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Parashat Toledot


When Esav is angry, it's best to keep a distance. After all, the pesukim tell us that he was a "man of the field" and "lived by his sword." When he discovered that his brother tricked him, he issued an immediate death warrant. Nobody starts up with Esav! Rivkah, the devoted mother, feared for her younger son's life. She knew Esav's temperament and dreaded his wrath. She quickly sent Yaakov far away, to Haran, "until your brother's wrath has subsided." A year passed, then two years, ten years, and Yaakov all the while sat in hiding in the Bet Midrash of Shem. Finally, after fourteen years had passed since the original incident, Yaakov leaves the Bet Midrash and Esav's assassin was waiting for him. Yaakov was saved and stayed with Lavan for twenty years. Only then, after thirty-five years, did Rivkah send to bring Yaakov back, informing him that Esav's wrath had dissipated. Yet, as Yaakov came down from the Golan Heights, Esav arrived to greet him with four hundred people, prepared to destroy Yaakov and his family. And this is after his anger had subsided! We can only imagine, then, how angry he was ten, twenty, thirty years earlier! Not to mention during the first year after the incident of the blessings. And we have no concept whatsoever of the fiery flames of vengeance that burnt within him on that first day, when Yaakov seized the blessings from him! If so, then why didn't he jump out at Yaakov like a lion, pounce on his brother like a vengeful bear? How did he contain this torch of anger and not rip his brother to shreds, right there and then? The answer is, that it wasn't the right time, "so that I don't cause distress to my father." He overcame his forceful fit of rage and withheld. Indeed, we have what to learn from Esav. At the height of his anger and fury, when he was wailing and crying from rage, as vengeance smoked from his ears, he was able to stop himself, to hit the breaks, and withdraw.


The Salmon

The lifestyle of the salmon constitutes one of the great wonders of creation. It spends its entire adult life in the sea, in deep water, where he faces no danger and lives in total security. When the time comes, however, for him to fulfill his Creator's command and reproduce, an overpowering force takes over the fish, capable of moving it from its permanent location and transporting it to its birthplace, generally a river far away from the sea. The fish then embarks on a long, dangerous journey, which entails swimming against the current of the river that flows into the sea. No small task, to say the least! Many obstacles present themselves before the salmon throughout its journey - waterfalls, dams and dangerous rocks. The fish jumps from the water into the air to continue safely and unobstructed. Throughout the duration of this grueling trek, no food whatsoever makes it into the salmon's mouth. It is no wonder, then, that by the time it finally arrives at the egg-laying spot it is exceedingly skinny and weak. After the journey and laying of eggs it appears as though old age suddenly overtook the salmon. The silver-plated scales lose their shine and become dark like lead, the fins disintegrate and the fish are washed away with their tails up front, no sign of life remaining. Just when the elderly parents complete their mission, signs of life begin to appear in the small eggs, as a new generation emerges, one which will perpetuate its parents' heritage. When the young fish grow up, a sudden urge brings them to relocate to the sea, where they arrive after a grueling six-month journey.

There they remain, in the salty waters, until their time comes to reproduce. It is truly amazing how the salmon reminds us, in many ways, of Jewish life. The soul descends from the peaceful and tranquil "waters" of the upper worlds into the "stormy seas" of life here on earth, where it matures by living a life of Torah and missvot. To succeed in fulfilling its mission accordingly, the Jewish soul received from the Almighty enormous powers and unique qualities that allow it to swim against the current and overcome all difficulties. Moreover, the Jew has received the most advanced compass available that directs him along the proper path - the sacred Torah, whose path is paved and secure. And should someone, for whatever reason, get lost along the way, Hashem granted him a most remarkable gift - teshuvah, in whose merit the Jew can find the way back home to the Jewish nation and the Creator.


The Faithful Student (4)

A Story From the Book "HaSaraf miBrisk," the Story of the Life of Mahari"l Diskin zs"l

Flashback: The renowned Mahari"l Diskin zs"l, known as "the Saraf" of Brisk, was arrested on false charges and imprisoned in the jail in Grodno. His faithful student, Rabbi Hayyim Simhah, staged a robbery attempt, after which he was arrested and imprisoned, so that he could be with his great rabbi in jail and help him as much as he can.

Everyone knew "Chetzkl the Smuggler," a man who became famous in the black market which dealt with smuggled goods. The government had declared a war of annihilation against this trade and activated a special unit of detectives and policemen to catch violators and punish them severely.

When someone was caught, the merchandise was confiscated, a heavy fine was cast, and a long prison sentence was pronounced.

Chetzkl himself was blessed with both strength and courage, and he actually enjoyed his daring activities and dangers that loomed about in his business.

His wife, however, didn't enjoy it at all. She sensed that her life constantly hung by a thread and that her husband was endangering both her fate and their children's future. He could be arrested any day, in which case her livelihood would be gone and she would live alone, unable to remarry. Her constant pleas met with deaf ears.

Finally, she decided to do something about the situation. Emotionally distraught, she wrapped herself in a shawl and headed towards the little hut where the depressed, troubled residents came to find solace from their problems. This hut was the residence of the ssadik, Reb Nehumke, who was the "shamash" of the Bet Midrash in Grodno. The rabbi's wife greeted the newcomer warmly and offered her a hot drink. "My husband is fixing the lamps in the Bet Midrash," she said, "and on the way home he stops to help some poor people." Reb Nehumke was known as the father of the poor, and his kindness and generosity overshadowed his greatness in Torah and avodat Hashem. He was truly a legend in his own time. He declined offers of rabbinical posts and earned a meager living serving as "shamash," which afforded him time to involve himself in charitable causes.

Reb Nehumke came home, and Chetzkl's wife stood in his honor. "Rebbe, I am scared," she said. "My husband works in a dangerous business."

"Hashem watches over his children," the ssadik replied. "In what business does he work?"

"He's a smuggler, rebbe!"

"To smuggle goods - this is prohibited; one must obey the law of the land.

Hashem does not guarantee protection to those who violate His commandments.

Go tell him that I would like to speak with him."

To be continued.


"Rivkah said to Yisshak, 'I am repulsed by the girls of the Hittim [referring to Esav's wives]; if Yaakov marries a woman from the girls of the Chittim like these, from the girls of the land, why am I alive?'"

The Hafess Hayyim zs"l used to point out that we know of the negative character of the Chittim from Avraham's insistence that Yisshak not marry a girl from the local population. Esav's wives would offer incense to idols, much to the dismay of Yisshak and Rivkah. But when seeking her husband's consent to send Yaakov to Haran, Rivkah specified, "if Yaakov marries a woman from the girls of the Chittim LIKE THESE." Upon seeing them in front of her eyes, upon witnessing first hand their inappropriate conduct, Rivkah's reservation was increased tenfold, to the point that she exclaimed, "why am I alive?"

The Hafess Hayyim continued by commenting that although everyone knows of the dangers of secular educational systems and the consequent detachment from the tradition, only when seeing it close-up, the destructive results - the violence, callousness and rampant permissiveness - only then does one tremble and declare, "like these - why am I alive?"


The time has come to get over our preconceived notions, to rise above routine patterns of thought. The common perspective on Esav views him as a lowlife, a murderer, an unrestrained vagabond, the very embodiment of evil, corruption and spiritual contamination. But this perspective does a grave injustice to a great man who grew up in Yisshak's home and studied on the lap of his grandfather, Avraham. He earned the privilege of having his head buried in Me'arat Hamachpelah, together with the sacred patriarchs. We often picture Esav in our minds as an actual "man of the field," who scurries about in the forest with his bow and arrow or embarks on a murderous, vengeful march ahead of four-hundred loyal, blood-thirsty warriors. This Esav, however, cannot be the same Esav who "cried a great, bitter cry" upon losing his father's blessing. This is a hunter, who risks his life on a daily basis in the woods. Why would he care about "from the dew of the heavens and from the fat of the earth, and much grain and wine"?

He is a bandit, who makes his living by robbing people!

On account of that great, bitter cry, those tears that poured down Esav's face, it was decreed that we would suffer at the cruel hands of his descendants until the ultimate redemption (Zohar vol. 2, 12b) - the Chmelnitzki riots, the slaughter of the Crusades, the flames of the Inquisition and the furnaces of Auschwitz - they were all part of the retribution for those tears. Evidently, Esav's pain equaled all the suffering and death of the millions of "kedoshim" who perished as retribution for those tears. Apparently, the distress he experienced, his cry and tears, were genuine and sincere, as he understood the profound, underlying significance of these blessings. He understood that at stake were eternal blessings, bearing great spiritual significance as explained in the Midrashim and Zohar, and Esav understood all that and perhaps even more.

If, indeed, he understood all this, in all its depth and profundity, and his perception was so keen, why was he rejected from the berachot, why did he forfeit the eternal heritage, why is he forever known as "Esav HaRasha"?

The answer may be found in a story of a carriage transporting merchandise in the middle of the winter. The driving rain descended in buckets and turned the snow on the ground into quicksand. The horses stomped as best they could through the muck and dragged the carriage along with them. The carriage was still in the outskirts of the city when night fell.

Suddenly, a creaking sound shouted from the carriage - the hinge had snapped. The driver moved the carriage to the side of the road and leaned underneath.

He was covered with mud and grime as he tried to fix the hinge temporarily, at least until he could unload his cargo. He worked in the pitch black for a full hour, his body trembling from the cold and fatigue. By the time he reached the city complete darkness had enveloped the region and the city was sound asleep. The rain continued to pour in torrents, and as his clothing became soaked to the skin his mood dropped to the lowest depths of despair.

The only light he could detect came peering through the curtains of a certain house. He figured he would knock on the door and kindly ask for a warm place to spend the rest of the night.

A short, elderly Jewish man opened the door, his face beaming like the sun.

This man was none other than the great Maggid of Kozhniss, who was still awake engrossed in his studies. Whereas welcoming guests is greater than greeting the Shechinah, he immediately interrupted his learning and welcomed the traveler into his home. He brought him near the furnace, took his clothes and hung them to dry, and helped the guest with his goulashes. He brought him fresh clothing and a hot drink to restore the warmth to his body. The driver looked around and saw the room filled with books. He noticed that his host's face resembled the countenance of an angel. Suddenly, he broke out in tears and cried, "Rebbe, I have nothing in this world - I spend all my days working so hard for just a few pennies. At least I'll be guaranteed the World to Come."

The rebbe shook his head in doubt and said, "To the contrary, if you work so hard for life in this world and it still eludes you, then certainly the World to Come, for which you don't work at all."

These penetrating words of the Maggid answer our question. True, Esav's level of understanding was remarkable. He yearned with all his heart for the eternal blessings, to earn all the spiritual bounty in the world. He longed for it just as Yaakov did. However, while Yaakov "sat in tents," and worked with all his might to acquire the eternal values, Esav decided to bring his energies out to the field, in the forest and in the woods. He hoped that the spirituality would fall upon him without effort or exertion, through the blessings of heaven. He thought that his head - his keen understanding - could rest in "Me'arat Hamachpelah," even if his body was still "a man of the field." He soon discovered that he was mistaken all along: one does not acquire eternal blessings through hopes and dreams, not even through keen insight. Acquisition of the blessings demands spending time in the "tents," assiduously engrossed in the study of Torah.


"The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav"

The Midrash comments that there was never a wise man in the world like Bilam. When Benei Yisrael left Egypt, all the nations approached him and asked if it would be possible for them to start up with the newly emancipated people. He answered, "Go around to their Batei Kenesset and Batei Midrash. If you find children there making sounds with their voices - you have no power over the nation. They were promised this by their forefather, when he said, 'The voice is the voice of Yaakov' - when the voice of Yaakov can be heard in the Batei Kenesset - then 'the hands' are NOT 'the hands of Esav.' Otherwise, 'the hands are the hands of Esav,' and they can be defeated."

Some have explained the Midrash based on the fact that the first word "kol" (voice) in the pasuk is written without the letter "vav," and may thus be read "kal," which implies frailty. Thus, when the voice of Yaakov is frail and cannot be heard, dominion is given, Heaven forbid, to Esav. The solution, therefore, is to increase and magnify the sound of Torah! "The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav"

The Midrash comments further that this pasuk teaches us that our power is greater than that of Esav. Esav can overpower one only so long as the person is within his domain. Should the captive escape, Esav no longer has any power over him. The power of Yaakov, however, can overcome a person even should he flee from one end of the world to the other - a prayer is recited in Bet Kenesset, and the person falls immediately into our hands.

"The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav"

The author of "Ohev Yisrael" asked, if Yaakov was worried that his father might feel his skin and identify him as Esav, and thus Rivkah covered his arms with goatskins, why was he not concerned that Yisshak would recognize his voice? He should have changed his voice just as he changed the texture of his arms! He answered that Yaakov represents the attribute of truth; as such, although he was afraid of being discovered, he could not change his voice and continued to mention the Name of God regularly, as was his want.

But if so, how did Yisshak not recognize him as Yaakov? The answer is that Esav himself suspected that Yaakov might come before Yisshak and take the blessing in Esav's place. He therefore made an agreement with Yisshak that when he comes he would speak like Yaakov, assuming that Yaakov would imitate Esav's voice when he comes in disguise. In this way, Esav figured, Yaakov's plot would be disclosed. Esav failed to take into account Yaakov's attribute of truth, and thus when Yaakov spoke with his own, natural manner of speech Yisshak had no doubts regarding his identity. He therefore said, everything is as we had arranged - "The voice is the voice of Yaakov, but the hands are the hands of Esav," and proceeded to administer the berachot.


Rabbi Shelomoh Ibn Denan

Like a shooting star went forth the light of Rabbi Shelomoh Ibn Denan zs"l, the rabbi of Fez, Morocco, who died around seventy years ago. He left behind him important works of responsa, "Asher L'Shelomoh" and "Bikesh Shelomoh."

He was a scion of a distinguished family, a descendant of Rav Mosheh ben Maimon Ibn Denan zs"l, who was known as "the second Rambam." His father died at an early age, before the young Shelomoh was ten years old. His remarkable growth into a Torah giant evolved solely from his diligent Torah study, purity of his soul and exceptional talent. Already at age sixteen his knowledge encompassed the "revealed" Torah, and he then proceeded to study the mystical areas of the Torah. When he was eighteen he established a yeshivah for gifted students who later emerged as prominent Torah authorities. At age twenty-one he was selected as a "dayan" of the local Bet-Din in Fez, and when he was thirty he was appointed as head of the Bet-Din and rabbi of the entire Jewish community in the city. The city was filled with scholars and scribes, including elderly, God-fearing Torah giants, all of whom respected the newly appointed rav for his greatness, brilliance, and fear of Hashem that preceded his Torah knowledge. Even the Moroccan government, aware of the unique stature of the young leader, authorized the appointment and afforded him full judicial authority over his constituents.

He served as rabbi of the city and head of the Bet-Din for fifty years, and his rulings in halachah were accepted with reverence in the Torah world and served as building blocks for future rulings, which were built upon his decisions. His greatness in Torah was matched by his remarkable character. He bore the burden of the nation and felt the pain of each individual. He led his community with peace and integrity, until his passing in the beginning of the winter in the year 5689. His son, Rabbi Shaul, was appointed as successor. May their merits protect us, Amen.


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

Chapter 25: The Halachot of Tefillin

Although the Torah writes in the context of the missvah of tefillin, "It will be when Hashem will bring you to the land of the Kena'ani" (Shemot 13:5), this missvah is nevertheless not dependent upon the Land of Israel; it applies everywhere, both in Israel and the Diaspora. The reason is because the Torah writes in the section of "Vehayah im shamoa" (the second paragraph of shema - Devarim 11:17-8), ".and you will be banished from the good land." and then it says thereafter, "You shall place these words of Mine.and you shall tie them as a sign on your arm." In other words, even after exile we must still observe the missvah of tefillin. Some derive the requirement of tefillin in the Diaspora from the aforementioned parashah in Shemot, which juxtaposes the missvah of tefillin and that of "peter hamor," the laws regarding a first-born donkey. Since these missvot are connected, tefillin applies outside of Israel just as the missvah of peter hamor applied even in the desert (see Bemidbar 3:45). A further source may be the relationship between the missvot of tefillin and Torah study, as indicated by the phrase, "in order that the Torah of Hashem shall be in your mouths" (Shemot 13:9), which appears in the context of tefillin. Just as Torah study is obligatory regardless of location, so is tefillin.

Ssisit and Tefillin - Which Comes First?

One should first wear ssissit before placing tefillin, because the missvah of ssissit is equivalent to all the missvot in the Torah, as the pasuk states, "and you shall see them [the ssissit] and you will remember all the missvot of Hashem" (Bemidbar 15:39). Furthermore, the missvah of ssissit is more frequent, as it applies even on Shabbat and Yom Tov, unlike tefillin which is worn only on weekdays. Since we have a principle that "tadir v'she'eino tadir, tadir kodem," that more frequent missvot are to performed first, one must first wear ssissit before proceeding to put on tefillin.

Another reason is that unlike tefillin, which one must wear each day, regarding ssissit there is no actual obligation, strictly speaking, to wear it each day. The requirement is merely to affix ssissit to a four-cornered garment, but one does not need - strictly speaking - to specifically wear a four-cornered garment in order to obligate himself in the missvah of tefillin. Therefore, the missvah of tefillin is considered on a higher level of sanctity. Since we have a principle, "ma'alin bekodesh v'ein moridin," we always ascend in sanctity, rather than descend, tefillin must be worn only after the ssissit.

Even if one wears a garment which requires ssissit only "miderabanan" (from rabbinic ordinance, rather than by Torah law), such as a tallit made of silk or a borrowed tallit after thirty days, the tallit should still be put on prior to the placing of tefillin.

One who cannot afford to purchase both ssissit and tefillin should buy tefillin, since it is obligatory upon every individual every day, and one who does not wear them violates a missvat aseih (positive commandment) of the Torah. Regarding ssisssit, however, although everyone should wear a four-cornered garment to obligated himself in the missvah, nevertheless one does not, strictly speaking, have to specifically buy a four-cornered to wear ssissit if he does not already own one.

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