Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Parshas Toldos

ויעתר יצחק לד' לנכח אשתו כי עקרה הוא ויעתר לו ד' ותהר רבקה אשתו (25:21)

ויעתר - הרבה והפציר בתפלה (רש"י)

After 20 childless years of marriage, Yitzchok and Rivkah petitioned and beseeched Hashem to give them children. Rashi explains that they didn’t pray as one would typically pray, but rather they entreated Hashem repeatedly and with tremendous fervor before they were finally answered. What was Hashem’s rationale for making them endure such intense and prolonged suffering? Why didn’t He answer their prayers immediately?

Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Elyashiv note that Rashi writes (25:30) that Avrohom died five years prematurely so that he wouldn’t have to endure the pain of seeing his grandson Eisav commit terrible sins. Recognizing that this would occur made it incredibly difficult for Hashem to answer the prayers of Yitzchok and Rivkah. Hashem understood that the sooner He would give them the children for which they were pleading, the sooner Eisav would embark upon his path of wickedness, and the sooner His beloved Avrohom would have to die to be spared the anguish of witnessing Eisav’s actions.

Therefore, Hashem put off answering the heartfelt pleas of Yitzchok and Rivkah until they prayed repeatedly with so much intent that He was “forced” to grant their request. Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld suggests that this explanation is alluded to by the fact that ויעתר לו ד' – and Hashem was entreated by Yitzchok – has the same numerical value (748) as חמש שנים – five years!

Many times in life we are convinced that we need something for the sake of our happiness and well-being. We pray and cry and pray again, eventually becoming frustrated at Hashem’s apparent cruelty in ignoring or rejecting what we feel are heartfelt and reasonable requests. At such times, we should remind ourselves of this lesson and take comfort in the knowledge that sometimes Hashem, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, recognizes that what we are firmly convinced we need and deserve may in reality not be in our own long-term best interest.

ויתרצצו הבנים בקרבה ותאמר אם כן למה זה אנכי ותלך לדרש את ד' ויאמר ד' לה שני גיים בבטנך ושני לאמים ממעיך יפרדו ולאם מלאם יאמץ ורב יעבד צעיר (25:22-23)

Rashi writes that when the pregnant Rivkah passed by the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, the righteous Yaakov struggled to run out, and when she passed a temple of idolatry, the wicked Eisav attempted to come out. Rivkah, troubled by the difficulty of her pregnancy, went to seek an explanation from Shem. Shem comforted her by explaining that she was pregnant with twins who would eventually develop into two separate nations that would always be jockeying against one another for supremacy. Although Shem certainly enlightened Rivkah about what was going on inside of her, the reason she approached his was due to her frustration over her painful pregnancy. How did his explanation about the future help comfort her very real and immediate pain?

Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld suggests that Shem’s words weren’t merely a prophetic clarification of her situation, but they also allayed Rivkah’s difficult pregnancy in a very real way. Shem concluded his message to her by saying that the descendants of the older son will serve those of the younger son. The Medrash HaGadol explains that one of the reasons her insides had been suffering such constant turmoil during the pregnancy was that Yaakov and Eisav were fighting and jockeying for position in order to come out first and enjoy the benefits associated with being the first-born. However, now that they heard Shem’s prophecy that the older son would actually be subordinate to the younger, they ceased fighting with one another and the pains of Rivkah’s pregnancy were alleviated as a result!

ויגדלו הנערים ויהי עשו איש ידע ציד איש שדה ויעקב איש תם ישב אהלים (25:27)

The Medrash relates (Yalkut Shimoni 111) that when they were still fetuses in their mother’s womb, Yaakov told his twin brother Eisav that Hashem created two worlds, the physical world in which we live and the spiritual World to Come. The physical world is full of eating, drinking, doing business, getting married, and having children, none of which may be enjoyed in the World to Come. Yaakov offered to divide the two worlds, with Eisav taking the physical world and Yaakov receiving the spiritual world, an offer to which Eisav was only too happy to agree.

In מה ידידות, one of the songs traditionally sung on Friday night, we eloquently describe the wonderful delicacies and pleasures of this world, such as fattened chickens and sweet wines, which we enjoy at the Shabbos meal. Curiously, after relating the mouth-watering treats associated with Shabbos, we confidently declare נחלת יעקב יירש – one who properly honors Shabbos in this fashion will inherit the portion of Yaakov. Isn’t Yaakov’s share that of the spiritual World to Come? Although Shabbos indeed offers delectable enjoyments, isn’t it dishonest to associate these physical pleasures with Yaakov?

Rav Moshe Wolfson suggests that the author of this song answers this question himself just a few stanzas later, when we proclaim מעין עולם הבא יום שבת מנוחה – the restful day of Shabbos is itself so spiritual that it represents a microcosm of the World to Come. As we enjoy the Shabbos delicacies at our meals, we should appreciate and give thanks for this weekly opportunity to enjoy a small taste of the tremendous reward waiting for us – Yaakov’s descendants – in the World to Come!

ויצא הראשון אדמוני כלו כאדרת שער ויקראו שמו עשו ואחרי כן

יצא אחיו וידו אחזת בעקב עשו ויקרא שמו יעקב (25:25-26)

Although Yaakov and Eisav were identical twins, they had little in common. Their goals and values couldn’t have been farther apart. The Alter of Kelm explains that the tremendous gap between them lies in one fundamental difference.

In contrast to other animals which are born already capable of sustaining themselves, human babies are born needing a great deal of care. The Alter explains that Hashem made it this way is so that they will be prepared to learn from their parents and elders.

The name עשו is related to the word עשוי – made. Rashi writes that Eisav was born with hair, much like an older child. Eisav was born viewing himself as a completed package, and he had no interest in learning from others.

This stands in stark contrast to Yaakov. The name יעקב is associated with the word עקב – heel. Yaakov viewed himself as being at the bottom of his life’s work. Additionally, Yaakov’s name is expressed in the future tense, as he understood that he wasn’t a finished product. He constantly had to work to maximize his potential. In his dream in next week’s parsha (28:12), he sees a ladder which reaches all the way to Heaven. This is the potential of a person who constantly seeks to improve himself.

At the age of 60, Yaakov opted to spend an additional 14 years studying in yeshiva before seeking a wife (Rashi 28:9). Later, as he traveled with his family to Egypt to be reunited with Yosef at the advanced age of 130, his first priority was to send Yehuda ahead to establish a yeshiva so that he wouldn’t miss out on even one day of his studies (Rashi 46:28).

The verse in Hoshea states (11:1) כי נער ישראל ואהבהו – Hashem declares His love for the Jewish people because no matter how old and wise we grow, we still view themselves as a נער – an adolescent who has much to learn. The greatest level a yeshiva student strives to attain is that of תלמיד חכם, yet even a sage who reaches such a level is still referred to as a תלמיד, a student with much still to learn.

We live in a society which views its elders with anything but reverence, teaching that each successive generation is more advanced in the evolutionary chain. We must combat this pervasive attitude by learning from our forefather Yaakov, who teaches us the importance of respecting and learning from our parents, elders, and teachers.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) Rashi writes (25:21) that although both Yitzchok and Rivkah prayed for children, Hashem listened to and answered the prayers of Yitzchok. This was because Yitzchok’s father was the righteous Avrohom while Rivkah’s father was the wicked Besuel, and the prayers of a righteous person whose father is also righteous carry more weight than those of somebody who is righteous but whose father was not. May we conclude from here that when choosing a shaliach tzibbur weight should be given to the righteousness of the father of the person in question? (Taz Orach Chaim 53:3, Torah Temimah, Aleinu L’shabeiach, Emunas Itecha)

2) Rashi writes (25:22) that Rivkah, troubled by the difficulty of her pregnancy, went to seek an explanation from Shem. Why didn’t she go to ask her righteous father-in-law Avrohom? (Paneiach Raza, Bod Kodesh)

3) Rashi writes (25:23) that Shem prophetically informed Rivkah that she was pregnant with twins who would develop into two separate nations which would never be equal in their glory, as one would rise only when the other would fall. How can the verse conclude that the older son will serve the younger if their stature and relationship will fluctuate with time? (Vilna Gaon Mishlei 15:33, Chizkuni, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Ayeles HaShachar)

4) Rashi writes (25:30) that Avrohom died 5 years prematurely so that he wouldn’t have to endure the pain of seeing his grandson Eisav sin. If Yitzchok and Rivkah had known that their intense prayers to conceive a child (25:21) would indirectly hasten the death of Avrohom, would they still have prayed? (Ayeles HaShachar)

5) Yaakov purchased the right of the first-born to perform the sacrificial service from Eisav (25:31-34). Assuming that the right of the first-borns to do so at that time is similar to the right of the Kohanim to do so subsequently, how was it possible to purchase and transfer this right, as no amount of money paid to a Kohen will allow a person to purchase his right to bring sacrifices for this right is intrinsic to the person and is unable to be sold or transferred? (Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Zahav MiSh’va, Ayeles HaShachar)

6) Rashi writes (26:5) that Avrohom observed all of the commandments even before they were given. Included in this are the חוקים, which are mitzvos without any readily apparent rationale. Just as he was able to intuit all of the laws of the Torah on his own, was he also able to deduce the underlying reasons behind the חוקים, or was their logic hidden even from him? (Mishmeres Ariel)

7) What merit did Yitzchok have for which his name was never changed as were the names of his father Avrohom and his son Yaakov? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 26:15)

8) Even though Eisav tricked his father into thinking that he was righteous (Rashi 25:27-28), didn’t Yitzchok realize that Yaakov was even greater than Eisav, and if he did, why did he choose to give his blessing to Eisav before he died (27:1-4) instead of to the more pious Yaakov? (Alter of Kelm quoted in Darkei Mussar, Darash Moshe Vol. 2, Zichron Meir)

9) If Yaakov intended to give his blessings to Eisav and erroneously thought that the son before him was Eisav, how were they able to take effect for Yaakov if he received them through a misunderstanding? (Derashos HaRan Derush 2, Tiferes Torah, Tzafnas Paneiach)

10) The Yerushalmi in Bikkurim (3:3) derives from the name of Eisav’s wife מחלת (28:9) that a person who gets married is forgiven for all of his sins (מחילה) on the day of his wedding. Can the spiritual power of one’s wedding day be even greater than that of Yom Kippur, which only effects atonement for those sins which a person properly repents, and if not, how was the wicked Eisav forgiven on his wedding day? (Bereishis Rabbah 63:17, Zichron Meir, S’dei Chemed Maareches Chosson V’Kallah 4, Shu”t HaElef Lecha Shlomo 60, Chavatzeles HaSharon pg. 344)

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