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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yitzchak was forty years old when he took Rivkah, daughter of Besuel… sister of Lavan the Aramean, a wife for himself. (25:20)

Why does the Torah detail Rivkah's "illustrious" lineage. Furthermore, it is understandable to mention her father, but why does it also mention her brother? Also, why does the Torah emphasize that he was Lavan ho'Arami, the ramai, swindler? The Chasam Sofer offers a practical response to these questions. He explains that Yitzchak Avinu had a positive reason for this action. He had studied all of his Torah from his father, Avraham Avinu. Indeed, he had much in common with his father. There was, however, a tremendous gap between the two in one area. Avraham was the son of Terach, an idol-worshiper of reknown, while Yitzchak was the son of a tzaddik. The fact that Avraham was able to achieve such spiritual distinction, to triumph over his adverse roots, was an accomplishment to which Yitzchak, his son, could not easily relate. After all, he was different. He had been raised and educated in an environment that was replete in Torah, fear of Heaven, and chesed, loving-kindness. The holiness that permeated his home was exceptional. Yitzchak's background was certainly much different from that of his father.

It was only now, after Yitzchak married Rivkah, the daughter of the wicked Besuel, the sister of the treacherous Lavan, that he was compelled to confront the world of the tzaddik ben rasha, righteous son of a wicked person. He could now learn from his wife, who was k'gufo, like his own self, what it was like to wage a constant battle with one's environment.

With his marriage, he became a "ben arba'im," a "forty-year old" - not only in years, but as Chazal in Pirkei Avos say, "Ben arbaim le'binah," "A forty-year old attains understanding." This is the homiletic meaning of the pasuk, "And Yitzchak was forty years old when he married Rivkah." When he married Rivkah, he achieved a level of understanding that had eluded him before. Now he was a "ben arbaim le'binah." He possessed the necessary understanding essential for attaining the status of a "ben-arbaim."

And the children agitated within her. (25:22)

The Midrash Rabba explains the source of this "agitation." (Apparently, in citing this Midrash, Rashi must have had a different girsa, version.) When Rivka would stand in the vicinity of a shul or a bais ha'medrash, while she was pregnant, Yaakov would struggle to leave, and when she passed by a house of idol-worship, Eisav would run and struggle to leave. Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, notes the difference in Chazal's vernacular in describing Yaakov's and Eisav's attempts to leave. First, they say that Rivkah stood at the shul while she passed-by the house of idol- worship. Then, Chazal say that Eisav ran and struggled to leave. By the time he sensed that he was at a makom tumah, place of spiritual contamination, Rivkah was already passing it by. Thus, he would have to "run" to get back there. Yaakov, on the other hand, was not in a rush, since Rivkah would stand/take her time when she was near a bais ha'medrash.

Rav Zalmen derives from this explanation that in this world, the forces of tumah are stronger and more intense than the forces of kedushah, holiness. Eisav was so intent on going to the house of idol-worship that he "ran," literally "pushed" to get out, while Yaakov just struggled to leave. Even though Yaakov had time, since his mother did not rush by, he nonetheless did not seem to be as obsessed with getting to the bais ha'medrash as Eisav was with getting to his makom tumah. In explaining Yaakov's declaration later, in the beginning of Parashas Vayishlach, that "I did not learn from his (Lavan's) evil ways," the commentators indicate that Yaakov was bemoaning the fact that he did not learn from Eisav's "religious" fervor and enthusiasm in serving his idols. "Eisav" runs to his tumah, while we dally along on our way to shul and Torah study. This analysis does not advocate religious fanaticism, rather, it only encourages deriving a positive lesson for our own avodas hakodesh, religious service.

The commentators raise a question regarding Rivkah's predicament: If she suffered so much when she went out, why did she not simply stay home? They respond that at home it was worse! Rav Zalmen explains that at least when she went out only one child gave her a difficult time, while the other one "turned his head away," ignoring his counter-part's religious edifice. At home, however, they agitated one another. Perhaps this is why she went to the bais ha'medrash, to seek out Hashem's advice. First, as a tzaddeikas, righteous woman, she gravitated to the bais ha'medrash. Second, there she could at least relax and take her time. She did not have to rush by. Last, at the bais ha'medrash Yaakov was pushing her, while at the tumah, Eisav was causing her pain. She would much rather sustain the pain caused by Yaakov's compulsion to go to the bais ha'medrash than Eisav's gravitation to his tumah.

And Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Avraham his father and the Plishtim had stopped up after Avraham's death; and he called them by the names that his father called them. (26:8)

"The Nazi murderers did more than destroy the wells of Torah and cause the sound of Torah to cease in Europe. They also stopped them with dirt, as they killed those who studied and disseminated Torah, so that there could no longer arise a generation of lomdei Torah, those who study Torah." These were the words of Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, in reference to the post-World War II architect and master-builder of Torah in Eretz Yisrael, Horav Yosef Kahaneman, zl, the Ponevezer Rav. Not only did the Rav redig the wells of Torah and transplant them to the Holy Land, he even gave them their original names. This is the underlying meaning of Chazal's statement, "In the future, the batei Medrash of chutz laaretz, Diaspora, will be established in Eretz Yisrael."

The Ponevezer Rav was a remarkable individual whose dedication to rebuilding Torah was legendary. In 1943, during the height of construction of Yeshivas Ponevez, the Rav became ill. Concerned about a serious infection in his throat, the doctor prescribed complete bed rest and prohibited him from speaking. Hearing this advice, the Rav forced himself to sit up in bed and whispered the following: "Let it be known that the Lithuanian farmer is very lazy. It is very difficult to get him to move, to do anything. Yet, when it is the time of the harvest, he transforms into an incredibly industrious, hard-working person. Indeed, if the skies begin to get dark and rain is imminent, the farmer will race like a whirlwind to complete the harvest prior to the rain."

"Why, then, do you not understand me and my mission? It is the middle of the harvest; the sky is bleak and cloudy; the rain is threatening. All my work will be to waste. Do you expect me to lay down and rest?"

This attitude prevailed in every Rosh Yeshivah who was fortunate to build Torah. The Chafetz Chaim, zl, was wont to say, " The world thinks that a yeshivah is built with money. This is not true. To build a yeshivah one needs three things: The place must be appropriate and suitable; one must have taharas ha'leiv, purity of heart; one must shed tears".

Horav Chaim Volozhiner, the father of the yeshivah world, built his famous yeshivah with such tears. The fear and trepidation that Rav Chaim manifest when he undertook to build a yeshivah was the mainstay of its foundation. Indeed, it has been recorded that prior to laying the even ha'pinah, foundation stone, for the bais ha'medrash, Rav Chaim was so overcome with weeping that it was not necessary to use water to mix the cement. His tears were sufficient. Many Roshei Yeshivah would fast and pray fervently before they opened their yeshivos. Perhaps this is why they succeeded so well in disseminating Torah to the masses.

He called its name Rechovos, and said, for now Hashem has granted us ample space, and we can be fruitful in the land. He went up from there to Beer-Sheva. (26:23,24)

Yitzchak Avinu was finally able to rest. The hostility of the Plishtim had forced him into isolation. There was finally peace. Yitzchak was now able to relax and undertake the life's work of a Jew - an endeavor that was originally undertaken by his father, Avraham Avinu. What motivated his decision to continue traveling to Beer Sheva? While it is true that Yitzchak had been forced into isolation, compelled to remain within the confines of the ghetto, this reality was to his advantage. Separatism has a positive effect on the Jew. He is not exposed to the pagan environment, characterized by loose morals and perverted spirituality. Why would he want to move on? Why not leave "well enough" alone?

Horav S. R. Hirsch, zl, explains that until this juncture, Yitzchak had been spiritually protected because of his "forced" sheltered environment. What about the legacy of the Jew: to reach out to others, to call out in the Name of Hashem? This is why when he "reached" a state of "Rechovos," when the hostility towards him had subsided and the ghetto gates had risen, Yitzchak was now prepared to go out and follow in his father's path. It is at this point that Hashem appeared to him to protect him. He harbored the fear that this new situation, with its openness and freedom, would lead to a relationship that might be detrimental to him personally. Yitzchak conjectured that only in Beer Sheva, the place where he was educated, where he saw his father's approach to reaching out to a pagan world, would he be blessed with Hashem's special protection. This is exactly what happened. Hashem appeared to Yitzchak and assured him of the future - if he would follow in his father's path. Immediately upon hearing this, Yitzchak erected a mizbayach, altar, and began to call out in the Name of Hashem. Interestingly, everything started happening on its own. He did not have to examine the nature of the soil or make sure that water was available in sufficient quantity. His men found water on their first attempt. Suddenly, the king who had shunned him came to him to make a covenant. Why did everything change almost overnight? Simply, it reflected Hashem's blessing.

This idea applies to us, as well. When we follow in the prescribed path that engenders Hashem's blessing, we will see how everything just "seems" to work out.

And Yitzchak said to Yaakov, "Come close, if you please, so I can feel you, my son; are you, indeed, my son Eisav, or not?" (27:21)

When Yitzchak asked Yaakov to come closer, so that he could touch him to "sense" if he "felt" like Eisav, Yaakov shook with fear. His heart seemed to melt like wax. Chazal tell us that Hashem summoned two angels, one to stand on Yaakov's right side and one to stand on his left side to hold him up by the shoulders - so nervous was he. We wonder why Yaakov was so shaken by his father's desire to confirm that he was Eisav. Did he not hear from his mother that she had received a prophetic vision verifying that Yitzchak's blessings belonged to him? Furthermore, it was Hashem's will that Yaakov should be the beneficiary of these blessings. He knew that the angels were dispatched by Hashem to support him. Nonetheless, Yaakov was shaken to the point that he needed angels to hold him up! Why? What brought about this uncontrollable fear and anxiety?

Horav Shalom Schwardon, zl, offers a penetrating insight into Yaakov Avinu's spiritual persona. No, he did not fear a curse, because his mother had assured him that it was the will of G-d that he receive the blessing - and not Eisav. He feared something else: something that might be unusual for us, but for Yaakov Avinu, it was a real fear, a fear that shook him so that he needed the support of angels to stand up. Yaakov feared tainting the mitzvah of Kibbud Av, honoring his father. If his father had discovered that he was not Eisav, he would have offended him by impersonating Eisav. So great was his adherence to the mitzvah, that any infraction - even if it had his mother's encouragement - disturbed him. To offend his father, to impugn the mitzvah of Kibbud Av, caused his heart to melt like hot wax.

Eisav, on the other hand, the brother who was supposedly famous for his meticulous observance of the mitzvah of honoring his parents, became filled with rage when he heard his blessings. They did not live up to his expectations, so he cursed his father. "May the days of mourning for my father draw near, and I will slay my brother." This is the reaction of an Eisav, as opposed to a Yaakov. How fortunate are we to be the descendants of the latter. We must remember that this noble pedigree carries with it the demand that we follow in the path of our ancestor.

Questions and Answers

1. When Rivkah was in a quandary because of the inner struggle within her womb, she went to the bais ha'medrash of Shem. Why did she not go to her father-in-law, Avraham?

2. Which two people died on the same day in this parsha?

3. Why did Yaakov insist that Eisav swear to him that he was selling the birthright?

4. From where did Yaakov obtain the wine that he gave to Yitzchak?

5. Which fragrance did Yitzchak smell when Yaakov walked in to receive the brachos?


It was Divine Providence that ordained that Rivkah not let Avraham know of her inner struggle, lest he become aware of the eternal struggle between Yaakov and Eisav (Sifsei Chachamim).

Since Chazal say that righteous women are spared the pains of pregnancy, Rivkah feared that if she revealed her pains to Avraham, he might look down upon her and consider her unfit to be Yitzchak's wife (Gur Aryeh).

2. Avraham Avinu and Nimord. The Red lentils that Yaakov was preparing was to be the Seudas Havraah, mourner's first meal, since Avraham had died that day. Eisav was "tired" when he arrived, because he had just killed a man. His victim was Nimrod (Rashi).

3. Since the transaction involved nothing tangible, only a transfer of rights and responsibilities, there was nothing upon which to make a kinyan, act of acquisition. The oath that Eisav took served to validate the exchange (Sforno).

4. The angel Michael brought it to him from Gan Eden (Daas Zekeinim).

5. The fragrance of Gan Eden entered with Yaakov (Rashi).

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