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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


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

Eisav became a hunter, but not only in the literal sense. He was crafty, able to ensnare people with his guile. He became adept at convincing his father that he was actually pious and virtuous by asking him questions, such as: how does one tithe salt or straw? This made him appear to be concerned about every aspect of the mitzvah of Maaser, tithing, although he knew that one does not tithe these products. The examples that Eisav chose as vehicles for his subterfuge seem to be significant. He could have selected any of a number of other mitzvos which are characterized by many details. What made him choose these two?

The Shem MiShmuel explains that in order to understand the significance of Eisav's question, it is first incumbent upon us to consider the nature of the world and the interface between its various components. It is a basic axiom that some things in this world fall under the category of ikar, primary and intrinsically important, while others are tafeil, secondary and subordinate to the ikar. Indeed, the world we live in, Olam HaZeh, is subordinate to the World to Come, Olam HaBa. Absolute reality exists only in the eternal world of truth, for This World is only temporary and, hence, preparatory for the next world. Our world is tafeil. Olam HaBa is the ikar.

Throughout Jewish thought, the dichotomy between ikar and tafeil plays an important role in defining what is important and what exists just as a vehicle to reach the true goal. For example, the other six days of the week constitute the tafeil to Shabbos, which is the ikar. Fruit has its meaty, juicy flesh and its outer skin. The flesh obviously is the ikar, while the outer skin is the tafeil. The skin is there to protect. It exists for the purpose of serving the fruit.

This concept pervades all of Jewish life. Ostensibly, we are to retain our focus on the ikar, but, nonetheless, we are not to ignore the purpose which the tafeil serves. Spiritual pursuits are the goal of man's life. By looking towards reaching our ultimate objective of spiritual perfection, we must make use of the tafeil, thereby sanctifying it. If, however, we misconstrue our priorities and give exalted significance to the tafeil, we will achieve nothing at all.

Thus, by having the correct attitude towards Olam HaZeh, This World, realizing that it serves as a vestibule to gain entry into Olam HaBa, we elevate the tafeil. We enable the light of Olam HaBa to permeate even our physical level by realizing that Shabbos is the primary focus of the entire week. We elevate the weekdays by virtue of the reality that the entire week nurtures its strength from Shabbos. Even though the weekdays are subordinate to Shabbos, they hold spiritual significance which reflects great value. Similarly, if we attribute significance to the outer layer of the fruit as the necessary coating to preserve the fruit inside, it becomes valuable and is, therefore, subject to the laws of tumah and taharah, spiritual purity and impurity.

With the above in mind, we may approach the basic difference between Yaakov Avinu and Eisav. Yaakov, the brother who was more spiritually inclined, was the ikar. His life and that of his descendants, Klal Yisrael, were the focus of Creation - to live a spiritually refined and committed life, while utilizing This World as a means for perceiving and achieving Olam HaBa. In contrast, Eisav's life centered around the tafeil, Olam HaZeh, replete with its physical pursuits. As long as Yaakov remains pre-eminent and Eisav subordinate, the world can be perfected and reach towards its goal. Thus, Eisav will also achieve spiritual ennoblement -- as a result of his subordination to Yaakov.

Eisav had a difficult time accepting the recipe of "subordinate and, hence, valuable." He wanted to be the ikar, in place of Yaakov. He needed to feel that everything in this world was created for him - alone - and not for his brother. A beautiful Midrash illustrates this idea. The straw, the chaff and the bean once had a dispute concerning for whom the field was sown. Each contended that the field was there specifically for it. Along came the wheat, saying, "Wait until the threshing is carried out, and then we will see for whom the field has really been sown." When the threshing season arrived, the expected happened. The bean was thrown in the wind, the straw was thrown on the ground, and the chaff was burned. The farmer took the remaining wheat and piled it up. Everyone saw and derived great pleasure. Likewise, the nations of the world, descendants of Eisav, all claim, "We are the ikar; the world was created for us." Klal Yisrael's response parallels that of the wheat, "Wait, and we will know for whom the world has been created."

The Shem MiShmuel suggests a reason that Yitzchak Avinu wanted to bless Eisav, rather than Yaakov. By blessing Eisav, he might have imbued him with a little seichal, common sense, to understand that the life Yaakov was leading was the ikar and that, by assisting him, he would also achieve perfection. Regrettably, Yitzchak did not realize how far gone, how coarse and unresponsive, Eisav had become. His arrogance was incurable; his obstinacy was terminal..

He cites his father, the Avnei Nezer who describes the nadir of Eisav's arrogance. The Zohar HaKadosh teaches us that there are clouds of darkness into which light enters, but is totally consumed. This is the same idea that is repeated by the seven meager cows into which the seven fat cows entered. No trace was left of their presence. Someone like Eisav-- who was completely overcome with arrogance-- is totally impervious to any sort of modification. Even if a little sanctity is introduced to him, it is completely consumed by the overwhelming nature of his personality.

We now can understand what Eisav was attempting to prove by questioning the laws of Maaser concerning salt and straw. Having analyzed Eisav's character, we see that this question does not merely represent his perverted and false piety, it bespeaks his essence. Eisav perceived himself as the ikar, while Yaakov was the tafeil. Thus, he asked about straw, which is a tafeil, and salt, a condiment and also a tafeil. By questioning the Maaser law, he was indicating that he considered these items to have primary status. Eisav attempted to overturn the Divine order to create a change in the definition of primary and subordinate. He has not changed; his descendants and followers still perceive that which is of a secondary nature to have primary standing.

The bottom line is how we view life on this world: Is it a trip, or is it our destination? Eisav and his ilk have supplanted this world for Olam HaBa. As far as they are concerned, they have arrived. Yaakov is acutely aware that his destiny is the World to Come. He can only arrive at his ultimate destination by traveling through this world. Horav Ezriel Tauber, Shlita, has an excellent analogy which appropriately supports this idea.

A traveler purchases a ticket from New York to Rome. On that same plane is another traveler who is taking that identical flight, but is not paying a penny. In fact, she is actually being paid to fly to Rome! Who is she? It is the plane's stewardess. What difference is there between her and all of the other passengers?

The difference is that the stewardess is not really going to Rome. When the flight is over, she will take the next flight and return to New York. She is there only for the sake of the passengers. The passenger, on the other hand, is specifically traveling to another destination. The plane is merely the medium of transportation for her. Thus, we have two people on the same plane, each traveling for a different reason.

This world is also an airplane. It is the vehicle that transports us from This World to Olam HaBa, which is our final destination. Just as an airplane has two types of travelers: passengers and stewardesses, so too, is the world populated by two types of people: those who have a destiny and those who are along just for the ride.

ויאהב יצחק את עשו כי ציד בפיו

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

It is difficult to accept that Yitzchak Avinu, the Olah Temimah, perfect sacrifice, would be fooled by Eisav's ruse. To suggest that Eisav's halachic questions concerning such unconventional issues as tithing salt or straw would sway Yitzchak's opinion of what his errant son really was is insupportable. Yet, this is the way it appears. Yitzchak was holy and far removed from evil. Thus, he could not sense the sinister direction that Eisav had taken in life. Having been raised in an atmosphere of evil, Rivkah Imenu was more astute in recognizing Eisav's true character. Horav Meir Rubman, zl, contends that Yitzchak knew only too well what his son had become. He understood that Eisav was no simple child at risk; he was evil incarnate. He did not, however, give up hope on his son. Why? Because Eisav still demonstrated respect at home. He did not flaunt his lack of observance. He put on a show when he came home, even asking halachic questions. Such a child has to be given a chance.

Rav Rubman explains that there are two approaches to addressing the problem of a child that has turned from the Torah way. If he has totally rebelled against his parents to the point that he neither listens to them nor shows them any respect, the parents must "bite the bullet" and distance him from their home. Perhaps, when they treat him in a manner like that in which he is acting towards them, he might wake up and realize what he is doing. When a child, however, maintains respect for his parents, careful not to disrupt the house by his lack of observance, attempting to conceal his errant ways at times, then there is hope. In fact, the parents should make every effort to reach out to him and enable him to return.

Eisav put on a great show. He would don royal garments when he served his father. He represents the paradigm of Kibbud Av, honor of his father. Despite his implacable hatred for Yaakov, he refused to harm him as long as his father was still alive. Indeed, Yaakov's greatest fear issued from his awareness of Eisav's meticulous observance of Kibbud Av.

Yitzchak was acutely sensitive to the nuances of relating to Eisav. Nonetheless, he felt that as long as Eisav demonstrated a modicum of respect, even though it was probably perfidious, Yitzchak embraced him with love. Perhaps he might succeed in turning him around. As long as he did not close the door, Eisav might still return. Yitzchak demonstrated love to Eisav. It was an outward expression of love, so that he might convince him to return. Eisav fooled no one but himself.

ויאמר יעקב מכרה כיום את בכרתך לי

Yaakov said, "Sell, as this day, your birthright to me." (25:31)

Horav Naftali Ropshitzer, zl, suggests a compelling interpretation for this pasuk. He cites the Midrash that quotes Yaakov Avinu as asking Eisav: Michrah kayom, "Sell as this day;" "Sell me one of your days." He explains that Yaakov is referring to a specific day which was part of Eisav's division of the "inheritance." This is a reference to a previous pasuk (Ibid 25:22), "The children agitated within her." They were arguing about the inheritance of the two worlds: This World; and the World to Come. It was decided that Yaakov would receive Olam HaBa, the World to Come, whereas Eisav would receive Olam HaZeh, This World. Yaakov felt that concerning the physical necessities and pleasures that this world had to offer, he could do with a bare minimum. He, therefore, agreed to partake as little as possible from this world. This became a problem concerning Shabbos, regarding which it is written in Yeshayah 58:13, "If you proclaim the Shabbos a delight." Chazal teach us that one must honor the Shabbos with food and drink. Thus, if Yaakov removed himself from this world, he would also be precluding himself from observing the mitzvah of oneg Shabbos. How would he be able to truly enjoy Shabbos? Therefore, he requested of Eisav: "Sell me one of your days. Sell me the Shabbos so that I may observe it properly." The kayom is a mnemonic for kulam yisbe'u v'yisangu mituvecha. It is a day when "all of them (Klal Yisrael)" will be satisfied and delight in "Your goodness," which is a reference to Shabbos.

The word bechorascha, your birthright, remains to be explained. Yaakov did, in fact, ask for the bechorah, right of the firstborn. Horav Eliyahu Schlessinger, Shlita, explains that Shabbos is indeed the bechor, "firstborn," of the six days of creation, because its unique sanctity towers above the other days of the week. Furthermore, the Zohar HaKadosh writes that all of the days of the week are blessed through the Shabbos, similar to the firstborn who is the individual that the other siblings follow.

Eisav, who neither observed Shabbos nor respected the idea of cessation from labor for one day, felt that by observing Shabbos he was endangering his livelihood and, subsequently, his life. Thus, he responded, "Look, I am going to die, so of what use to me is the birthright (ibid.25:32)? Not to work and earn money and to spend extra for oneg Shabbos, that is ludicrous! One must have taken leave of his senses to believe in Shabbos."

Bearing in mind that Shabbos is the special birthright that Yaakov acquired from Eisav, we are able to understand why Yaakov merited to receive the blessings from Yitzchak concerning Olam HaZeh, This World. Shabbos is the source of blessings for the rest of the week. One who observes Shabbos properly, both in the positive and prohibitive aspects, merits an abundance of blessings. Yaakov received what he deserved. By requesting Shabbos, he received much more.

ויאמר עשו הנני אנכי למות ולמה זה לי בכורה. ויאמר יעקב השבעה לי כיום...ויעקב נתן לעשו לחם ונזיד עדשים.

And Eisav said, "Look I am going to die, so of what use is the birthright?" Yaakov said, "Swear to me as this day." Yaakov gave Eisav bread and lentil stew. (25:32,33,34)

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains why Yaakov Avinu demanded that Eisav take an oath that he was agreeing to sell the birthright. The bechorah, birthright, includes in it certain aspects which are intangible, such as the honor and nobility accorded to the firstborn. Yaakov wanted everything that the bechorah had to offer. The Torah stipulates that one cannot cause another to acquire something which is intangible. Since there was no kinyan, act of acquisition, concerning the intangible components of the birthright, Yaakov insisted that Eisav make a shevuah, oath, which does relate to intangible items. The Torah emphasizes that the sale of the birthright was halachically accurate and binding, even though Eisav sold the birthright for a ridiculously low price. He knew what he was selling, and it had very little value to him. The Torah records that he abused the birthright, indicating that it was worthless to him. Regardless of what it was worth to him, it is the value which he attributed to it. He assessed its value according to his perspective on what it was worth to him. Therefore, the acquisition is deemed valid.

Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, derives an important lesson from here. Man has the capacity for determining the value of something that is eternal in nature. If in Eisav's estimation the bechorah was not worth more than a bowl of red lentils, then this sets its value.

Thus, a student studying Torah in the yeshivah who decides to leave seder, study period, so that he can purchase a suit on sale has just indicated that the value of his Torah learning coincides with the amount of money he saved on his suit. While this comparison may be a bit extreme, it does drive home a message: We determine by our very actions the value we attribute to spirituality and eternity. If we cut our davening short to tend to business negotiations and we are not willing to get up any earlier in order to attend an earlier minyan, so that we can daven at our normal pace, it demonstrates how much we really value our davening. When a person is willing to defer his spiritual time, the time during which he acquires a portion of eternity, for something of frivolous value, he has just put a price on his spirituality - and that price is very low.

ויאמר בא אחיך במרמה ויקח ברכתך

But he (Yitzchak) said, "Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing. (27:35)

It is surprising that Yitzchak Avinu would make such a statement condemning Yaakov to Eisav. The only purpose it might have served was to increase Eisav's hatred for his brother. Yitzchak could have easily not responded, or played it down. Why did he emphasize that Yaakov came b'mirmah, with cleverness and guile? Furthermore, when Eisav asked for a blessing, Yitzchak replied, "Behold, a lord I have made him over you, and all his kin I have given him as servants…and for you, where - what can I do, my son?" (ibid 27:37) Was he not adding insult to injury? Surely his response was not going to endear Yaakov to Eisav. What was Yitzchak trying to accomplish?

Horav Yaakov Lugasy, Shlita, gives a practical rationale for Yitzchak's actions. Rashi tells us that when Eisav entered the room and Yitzchak realized who he really was, he also noticed that Gehinom, Purgatory, was open beneath Eisav. This was in sharp contrast to the fragrance of Gan Eden, Paradise, that had accompanied Yaakov when he preceded him. This sharp disparity between his two sons evoked in Yitzchak a powerful revelation. His two sons represented two different worlds that had absolutely nothing in common with one another. Their values were different: Eisav was seeking the physical world and all that it had to offer; and Yaakov was concerned only with the spiritual world. Yaakov sought kedushah, holiness, mitzvos and Torah study. Eisav's pursuits were of a more base nature. He valued anything immoral that would satisfy his lust. Murder was child's play to him. Upon observing this, Yitzchak realized that Yaakov would be the one to continue the chain of belief in the Almighty which had begun with his father, Avraham Avinu. This would occur only if Yaakov's family remained pure and untainted. If his descendants were allowed to mingle with those of Eisav, it would lead to intermarriage and the destruction of the Patriarchal DNA. No! Yaakov and Eisav could never interact in brotherhood. Until the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, the two siblings must remain far apart. There was one simple way to ensure this: creating animus between them. Indeed, Chazal teach us that it is axiomatic that Eisav hates Yaakov. This is where it began and it will end only at the end of time.

Yitzchak held no grudge against Yaakov. On the contrary, when Yaakov returned, Yitzchak blessed him once again. He had seen the truth. His two sons had disparate goals. Their values were as dichotomous as night and day. As long as they remained apart, they would be able to continue to live without discord between them. It is when Yaakov seeks to interface with Eisav that Yitzchak's work is reversed, and the implacable enmity is unleashed.

Va'ani Tefillah

לתודה - Mizmor l'Sodah - A song of Thanksgiving

Chazal teach us that this is one of the eleven mizmorim, psalms, composed by Moshe Rabbeinu. The Leviim sang it to accompany a Korban Todah. Since this mizmor is associated with a korban, we recite it while standing, according it the respect that we would to an actual korban. This korban has one feature that distinguishes it from other korbanos in that the Lachmei Todah, Breads that are brought together with the sacrifice, consist of both chametz and matzoh. The matzoh symbolizes the individual's salvation from danger, parallel to our exodus from Egypt, which is commemorated via the matzoh. The chametz, which is the "everyday" bread, alludes to the daily miracles which we enjoy, even though we may not be aware of them. As Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, notes, that this is a reminder al nisecha she'bechol yom imanu, "for your miracles that are with us everyday." We must bear in mind how fortunate we are not to be sick and not to be exposed to other danger. In short, we must thank Hashem for those things in our life which we take for granted.

Rav Schwab wonders why this tefillah, which seems to be so closely associated with the Korban Todah, was not placed with the other korbanos which precede Baruch She'amar or with the daily mizmorim shel yom, which were recited with the daily korbanos. We may suggest that hodaah, gratitude, should not be included with the other korbanos. It should receive special significance. The primary component in gratitude is to acknowledge and recognize the favor. It must deeply contemplated. While it is something we recite daily, it should still have its own unique placement, so that we attribute it the significance it deserves. We do not simply say, "Thank you." We must feel a sense of appreciation.

In honor of
my cousin
Aaron Rugat
Roseanne Malevan

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