Yaakov and Eisav when they received the berachos from Yitzchak?


1. It teaches us that despite the fact that she was the daughter of a rasha and the sister of a rasha and that she hailed from a country that was filled with reshaim, she was not influenced by them.

2. 50 years old. He waited for ten years after his marriage.

3. Avraham Avinu.

4. A. Rivkah kept them for him.
B. He did not trust his wives not to steal them.

5. He did not want to cause his father any unnecessary pain.

6. Yishmael's daughter.

7. 63 years old.


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