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PARSHAS TOLDOSAnd these are the generations of Yitzchak, the son of Avraham, Avraham begat Yitzchak. (25:19)
The opening pasuk of this parshah is seemingly redundant. We are about to detail the story of the offspring of Yitzchak Avinu, son of Avraham Avinu, but first the Torah repeats the fact that Avraham begat Yitzchak. One would assume that we have already been informed of Yitzchak's pedigree when it was related that he was the son of Avraham. Rashi quotes the Midrash which teaches that the leitzanei ha'dor, scoffers of that generation, individuals who had really nothing else to do but slander and denigrate, claimed that Yitzchak's real father was Avimelech. After all, Sarah had spent some time with Avimelech when she was taken captive by him. To prove them wrong, Hashem formed Yitzchak's features, his countenance, to resemble that of his father, Avraham. To attest to this verity, the Torah repeats itself, "and Avraham begat Yitzchak." Who really cares what the scoffers were saying? Was it necessary to "prove" them wrong? Clearly, Yitzchak's spiritual eminence over Yishmael was a non-issue. In Parashas Vayeira, Sarah Imeinu tells Avraham, "The son of the maidservant [Yishmael] will not inherit with my son, with Yitzchak" (Bereishis 21:10). The double language - "my son, Yitzchak" - emphasizes his spiritual superiority, regardless of his lineage. He was Yitzchak - Sarah's son. What is the significance of the scoffers' claim?
The Sefas Emes explains that actually this equation means more than meets the eye. It is more than a clarification of Yitzchak's DNA. It goes to the very core of the foundations upon which the future Klal Yisrael was to be built. Avraham and Yitzchak had divergent approaches to their avodas, service, to Hashem. Avraham had boundless love for the Almighty that literally overflowed from him. This love catalyzed him to become a baal chesed, directing him outward through acts of loving-kindness. He taught monotheism to the masses, imbued them with the ethics of the Torah and planted an eishel, which was either an inn or an orchard, as a means of educating travelers when they stopped to rest. His acts of chesed did not rest, even when he was recuperating from his Bris Milah. He sat at the door of his tent waiting, yearning to reach out to any passersby.
Yitzchak's avodah was not love-based; rather, the second Patriarch's fear of Hashem, concretized during the Akeidas Yitzchak, made him draw inward, meticulously introspecting each action before executing it, in order to determine that the consequences of his action would befit a servant of Hashem. These two paths - love versus fear - are, under normal circumstances, mutually exclusive. In Judaism, however, they have the opportunity to achieve unity. True yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, is to be in awe of the Almighty. This is a byproduct of a deep sense of love that one has for Hashem. This applies vice versa, with each emotion - fear and love; love and fear - completing the other.
Another form of fear, however, is inconsistent with love - fear of punishment, which is essentially a self-centered fear. This is the type of fear prevalent in the nations of the world. In his encounter with Avraham, Avimelech exhibited this type of fear. Thus, when the scoffers claimed that Yitzchak was the progeny of Avimelech, they were intimating that his fear was none other than fear of punishment. When the Torah attests to Avraham's fathering Yitzchak, it is saying that Yitzchak was the product of the attribute of love. Yitzchak's pure fear of Hashem was the result of - and rooted in - his intense love for, and awe of, the Creator.
The Sefas Emes takes this thesis to the next level. While Yitzchak's fear of Hashem had its source in his love of Hashem, he still lacked the perfect synthesis of these two traits. Hashem's blessing to Yitzchak's seed required the merit of Avraham. This is to be derived from the following pesukim: "I will multiply your seed like the stars of the sky… since Avraham listened to My voice" (Bereishis 26:4-5); "I will bless you and multiply your seed for the sake of Avraham, My servant" (Ibid 26:24). Clearly, Avraham is a primary component in the blessing of Yitzchak's seed.
This is to be understood in the following manner: Chazal teach that Hashem originally sought to create the world through Middas HaDin, the Attribute of Strict Justice, but He saw that unless it was tempered with Divine Mercy, the world had no chance of survival. The foundation of Klal Yisrael also calls for an alliance between these two attributes. Love can become tainted. For this, Avraham needed Yitzchak's pure fear to maintain its pristine essence. Yitzchak's Din required bolstering from the merit of Avraham to give it continued existence among future generations. The two middos working in tandem formed the prefect base upon which to build an enduring Jewish nation.
The Sefas Emes now explains how these contrasting traits play a significant role and add a new dimension to the episode in which Yaakov Avinu "appropriated" the blessings that were originally designated for Eisav.
Now, Yaakov did not just take the blessings. He was guided and encouraged by his mother, Rivkah Imeinu. It was actually through her personal intervention that he was able to "liberate"
the brachos, blessings, for himself. The Torah states this clearly as it relates that following Rivkah's discovery that Yitzchak was about to give the blessings to Eisav, she convinced Yaakov to delude his father and take the blessings. Obviously, Rivkah felt justified in her advice, having been Divinely inspired to do this. Why would Hashem want Yaakov to receive the blessings in such an ambiguous manner?
The Sefas Emes explains that we understand it all wrong. Yitzchak was, indeed, destined to bless Yaakov, but Hashem did not want the blessing to flow solely through Yitzchak's Attribute of Din. This would have created an endurance problem. Rivkah was a baalas chesed par excellence. Thus, she was used as the medium for transferring brachah from Yitzchak to Yaakov. Din, operating in conjunction with chesed, results in emes, absolute truth. This is the middah of Yaakov: a symbiosis of Chesed and Din, love and fear. Rivkah's involvement in the "blessings" ameliorated Din. Yaakov reflected the combined traits of his father and mother. He was the b'chir ha'Avos, the chosen one of the Patriarchs, representing truth in its most pristine form.
Yitzchak entreated Hashem… Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him, and his wife Rivkah conceived. (25:21)
Rashi explains that the implication of the masculine singular form lo, "by him," is that Hashem responded specifically to Yitzchak's Avinu's prayer, as opposed to that of his wife, Rivkah Imeinu. In addition, he explains that the root of the word, va'ye'etar, "and he entreated," is the word atar, which denotes abundance. The sense of the pasuk is that Yitzchak prayed abundantly - every which way, in order to effect a positive response from the Almighty. Why was it necessary to pray so hard in every manner possible?
Horav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zl, gives us a powerful - almost frightening - insight into the concept and efficacy of prayer and its far-reaching implications. Rashi teaches us that on the day that Eisav went out l'tarbus raah, left the fold and publicly displayed his true malevolent character, Avraham Avinu died. The Patriarch was originally supposed to live five more years - to age 180. He died prematurely, so that he should not be privy to the infamy wrought by his evil grandson. This means, explains Rav Yosef Chaim, that Yitzchak and Rivkah's prayers had severe ramifications for the Patriarch. Had the prodigal twins been born five years later, Avraham could have lived out his entire pre-determined lifespan. Their prayer - if accepted - would be the indirect cause of Avraham's premature demise. Frightening! We see now why Yitzchak had to pray with such fervor. He was not simply asking for a child. It was much more. He did not know this, but Hashem, Who knows all, was well aware of the difficulty of this decision.
What a powerful lesson for us. We all pray and, while Hashem certainly listens to each and every prayer, the reply is not always, in our limited perception, positive. Sometimes, the answer is "no!" We have difficulty understanding His ways, but, He has reasons for everything.
Rav Yosef Chaim adds that this idea is underscored in the pasuk in Ashrei - Retzon yireiav yaaseh, v'es shavaasam yishma v'yoshieim, "The will of those who fear Him, He will do; and their cry He will hear, and save them." This verse seems redundant. With the above, we understand that there are times when we ask for something which we ultimately might regret or which will eventually cause us pain. The pasuk teaches us that Hashem listens twice - before and after - we ask for something. At first, it is good. Then we realize - or become aware - that the ramifications are not good. We pray again. He listens - once again. May our prayers be heard, and may we know for what to pray.
Yaakov was a wholesome man abiding in tents. (25:28)
Yaakov Avinu was morally and ethically wholesome, attributes attested to by the Torah. He is characterized as abiding in tents. Rashi explains that this is a reference to Yaakov's total devotion to spending his time in the tents of Torah, under the direction of Shem and Eivar. Yaakov did not simply "learn." He studied with a passion, totally devoted to the Torah. During the fourteen years that Yaakov spent in yeshivah engrossed in Torah study, he did not willingly go to sleep in a bed. This does not mean that he was superhuman. Yaakov slept only when sleep overtook him. He did not just go to bed. He sat by his sefer and, when his head drooped, he dozed. This was Yaakov's idea of sleep - in yeshivah.
In Pirkei Avos 6:9, Chazal relate an episode which has become paradigmatic concerning a ben Torah's view of a life devoted to Torah. Rabbi Yosi ben Kisma relates that he was once walking on the road, when he was met by a man. The man greeted the sage, who returned the greeting. The man then asked Rabbi Yosi, "Rabbi, from what place are you?" Rabbi Yosi replied, "I am from a great city of scholars and sages." The man then asked whether Rabbi Yosi would consider moving to his city in exchange for an enormous amount of money. Rabbi Yosi replied, "Even if you were to give me all the silver and gold, precious stones and pearls in the world, I would dwell nowhere but in a place of Torah." The Mishnah goes on to quote a number of pesukim which underscore the value of Torah in contrast to material wealth. While all of the pesukim address the issue, the last pasuk from Chaggai 2:8, "Mine is the silver, Mine is the gold, says Hashem, Master of the Legions," does not seem to emphasize the significance of Torah, only that material abundance all belongs to Hashem.
Horav Mordechai Weinberg, zl, cites the Chasam Sofer who explains that this pasuk is addressing the first pasuk cited by the Mishnah, Tov li Toras Picha meialfei zahav va'kessef. "I prefer the Torah of Your mouth above thousands in gold and silver" (Tehillim 119:72). David Hamelech states that the kinyan Torah, acquisition of Torah, to "own" Torah, supersedes material procurement. One would think that the reason for this is that the value of Torah is greater. To this, the Mishnah quotes the second pasuk, to teach that only with regard to Torah can one say that he has actually acquired something, that it really belongs to him. Why? Because material wealth belongs to Hashem. Li hacessef v'Li ha'zahav, "Mine is the silver, Mine is the gold." A person may think that the material wealth he attains is his. Wrong! It all belongs to Hashem. The only substance of value that one can call his own is Torah. The reason that David Hamelech says, "I prefer Your Torah," is that the possession is really his.
The Rosh Yeshivah takes this idea further. Baalus, ownership, of the Torah does not mean that one may do whatever he wants with it; rather, ownership catalyzes responsibility, demanding greater and more meticulous supervision to guard the holy Torah within him that it does not become tainted, desecrated or denigrated in any way through his actions. Yes, a ben Torah carries enormous responsibility. After all, he has acquired something that heretofore has belonged to Hashem.
Rav Weinberg compares this to a large corporation with many sections and branches, with each branch having its own administrative hierarchy. There are hundreds of managers, a multitude of vice presidents, scores of workers and underlings. While each individual senses his responsibility for his immediate area, he does not feel responsible for the collective corporation. If something goes wrong in his department, he will find someone to blame. He will sleep at night. Someone else's head will roll. Another individual is involved, however, who cannot afford to shift blame on anyone else. It would make no difference, because at the end of the day the loss and blame is all his. He is the company's CEO. He is the owner. He is the last bastion of authority. This is where the buck stops.
This is how a ben Torah should feel about his Torah study. He must feel that any error on his part denigrates the Torah - not just his Torah, but the Torah. He must feel a sense of achrayos, responsibility, for Torah - period. He is the CEO. The Rosh Yeshivah relates a powerful thought that he heard from the Satmar Rebbe, zl, concerning a Jew's accountability for accepting responsibility. We find that despite Noach's overwhelming devotion to each and every creature on board the Teivah, Ark, he once came late with the lion's dinner. Once - during an entire year. Once - out of all the myriad creatures under his care. Once! Yet, when he came late, the lion, acting according to nature, smacked him hard. The injury left Noach limping. Is this what Noach deserved after an entire year of consummate devotion to the needs of all of these creatures? Is this punishment perhaps a bit much?
The Rebbe explained that only two members of each species of Creation were allowed into the Ark. Only two - male and female. The future of the world was dependent on that Ark. Each and every creature had an enormous mission to repopulate the world. The responsibility was enormous, the consequences of failure unpardonable. Noach had to imagine in his mind that it was not simply one lion, one meal, one act of chesed. He was responsible for the future of every lion from then to posterity. If something happened to this lion - that was it. The lion would become extinct. There was no room for error. This is the meaning of responsibility.
Rav Weinberg concludes that this idea aptly applies to every ben Torah. He must sense responsibility for Torah in such a manner that his failure would impact Torah for all time. The responsibility is much greater than he is. He is acquiring Torah directly from Hashem's mouth. When a person realizes this and reflects on the source of the Torah he studies, his attitude towards guarding it changes immeasurably.
The notion that one's responsibility extends for generations is underscored by a famous episode that occurred in Mesivta Torah Vodaath one blustery, snowy morning. The Rosh Yeshivah, Horav Shlomo Heiman, zl, came to his shiur prepared, as usual, with his lengthy lecture. Since New York had been hit overnight by a blizzard, public transportation was at a standstill. The streets were not plowed, so very few students were able to show up. The Rosh Yeshivah walked into a classroom filled with four students. Yet, it did not seem to faze him. He began his lecture in earnest, raising his voice passionately, as he mulled through the topic. There was a certain excitement when Rav Shlomo gave a shiur. It was an epic experience. Usually the room would be filled, with nary a seat available, but today only four students were present.
This was pre-World War II America, and one of the students asked, "Rebbe, there are only four of us. Is it necessary to get so worked up in delivering the shiur?"
The Rosh Yeshivah's response has become a classic. "You think that I am talking only to you? I am speaking to you and your students, and to your students' students. I am speaking to generations of Jews to come. That is why I am so worked up!" We must remember our responsibility. It is not only to those around us, but to those yet unborn who will derive guidance from our Torah study. It may be ours to keep - but it is not ours to lose!
The Torah tells us that during the pregnancy with her prodigal twins, Rivkah Imeinu felt that the fetuses in her womb were agitated. Chazal explain the source of this agitation. When Rivkah passed the bais ha'medrash of Shem and Eivar, Yaakov "ran" and struggled to come forth; and when she passed a house of idol worship, it was Eisav who struggled to come forth. The commentators question this. After all, Yaakov was in his mother's womb studying Torah from the expert tutelage of a Malach Elokim. What in the bais ha'medrash could supersede this type of learning? Many explanations are presented by the various commentators, two of which stand out: Studying in the presence of an Eisav taints even the prospect of learning with an angel. Without question, the learning was superior to anything that he could find in the bais ha'medrash. At least in the bais ha'medrash, however, there would be no Eisav. Environment plays a critical role. This is something we may never forget when selecting a school, a yeshivah, a class.
Second is an explanation that follows along the same lines as our original thesis. True, studying with an angel is without peer, but it is too easy. Yaakov wanted to work, to toil, to horeve for his Torah achievement. He was not satisfied to have it all spoon-fed to him. He wanted to make the kinyan, act of acquisition. His act was ameilus, toil, in Torah.
This indicates the value of Torah. In order for one to acquire Torah, he must appreciate its infinite value. When this is the case, no hurdle is impossible to traverse. No obstacle is impervious to man's ascendancy. The following vignette demonstrates a mother's realization of the value of a Torah education for her sons and the degree of ameilus that she evinced in providing this education to her sons.
One of the preeminent Torah leaders of our generation grew up in Yerushalayim in a home that was the scene of abject poverty. There were three boys in the family, and they all had to go to cheder. During the summer, this was no problem. It was winter time - when the cold, wet snow penetrated the holes in their torn shoes - that the poverty became a difficult challenge. If the boys could not go to school on snow days, they would end up spending much of the winter at home. If they were to become sick, they would still be at home. What was a resourceful mother, who cares deeply about her son's learning, to do?
There was one pair of whole shoes. They were far from new, but, at least they had no holes. So - every day - the mother walked one son with this whole pair of shoes to school. He would then don a pair of torn shoes, after which his mother brought the whole shoes home to his brother. After walking brother number two to school and exchanging his shoes, she returned for son number three. The same process was repeated at the end of the day when the boys returned home. This went on all winter! The mother walked to school and back six times! Is it a wonder that each of her sons became a Torah scholar of great distinction? She valued Torah, and she demonstrated her esteem in a unique fashion.
And it came to pass, when Yitzchak became old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing, that he summoned Eisav, his older son. (27:1)
Yitzchak Avinu saw that his mortal years were slowly coming to a close. He called Eisav to grant him his fatherly blessing, as befits the first-born son. Rivkah Imeinu understood what was about to transpire, and she manipulated the situation, so that in the end it was Yaakov Avinu who received the blessings. One shudders at the thought of Eisav receiving the blessings. Yet, this was Yitzchak's intention. How are we to reconcile ourselves with this? What did Yitzchak see in Eisav that prompted him to view him worthy of blessing? True, Eisav was a fraud, a very talented fraud, one who could pull the wool over his father's eyes. Are we to believe that Yitzchak was unaware of the truth of the real Eisav?
Clearly, this question has been mulled over by a major portion of the commentators. Various approaches are used to address what appears to be Yitzchak's naivet?. The first principle that must be emphasized is that the only one who is na?ve is he who believes that Yitzchak Avinu was in error. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that the Patriarch, who is considered the olah temimah, perfect offering, could be fooled. From the considerable literature written on the subject, I have chosen the words from the Malbim, whose explanation is both understandable and highly practical.
Yitzchak was well aware of his errant son Eisav's behavior. He knew that Eisav was not interested in making the bais ha'medrash his home base. As a practical father, Yitzchak was acutely aware that all boys are not cut from the same cloth; not all want to spend their lives poring over tomes of Talmud and commentaries. The ones who aspire, ascribe and choose this way of life are few. The ones who succeed are even fewer. Yitzchak understood that while the fruit of the tree is the essential product, without the tree, the branches, the roots, the leaves, the fruit has no chance. This is essentially the idea behind the partnership of Yissachar and Zevulun. Yissachar spent his life engrossed in Torah study, while Zevulun saw to his material needs - often at great sacrifice to himself. This relationship has sustained Torah scholarship throughout the ages.
So why not Eisav and Yaakov? The future Patriarch would continue devoting his life to Torah study, while Eisav would sustain him. It sounded like a great idea. There is, of course, one drawback: Zevulun has to be an individual of impeccable character who appreciates and holds dear the tenets of Torah, who values Torah study for what it is worth. Eisav's resume does not seem to have such fleckless credentials. Can one even begin to imagine if bnei Torah would have to be supported by the likes of Eisav? Torah would quickly become an ancient relic. This is why Hashem, the Cause of causes, saw to it that Eisav would not receive the blessings. Some people are just not worthy of sustaining Torah study.
Ha'Melech Ha'Meromam levado mei'az. The King Who was elevated alone from then.
"Then" is a reference to Creation, at which time the Heavenly creations and human beings who are able to perceive Hashem's greatness, and are capable of recognizing and extolling His glory, came into being. Indeed, the function of creation is to elevate Hashem, to comprehend His greatness by delving into all the wondrous phenomena which are His creations. Recognizing Hashem's greatness is difficult for a mortal with human limitations. We can only perceive so much. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, explains that this idea is alluded to in the word, Ha'Meromam, "Who is elevated." Ram means high, unlike gadol, which means great. A great one is measured from the ground up, whereas a high one has no connection with the ground. Thus, to elevate Hashem is to understand how remote He is from earthly attributes. No one can really praise Hashem properly, as we have no way to describe Him, as we know no entity to whom we can compare Him. We use platitudes that are human terms, but what we really mean is that Hashem is levado - stands alone.
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on his yahrtzeit
Elchanan ben Peretz z"l
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