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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


The children agitated within her...two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated. (25:22,23)

Chazal explain that the root of "va'yisrotzetzu" is rotz, to run. When Rivkah passed the Yeshivah of Shem and Eivar, Yaakov "ran" and pushed to get out; and when she passed by a house of idol worship, Eisav “ran” and struggled to go forth. This Medrash seems to imply that Eisav was evil by nature from before his birth. "From your insides they shall be separated," prior to his entry into the world, Eisav was inclined toward evil. This perspective does not, however, coincide with Chazal’s approach to the pasuk which describes Yaakov’s and Eisav's entry into adulthood, "The lads grew up and Eisav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field, but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents." (25:27) While he was young, Eisav’s actions did not indicate any tendency towards evil. When they became bar-mitzvah, young adults, Eisav and Yaakov moved apart, each one gravitating to the place to which he apparently related best. Eisav went to evil. Yaakov sought wholesomeness.

There is a Yalkut that seems to disagree with this presentation of Eisav's origins. The Medrash refers to the Avos, Patriarchs, as gedolim, great people/giants among men: "Vayigdelu ha'nearim," the lads grew up. "Until that moment, Eisav and Yaakov were equal! When Eisav changed his actions, when he denigrated the bechorah, birthright, he became a katan, small." How are we to reconcile these seemingly contradictory portrayals of Eisav? On the one hand, he was evil from before his birth. On the other hand, he was a gadol until age thirteen. Which description is accurate?

Horav Sholom Shwadron, zl, explains that essentially Eisav was a gadol, equal with Yaakov, as spiritually "superior" as the other Avos. He was however, a "rasha b'koach," wicked in potential. His evil was dormant, waiting for the opportunity to be aroused. No one noticed his iniquitous nature; it was concealed deep within his personality, waiting to be unleashed. What happened on that fateful day? What occurred when he became a bar mitzvah that prompted Eisav to manifest his true personality? Chazal teach us that during their formative years - until they became bar-mitzvah - they both went to the bais Medrash. Afterwards, they went their separate ways: Yaakov continued in the bais Medrash; and Eisav chose a new path, the road that led to idol worship and immorality. Rabbi Elazar says, "Until thirteen years, a father should be "metapel," attend to his son. From then onward, he should say, "Baruch shepetorani," "Blessed be the One that freed me from this punishment." This means that the father's responsibility ends at age thirteen. At that point, the halachah views the son as a man in his own right. Yitzchak Avinu was actively involved in Eisav's chinuch, educational process, until his bar- mitzvah. After that, he allowed Eisav to go in the path of his choice. Eisav jumped at the opportunity to obtain "freedom." He would have no more sheltered environment, no more classrooms, and no more restrictions on his comings and goings. Eisav could become the "man of the field" that lay dormant within him for so many years. He could now have a "life"!

It really is no wonder that someone who distinguished himself so for thirteen years should suddenly become a rasha merusha, evil incarnate. Eisav had it all within him. Eisav did not resort to his invidious behavior earlier on in life only because his father supervised him so closely. When Yitzchak cut the “apron strings," when he allowed Eisav his freedom, the real Eisav - that had lain dormant for thirteen years - was revealed. Eisav was smart; he did not go "off the derech", alienating himself from his father's beliefs right away. He waited two years, until he was fifteen, before he threw it all away. During these two years, Eisav put on a "good show." He was ashamed to publicly rebel against everything he had been taught. He made it appear as if he was still "mechunach," receiving a Torah education.

Yitzchak Avinu was acutely aware of Eisav's potential. He did everything within his capacity to educate his errant son, with the hope that it would tame him. It appeared to be working. He stopped at his bar-mitzvah, and then it all began to unravel. Eisav concealed his behavior at first, but slowly revealed that the "virtuous" Eisav who had been so good in the yeshivah was no longer the dominant image. The chinuch process helped to suppress Eisav’s natural inclinations - it did not cure him. In order for the educational process to succeed, the student has to accept it upon himself. Eisav obviously did not.

The children agitated within her, and she said, "If so, why am I thus?" (25:22)

"If this is what I will be subjected to, why do I want to be pregnant and have a child?" Certainly, Rivkah did not want a difficult pregnancy to dissuade her from the joys of motherhood. Chazal explain that she was concerned about the spiritual health of the child she was carrying. She sought to bring a child into the world that would contribute to the world; who would continue the Patriarchal chain. She was not interested in giving birth to a child who ran both to the bais medrash and to the house of idol worship.

Paying lip service to Judaism, while maintaining a relationship with idols and their priests, indicates a spiritual ambivalence for which there is no constructive response. One can be cured only if he realizes that he is sick.

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, takes an interesting approach to interpreting Rivkah's words. Parental insecurity and inconsistency influence the children’s development. Quite often, when we are told something is wrong with one of our children, we immediately look to blame someone else. Is it the school, the teacher, his friends? Do we ever stop to think that maybe we are the problem? Perhaps we are setting a double standard, living a dual life - at home and at work. Are we consistent our mitzvah observance? Do we demand that our children study Torah diligently, while we maintain a lifestyle that is far from Torah-oriented? Do we expect them to be observant and moral, while we privately are neither?

Upon sensing that something might be spiritually deficient in her child, Rivkah immediately questioned, "Is it me?" Is it the anochi - the "I" - that is the cause of my child's shortcomings? She knew her roots; she was well aware of her lineage. Was a strain of her background affecting her offspring? Rivkah teaches us the first question that parents must ask themselves when they are confronted with a problem in one of their children: Is it me?

Eisav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. (25:27)

The Torah presents us with two characterizations of Eisav: a hunter and a man of the field. How do these "vocations" determine that an individual is evil? Horav Zaidel Epstein, Shlita, explains that for the Torah Jew, life is full, life is replete with Torah, mitzvos and acts of loving-kindness. The Torah Jew is never bored, never looking for something to fill the void in his life, because he has no void - he has the Torah. In some moments in one's life things just do not seem to go right. People look for past-times, for companionship, for trips, all for one purpose - to fill a void in their lives. A Torah Jew has the Torah to preoccupy his life, giving him purpose, hope and vibrancy. David Hamelech says in Tehillim (119:92), "Had Your Torah not been my preoccupation, then I would have perished in my affliction." We go through times which can be described as an "anyii," affliction. During these periods, the Torah is our solace, our source of courage and hope. One's love for Hashem and His Torah immediately fill the void left by these moments of "affliction."

Eisav was not such a person. He filled his void with pastimes. He was into sports, loved hunting, preoccupied with his time in the "field." While Eisav may have entertained the idea of going to the bais medrash to study a bit, he retained one foot in the field. He was an "ish sadeh," a man of the field. His relationship with Torah was, at best, cursory. His life was the field. He did not appreciate the incredible benefits one accrues as a Torah Jew. The satisfaction and reassurance, the joy and excitement one experiences through Torah study, is something to which Eisav could not relate. Regrettably, Eisav has followers even in contemporary times. If they would realize whose way of life they were emulating, they might reconsider.

The voice is Yaakov's voice, but the hands are the hands of Eisav. (27:22)

The commentators ponder various interpretations for Yitzchak's response when Yaakov came to him dressed as Eisav. Chazal say that we derive from this pasuk that Yaakov's focus in life was the work of the spirit, delving into Torah study and devoting himself to mitzvah observance. Eisav lived by the sword. He was a fighter, whose bloodthirsty nature was represented by the hands. As long as Yaakov's "voice" rang loud and clear in the shuls and yeshivos, then Eisav's "hands" could have no dominion over him. The sefer Maalos HaTorah questions this interpretation, since the text seems to imply that the hands of Eisav functioned simultaneously with the voice of Yaakov. In other words, when the voice of Yaakov was thriving, the hands of Eisav ruled. What prompts Chazal to interpret the pasuk exactly the opposite of its text? He responds that Chazal saw in Yitzchak's words a two-fold blessing for Yaakov. When Yaakov's voice in the Bais hamedrash will be strong, then his hands will be as strong as Eisav's. He will have nothing to fear from his enemies. It is only when his voice wanes, when his Torah learning becomes complacent and weak, that he fears Eisav.

"V'hi sheomdah la'avoseinu" – “It is this that has stood by our forefathers.” Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, explains that the "this" is a reference to kol Yaakov. The voice of Yaakov represents the power of Torah learning that has been a resource for us against our enemies. He cites a number of instances in Navi and Chazal that clearly indicate how our success has always been attributed to the koach ha'Torah, power of Torah.

The Navi Yehoshua (5:13) relates how when Yehoshua was in Yericho, he was confronted by what appeared to be a powerful man standing before him with his sword drawn. Yehoshua asked him if he was friend or foe. He responded that he was an angel sent by Hashem to admonish Yehoshua for the bitul Torah, neglecting of Torah study, that had occurred. That night Yehoshua studied diligently, delving into the profundities of Torah. The Alter M'kelm questions the critique against Klal Yisrael. These people were engaged in a war, a milchemes mitzvah, a war that Hashem had commanded them to fight. This was not discretionary; it was mandatory. In regard to this question, Rashi has already asserted that since they did not battle at night, the evenings should have been reserved for Torah study. Is it that simple to sit down by the Gemorah at night after a whole day of battle? Are they to be chastised for this type of neglect? Moreover, they evidently did study Torah. It just was not, however, b'amkus, with a profound focus; it was cursory - but Torah study nonetheless.

Horav Solomon cites Horav Elya Lopian, zl, who asks a profound question: If the angel came to them to protest their bitul Torah, why did he appear "dressed" as an officer with his sword drawn? Should not his appearance reflect his message? He should have appeared as a rosh yeshivah admonishing the people for not learning enough. The answer says, Rav Elya, is that the angel was telling Yehoshua just that: “I am the angel who is to guide you to ensure that you triumph in battle. I cannot succeed if you neglect the Torah. Your key to success in war is your spiritual - not physical prowess!” At the onset of Klal Yisrael's first battle for land they were told the rules: In order to succeed, there has to be "Kol Yaakov." If the voice of Yaakov is sounded with exuberance and enthusiasm in the batei medrash and batei knesses, then we have dominance over our enemies. If not, if kol Yaakov is weak, then we have nothing - neither "hands" nor voice.

And Eisav spurned the birthright. (25:34)

Eisav had no interest in the spiritual calling that was inherent in the birthright. Indeed, the Torah records that he held it in contempt. The Torah uses the word "vayivez" to describe Eisav's attitude towards the bechorah; it was literally a "bizayon," humiliating/degrading experience for him to connect with the birthright. The Baal HaTurim cites another place where the word "vayivez" is used: "Vayivez b'einav," "It seemed contemptible to him [to send his] hand against Mordechai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordechai" (Megillas Esther 3:6). Haman ha'rasha, the great-grandson of Eisav, also displayed "vayivez," contempt, for Mordechai and his people. Horav Chaim Elazary, zl, sees a distinct corollary between the two instances of "vayivez" and the two people involved. If a father exhibits scorn for the avodah, service, which was basically Eisav’s attitude, then his grandson - or in some situations even his son - will disparage those that perform this spiritual service! Eisav degraded the bechorah; Haman was prepared to destroy the Jewish people, to whom the service performed in the Mikdash was inviolate.

What a profound lesson for us! We have only to peruse Jewish history to see this idea repeated time and time again. Regrettably, we do not have to go so far as Eisav's descendants to see the contempt and abuse to which the ben Torah has been subjected. To think that it all began with a desire to append the ritual. This led to an all-out rejection of all forms of observance and disdain for its adherents.

Chezkuni continues along the same lines when he asserts that Eisav spurned the birthright, so that people would not think he was a fool for rejecting something of value. In other words, Eisav wanted out; he sought to free himself of the restrictions of Torah and mitzvos. He facilitated his desire for freedom by disparaging the ritual, in an attempt to conceal his real motives. Once again, history repeats itself. The new theological and philosophical chidushim, innovations, are nothing more than illegitimate excuses for granting the adherents license to live a lifestyle "unencumbered" by the Torah. For some, the Torah is viewed as an impediment to an unrestrained, libertine lifestyle. To us, it is the only way to live.


1. A. Did Rivkah carry her twins to full term (nine months)?
B. This was unlike ____________, who also bore twins.
2. Eisav's natural coloring indicated that his natural tendency was to _____ _____.
3. Who gave Yaakov his name?
A. How old was Eisav when he married?
B. Who else married at that age?
5. Why did Yitzchak ask Eisav to bring him two goats?


1. A. Yes
B. Tamar
2. Shed blood
3. There is a dispute in the Talmud whether Hashem named him or his father, Yitzchak, named him.
4. A. 40 years old
B. Yitzchak
5. It was Pesach night. One goat was to serve as the korban Pesach, and the other one was to be for the blessings.


in loving memory of
Rabbi Samuel Stone
by his children and grandchildren
Birdie and Lenny Frank & Family


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