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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Toldos

And these are the offspring of Yitzchak, son of Avraham, Avraham begot Yitzchak. (25:19)

This pasuk seems redundant. Obviously, if Yitzchak is Avraham's son, Avraham must have begotten Yitzchak. The commentators respond with various explanations. Ibn Ezra interprets "Avraham begot Yitzchak" as a reference to the fact that Avraham raised and educated Yitzchak. Educating a child is equivalent to begetting that child, since one "creates" a human being through the process of education. Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, suggests that by using this apparent redundancy the Torah addresses a question that plagues students of the historical narrative of the Patriarchs. How would two brothers, Yaakov and Eisav, who were raised by the same parents, who received an equivalent education, have developed natures so disparate from one another?

Horav Alpert explains that two factors contribute to determining a child's educational development: his nature and personality, as inherited from his parents; the education he receives from his parents and mentors. These actually represent two forms of birth. A child may be born to wonderful, caring, loving parents who will do anything to provide him with the finest education. If the child reneges and refuses to learn, however, the entire process is futile. This is the reason for the Torah's redundancy. "These are the offspring of Yitzchak the son of Avraham." Yitzchak inherits his unique nature from his revered father, Avraham. The virtues required for Yitzchok to become the next Patriarch were in place. "Avraham begot Yitzchak" - Avraham succeeded in nurturing Yitzchak's unique talents and attributes in response to Yitzchak's desire to emulate his father's lifestyle and spiritual perspective. Yitzchak had a burning desire to study with, and be educated by, his father.

We understand how it is possible for Yitzchak to beget twin boys, one who adheres to his way of life and the other who rejects it totally. They were born with similar abilities inherited from the same parents. Yaakov sought to emulate his parens. Eisav, regrettably, was determined to reject the opportunity to learn from paradigmatic role models.

Yitzchak loved Eisav for game was in his mouth. (25:28)

Eisav used guile to fool Yitzchak. He was "tzayid b'fiv", a hunter with his mouth. He ensnared his father with halachic questions. He portrayed himself as a devout scholar, concerned about the intricacies of giving Maaser, tithing crops. "How does one tithe salt? How does one tithe straw?" he asked Yitzchak, knowing fully well that Maaser does not apply to these two substances.

Chazal interpret the words "tzayid b'fiv", to be descriptions of Eisav's cunning. He used his mouth for subterfuge. Should one assume that Yitzchak yearned for Eisav's "hunt"? Surely, he had sufficient sheep and cattle that he did not have to send Eisav to look for outside sources of food. When it was time for the brachos, blessings, Yaakov was able to prepare a fine feast from the available sheep. Yet, the pasuk seems to imply that Yitachak enjoyed the tzayid, hunt, which Eisav had brought to him. Moreover, Yitzchak requested Eisav to bring him a "tzayid" that was prepared according to his liking before he would bless him. Something about this "tzayid" eludes us.

Horav Elchanan Sorotzkin, zl, renders the narrative of Yaakov and Eisav homiletically, in order to teach us a timely lesson. The dispute between Yaakov and Eisav was of a spiritual nature, namely, how to reach out to those who were distant from Hashem. Yaakov's derech, approach, to serving Hashem was such that his influence was limited to those in his immediate environment. Eisav considered Yaakov's ability to influence others to be focused only on the "sheep and cattle," an analogy for those who were in his immediate "domestic" surroundings. Eisav, on the other hand, sought to reach out to "wild beasts and fowl," those who were extremely distant from his father's teachings. Eisav questioned the halachah regarding tithing straw; once again, this is an analogy for the external shell that flies away. Yaakov concerned himself with the kernel which remained in his immediate presence. Eisav went out into the "world" to seek those who were outside of Yaakov's spiritual periphery. He employed various methods for outreach, methods that were as unconventional as the people he sought to inspire. In contrast to Yaakov, Eisav was a firm believer in the idea that the end justifies the means. Regrettably, the "end" did not always turn out the way Eisav had planned. Eisav was left with his questionable "means," which all too often left their imprimatur on him.

Yitzchak was not aware of Eisav's "success" ratio. He was, indeed, impressed with his visionary approach to reaching out to the alienated. This was Yitzchak's goal in life. Consequently, he encouraged Eisav, taking deep pride in his son's exploits. Although he was truly proud of Yaakov's "sitting and learning" in his tent of Torah, his daring to reach out to others paled in comparison to Eisav's description of his own plan for success. Yitzchak desired Eisav's tzayid, his hunt, the person that he would bring in from afar.

Rivkah knew that Eisav's tzayid was all in his mouth; he was a tzayid b'fiv. Instead of captivating others, he himself became ensnared. The methods he used for outreach turned him into a monster. She loved Yaakov's tzayid, his hunt, which was solid, firmly rooted and spiritually balanced. On the other hand, she did not value the unstable, strange people who Eisav indiscriminately collected, who were unlikely to remain for the duration of the experience.

We now understand why Eisav sought the blessings and why Yitzchak desired to give them to him. He saw in Eisav's work a daring which contrasted with Yaakov's solid accomplishments. He saw Eisav reaching out to a world. He overestimated Eisav, not realizing that Eisav had become an unfortunate sacrifice of his own work. He had rejected his father's faith and was living a life of sham and shame.

Why did Eisav denigrate the "bechorah", right of the first born, and then become furious when Yaakov received the berachos in his place? Chazal tell us that Yaakov feared Eisav's merit for all the years that he had served his father, fulfilling the mitzvah of Kibbud Av V'eim, honoring one's parents, while Yaakov was away at the yeshivah of Shem and Eivar. Eisav also had the advantage of living in Eretz Yisrael the entire time that Yaakov was away. Using the same approach, Horav Sorotzkin explains that Yaakov feared Eisav's social mitzvos and his devotion to Eretz Yisrael. Why did he need the bechorah? He was a warrior, fighting for the land, concerning himself with social action and love for his fellow man. The bechorah was intended for one who would sit in his corner studying Torah. Eisav had more "important" things to do. Yet, if the bechorah could help him to succeed in his quest to reach out to others, then he also wanted the bechorah.

When Yitzchak commanded Yaakov not to take a Canaanite wife, Eisav also followed his father's orders and married Yishmael's daughter. He, however, did not divorce his previous pagan wives. He wanted to live in both worlds, perform a few social mitzvos, fight for the land and continue to maintain his pagan lifestyle. This approach resulted in the birth of a grandson named Amalek, the archenemy of the Jewish People, as well as the development of Eisav's hatred for the land that he supposedly loved and a hatred for his father.

Eisav represents the paradigm of the confused Jew who wants to save the world, regardless of the means that he must employ. In the end, he is at odds with his own brethren, whose lifestyle he has denigrated in the name of Am Yisrael. How sad it is that history repeats itself so often. If we would only open our eyes, we might see its message.

And Eisav was forty years old and he took a wife...and they were a source of bitterness for Yitzchak and Rivkah. (26:35)

Rivkah Imeinu is compared to a rose among thorns. She remained righteous despite the thorn of evil which surrounded her: her father, her brother; indeed, her entire environment was replete with evil. She rose above her environment, above the negative influences that permeated her background. Chazal describe her exemplary virtue. When Yitzchak married Rivkah and brought her home to his mother's tent, the three blessings which had been present during Sarah's lifetime returned: a lamp burning from one Shabbos eve to the next; her dough was blessed; a cloud signifying the Divine Presence hung over her tent. All of these had ceased with Sarah's death.

When Rivkah married Yitzchak she was three years old. Certainly, whatever evil she had been exposed to would have been irradicated by the time she stood with Yitzchak praying for guidance. They were married for twenty years before Rivkah gave birth to Yaakov and Eisav. She had experienced forty more years of living in an environment of total kedushah and taharah, holiness and purity, married to the olah temimah, perfect elevation offering, Yitzchak Avinu, when Yaakov and Eisav received the blessings from their father.

Yet, when addressing Yitzchak and Rivkah's displeasure with Eisav's pagan wives, the Torah mentions Yitzchak's name first. This leads Chazal to comment that, indeed, Yitzchak was provoked first and Rivkah only later. Having grown up in an element that was suffused with idolatry, Rivkah was not as acutely outraged as her husband, who had grown up in Avraham Avinu's home.

What are Chazal telling us with this statement? Hegyonei Mussar infers a profound lesson from here. Rivkah Imeinu, despite her aversion to idol-worship, was not as disturbed by its presence in her son's home as was Yitzchak. The difference between the two was their relative level of exposure. Rivkah was exposed to pagan worship, an evil for which she never lost complete repugnance, even sixty years later! Once we are exposed to evil we lose our contempt for it.

It is not necessary to delineate the apparent lesson this has for us today. We and our children come in contact with the revulsion that has become the symbol of contemporary society through various medias. While we think they have no effect on us, the Torah seems to disagree. Are we willing to take the chance and risk our children's spiritual development?

And Eisav saw that the daughters of Canaan were evil in the eyes of Yitzchak, his father...He took Machlas, the daughter of addition to his wives, as a wife for himself. (28:8,9)

Thus ends part one of the narrative about Yaakov and Eisav. Many commentators have devoted much to telling about their relationship. Their apparent discord climaxed when Yaakov received the berachos in Eisav's place. This incident provoked Eisav's anger, and hatred toward Yaakov, to the point that Eisav took it upon himself to kill Yaakov. While Yaakov fled Eisav's fury, Eisav decided to take another wife for himself. Does the Torah present this in accurate chronological sequence or simply as an historical vignette about Eisav? The Shem Mishmuel opines that Eisav's decision to marry another wife was a critical component in the sequence of events. Indeed, this action defines his true character. He thought that by changing his wife, his fortune would improve!

When one perceives that he has been punished, he should examine his actions. What could he have done wrong that would warrant this extreme response from Hashem? How could he have improved his behavior? One should pursue self-improvement after he notices that his life is not proceeding as it should.

This course of action was above Eisav's comprehension. When something went wrong, he immediately found fault in someone else. He projected the blame on everyone but himself. He was so evil that he could not imagine that he was responsible for his own misfortune. His pagan wives must have been the cause. He viewed the problem to be external, never involving himself. First the Torah recounts all that transpired between Yaakov and Eisav, highlighting Eisav's blatant display of evil. The Torah proceeds to summarize the story by detailing the character flaw that was the source of Eisav's downfall: his inability to acknowledge his own faults. This flaw, says the Shem Mishmuel, is inherent in Eisav's name. The name Eisav has the same Hebrew letters as the word "asu", which means made/completed. Eisav viewed himself as complete, lacking nothing, having no need for self-improvement. The numerical equivalent of Eisav is 376, the same as the word "shalom," peace, wholeness. Eisav was at total peace with himself. He saw nothing wrong with what he was doing. He always blamed someone else. This Eisavian character is the work of the yetzer hora, evil inclination, that always finds ways to fool us into believing that we can do no wrong. How often do we seek to justify our iniquitous actions? How often do we refuse to accept responsibility for the wrongs that we have perpetrated? We simply divorce ourselves from our deeds and continue blaming everybody but ourselves.

Interestingly, Eisav did not rid himself of his previous wives. He simply added another one to this clan. Despite their insidious idol worship and his father's apparent disdain for them, he could find no fault in them other than their Canaanite heritage. Consequently, he took a new wife of Abrahamitic descent for child-bearing purposes, while continuing to retain his original pagans. Eisav's myopia clouded his vision of right and wrong.

Yaakov's name defines his character. The name Yaakov is derived from akeiv, heel. The Patriarch viewed himself as lowly, always in need of greater achievement, never satisfied with his present accomplishment. He sought to climb to greater heights in his quest for closeness to Hashem.

The disparity between Yaakov and Eisav should serve as a lesson for us all. Eisav's ruin resulted from his refusal to examine his own mistakes. He always blamed someone, or something, else for whatever wrong for which he should have found the source within himself. Yaakov, who serves as the standard from which we should all learn, teaches us the ability to scrutinize our own behavior and to be on a constant vigil. Demanding self-improvement is the key to success as a ben Torah, as well as our survival as the Jewish nation.


1. a. Who else in Sefer Bereishis gave birth to twin boys?

b. What differences are there between these two pregnancies?

2. a. How long did Avraham live?

b. Why did he live fewer years than __________________?

3. What did the bechorah that Yaakov purchased from Eisav consist of?

4. Yitzchak became blind in his old age. Why?

5. a. Where did Eisav keep his special garments?

b. Why?

6. a. Where did Yaakov go after he received the brachos?

b. How long was he there for?


1. a. Tamar, the wife of Yehudah.

b. Rivkah gave birth at full term to twin boys, one a tzaddik and one a rasha. Tamar gave birth after seven months to two tzaddikim.

2. a. 175 years

b. Yitzchak. Hashem spared Avraham from seeing his grandson, Eisav, become a rasha.

3. The brachah was he would serve in the Bais Hamikdash and offer korbonos.

4. The smoke that rose from the idol sacrifices offered by Eisav's pagan wives blinded him. There is an opinion that when Yitzchak lay on the Akeidah, the angels cried and their tears dulled Yitzchak's vision.

5. a. With his mother.

b. He suspected that his wives would steal them.

6. a. Yeshivah of Shem and Eivar.

b. Fourteen years.

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