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Parashat Toldot


The parshiyot of Sefer Beresheet stimulate our minds each year, always providing us with more food for thought. They serve annually as a catalyst for learning, as guidance for our personal reflection and self-examination.

The twins, Esav and Yaakov, struggled within their mother's womb. Indeed, the events which occurred to our forefathers repeat themselves in the lives of their descendants. Do these two not wrestle within each and every one of us? Each tries to pull us in his direction, to have us join his camp and carry his banner. Imagine a scale, one end containing the birthright (symbolizing the service of Hashem, the ceremonies of which were reserved for the firstborn) and on the other sits a bowl of lentils. Yaakov chose one end of the scale, Esav decided on the other. Similarly, we must each decide for ourselves, which side of the scale will weigh down the other, and to which side we will turn. Are we people of lentils, so-to-speak, who long merely for the flavor of a tasty dish, or are we aware that there exists a higher value in the world, an eternal truth, more worth our while and inherently more valuable than the dish of lentils, than a fleeting moment of gratification, that it is worth sacrificing some lentils for an eternal birthright?

As a point of clarification, by no means are we expected to reject the physical realities of this world or condone abstinence from all its delights, a life of loneliness or self-affliction. We are, however, expected to "grab on to the heel of Esav," to ensure that Esav does gain a monopoly over us, total control over every aspect of our existence. It is expected that if an entire day is devoted to our work, then at least at "the heel of the day" we devote some time for Torah study, to allocate a portion of ourselves towards spirituality, the "birthright"!

If we are successful in this endeavor, then we will merit both the birthright and all the blessings.


Rabbi Nahman of Breslov zs"l told the following story, one which relates to our parashah as well as to the lives of each and every one of us. There once lived a certain hard-luck Jew, who failed in virtually every endeavor on which he embarked. Finally, his wife told him, "A fortune-teller recently arrived in town. Go and ask him for some advice - maybe your luck will change for the better!" He was terrified. He was an observant Jew, a true, sincere believer. "G-d forbid!" he cried. "The Torah strictly prohibits seeking the advice of magicians and sorcerers. We are commanded, 'You shall be whole with Hashem your G-d,' which Rashi understands as prohibiting the use of magicians!"

But his wife did not give up so easily. She pressured him to go to the fortune-teller, and eventually he succumbed to her badgering and went.

He entered the dark room, as the sorcerer flipped his cards and muttered various incantations. Finally, he spoke up. "I see that you will find success in one endeavor only - thievery!"

He shuddered and ran home. His wife asked him, "So, what did he say?" "Nothing," answered the man, "he told me there is no luck for me." The woman sighed as she noticed a grin on her husband's face. "What's so funny," she asked. "Nothing, I just remembered a joke," he answered. Bitterly she replied, "My entire world is dark, and you are grinning. Tell me the joke so I can at least laugh with you." He did not want to tell the truth about his visit with the sorcerer, and tried to avoid telling her. Eventually, however, the truth came out. "It is funny what the fortune-teller said..."

The wife's face became pale and she shouted, "Heaven forbid! Never!" But their situation continued getting worse and worse. They had no food to eat, their children cried in hunger, and she started having second thoughts. "Maybe, in spite of everything, if this is where our luck is..."

"What are you saying!" shouted her husband. "It is better to die in honor than to live in sin and disgrace!" The hunger intensified, and the idea stuck. The man struggled with the issue, '...I do not want to do it...I do not want to do it...', he thought, but in the end he gave in. He decided to steal ten coins to buy just bread, nothing more.

The theft succeeded, though not without serious pangs of conscience. Soon enough, the bread was finished and the pressures surfaced once again. He debated with himself back and forth, '...I do not want to do it, I do not want to do it...', he thought, but he went again. Only this time he was caught. As he was being led to the gallows he saw the sorcerer, who, for our purposes, represents the yesser hara (evil inclination). "You have no idea how much I had to struggle," he said, "to bring you to this point."

This is the crux of the story, but the most critical element of the story is the sentence, "'I don't want to do it, I don't want to do it', but, in the end, he went." Aren't we all quite familiar with this sentence? We have before us a good Jew (like each of us!), endowed with the proper qualities (like each of us!), who makes the correct decisions (like each of us!), but lacks the strength to follow up on those decisions. How many times have we decided to increase our participation in Torah classes? We know how much they contribute to our development, that Torah knowledge is the true, eternal acquisition, the key to good fortune in both worlds. So, what happened? "Pressures..." We didn't want to, we didn't want to, but in the end we did. We were dragged along, we were pressured, and we gave in...

This is but one example. How many times have we decided that the secular publications which contain such heresy and immodesty will never again see our door post? So, what happened? Our decisions gradually begin eroding...

If we need a mirror to look at ourselves properly, then perhaps we should take a close look at this week's parashah, specifically at the frightful image of Esav.

His righteous father asks him to take his bow and arrow and go hunt an animal to be prepared for eating, in order that Yis'hak will bless him. Hazal tell of Esav's special clothing, clothes which belonged originally to Adam. This clothing had made its way to Nimrod, and Esav acquired it when he killed Nimrod. Hazal tell us that the animals would bow down before whoever wore these clothes. Esav, however, did not wear them. He left them in the house, and Yaakov wore them when he disguised himself as Esav to take the blessing in his brother's stead. Why did Esav not take this clothing with him? After all, his task was to hunt an animal - surely it would have been easier if he had these special clothes with him! The answer is that Esav excelled in his performance of the misvah of honoring parents. His father had specifically instructed him to take his weapons with him and hunt for an animal to bring him. Therefore, Esav was determined not to take shortcuts, to exert the effort to fulfill his father's wishes. Such honor for his father!

However, the pasuk continues, "Esav went to the field, to hunt an animal to bring." Rashi explains that the seemingly superfluous term, "to bring," suggests that Esav was prepared to bring the hunt for his father even if it meant resorting to theft. Targum Yonatan explains that in fact Esav did not find what he was looking for. He therefore took a dog, killed it, and prepared it for his father.

A dog? For our great patriarch, Yis'hak? Is this the honor of parents which Esav had demonstrated so powerfully?

The answer is not only clear but familiar to us from our own experiences. The decision was a clear and correct one, the drive was very sincere. But there were pressures; the hunt was unsuccessful. 'He didn't want to do it, he didn't want to do it', but in the end he presented his father with a dog.

Indeed, this is the path followed by Esav. But we are the descendants of Yaakov. We must be consistent, to remain steadfast in our determination, to remain strong and unwavering in our commitment.


Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

Arranged by Rav Moshe Yosef shlit"a

The Blessing for Cake Baked With Grain and Other Ingredients (part3)

In the previous issue we explained that one who eats cake baked with grain as well as honey, sugar, eggs, or something of this nature, despite the fact that one recites mezonot prior to eating as long as the grain was included to provide taste, the halachah regarding berachah aharonah is more complex. If the other ingredients (other than the grain) constitute the majority, and one eats only a "kezayit" of the entire cake, then he does not recite any berachah aharonah, due to the fact that there is a doubt which blessing to recite. But if the grain constitutes the majority, then if the other ingredients were included in the batter together with the flour then they contribute to the necessary quantity of kezayit, and then one would recite al hamihyah if he eats a kezayit. If, however, they were not together in the batter (such as a layer over the cake, or a stuffing, etc.) then they do not contribute to the quantity of a kezayit.

If one eats a "borekas" filled with potato, and believes that he did not eat a kezayit-worth of dough, but knows for sure that he ate a kezayit of the potato-filling, the Aharonim (later authorities) are in dispute as to what he should do. Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a, in "Yabi'a Omer" vol.7 (32) rules that in such a situation one recites "borei nefashot," for although the dough represents the most significant part of the borekas, and is responsible for mezonot being recited before eating both the dough and the potato, nevertheless, since he cannot recite a berachah aharonah on the most significant part (because he did not eat a sufficient amount), and he needs some blessing for the other part - the potato - of which he did eat a sufficient quantity, he recites the blessing for the potato, namely, borei nefashot. (For further reading on this topic, read Rav Yis'hak Yosef shlit"a, in "Yalkut Yosef" vol.3 p. 491.)

In summary, if one eats a kezayit from a cake whose batter included flour as well as other ingredients, then the following guidelines should be followed:

·If the flour constitutes the majority, then mezonot is recited before eating and al hamihyah is recited afterward.

·If the other ingredients constitute the majority, then mezonot is recited before eating and no berachah aharonah is recited at all.

One who eats a kezayit from baked goods with a filling, for example, where the dough was kneaded with only a small amount of sugar and the other ingredients were introduced only later as a filling, then the filling cannot contribute to minimum amount of a kezayit. Therefore, the following rules apply:

·If the person ate a kezayit from the dough, then he recites al hamihyah. If he ate a kezayit from the entire pastry, then he recites no berachah aharonah.

·If he ate a kezayit from the filling, then he recites a borei nefashot.

(It should be clear that if the individual ate a kezayit of dough as well as a kezayit from the filling, he recites only al hamihyah which absolves his obligation with regard to everything.)


Rabbi Refael Elbaz zs"l

Rabbi Refael Elbaz zs"l, one of the great leader of Safro, Morocco, passed away around one hundred years ago. Once he was traveling together with another Jew and an armed, barbaric gentile. Suddenly, the non-Jew stopped dead in his tracks with a look of terror in his eyes. He pointed to a tree which stood along the side of the road, its branches hovering over the road. "Do you see this tree? Look at its branches carefully," he said. His two companions looked but saw nothing. He continued, "Do you see this branch? It is actually a giant snake, a serpent called 'assad.' Birds land on its back under the impression that it is a harmless branch. Then it swallows the poor birds! It has attacked many such passersby." The man lowered his gun from his back and aimed it at the serpent. The rabbi asked him, "What are you doing?" The man answered, "I will try to kill him. But if I miss, he will come after us, and we are finished!" Said the rabbi, "If so, then wait a little bit until I give you the sign." The rabbi stood in prayer and gave a sign to the gentile. He fired, and the bullet struck the snake's head and crushed it. He then went and opened the snake's stomach, and he found the birds which it had swallowed, one of them still alive.

This story contains many lessons. For one thing, we see a necessary connection between the weapon and prayer. "Our feet survived in war, because of the gates of Jerusalem which were involved in Torah." We see with our own eyes how much divine assistance we need and the devastating effects of "hester panim," when Hashem turns His back to us, as it were. Projects and operations previously thought to be "fool-proof" fail terribly during these periods.

The second lesson relates to the scheme conducted by the snake, alluding to the yesser hara. He disguises himself as an innocent branch, sitting idly and motionless. With each step we take, we run the risk of landing right in its trap, Heaven forbid...


"When he [Yis'hak] took Rivkah...for himself as a wife"

Why does the Torah choose to specify in this verse that Rivkah was, "...the daughter of Betuel the Aramite from Padan Aram, the sister of Lavan the Aramite"? Furthermore, the phrase, "for himself" seems superfluous. Also, why does the Torah note that Yis'hak was married at the age of forty? Rabbi Refael Hamalach Birdogo zs"l of Miknas answers all these questions with a single answer. Since the majority of the people of that time worshipped idols, and given the influence exerted on the husband by his wife, Avraham waited for his son to reach forty, the age of wisdom, so that the daughter of idolaters would be "for him, a wife," under his positive influence, rather than the opposite.

"Yis'hak prayed to Hashem"

Hazal say that Rivkah was not granted pregnancy until Yis'hak's prayer, in order that the non-Jews not claim that Lavan's blessing to her - "Our sister, you shall come to be tens of thousands" -was responsible for her fertility. Rabbi Haim Kohen of Aram Soba, one of the great students of the Ar"i zs"l, added that this is the intention of the pasuk, "Yis'hak prayed to Hashem opposite ['nochah," related to the word 'hochahah,' proof] his wife for she was barren," meaning, that Yis'hak presented Hashem with the following argument: For twenty years now my wife has been barren, and it has been effectively proven that Lavan's blessing was of no avail. Therefore, the time is right for You to bless her with a child...

"And thereafter his [Esav's] brother came out"

The Ar"i zs"l explains that "Esav," an allusion to the evil inclination with which the person is born, always comes out first. Only thereafter, as he takes upon himself the yoke of misvot, does his "brother Yaakov" come out, the yesser tov of the person emerges. He holds Esav's heel, restraining his temptations and decreasing its strength, until, eventually, he acquires the birthright. The individual understands that he must then listen to the yesser tov and offer him the authority of the firstborn, not to the yesser hara which attempts to remove the yoke of misvot from his shoulders. And then, he merits all the blessings!


Food Storage

Many animals prepare large areas of storage for food before the long, cold winter. The most common of such creatures is, without question, the ant. Ants generally gather food that grows from the ground. Some ants eat mushrooms, and collect twigs and leaves which serve as a mat for their food. Other ants collect lice in order to use the special liquid secreted by these lice.

During the summer, the European hamster prepares a large cave for the winter in which he stores his food. This cave is divided into different compartments, each containing a different type of food, such as potatoes or corn kernels. The European hamster sometimes stores before the winter as much as ninety kilograms of food.

The woodpecker collects acorns. It pecks hundreds of holes in the barks of trees where he hides his acorns, in preparation for the winter.

The mole, which eats earthworms, also prepares a huge storage area, in which can be found thousands of earthworms.

The Creator implanted within these animals the knowledge and intellect, not to mention the desire, to prepare food for the difficult times. During these periods, the animals benefit from their previous labor. The message we learn from these creatures is that fortunate is the one who toils in this world, which is compared to Erev Shabbat, for he will then be granted the opportunity to eat on Shabbat - the World to Come.


The Severed Hand (5)

Flashback: The Sultan Abdul Magid saved the young twelve-year-old, Eli, from hunger by supporting him while he attended school as well as caring for his father. The father was treated with honor and recovered from his illness. Eli was eventually appointed as court supervisor, and his father earned stature and prominence as a result.

Meanwhile, a war broke out between Russia and Turkey, the War of 1854. The army was busy in the battlefields, and the Sultan was compelled the ensure the loyalty of his subjects. He was no longer capable of suppressing uprisings and could not afford to have any new battle fronts open. The Ottoman Empire consisted of many different nations, many of which were poor and downtrodden. The Sultan therefore announced equal rights for all his subjects, regardless of religion or nationality. In this way, he earned the trust and loyalty of many different people, and he began drafting them into his army.

However, this gesture did not find favor among the zealous Moslems, who were accustomed to their exclusive stature. The upper echelons in the army felt threatened as talented generals replete with medals and decorations from other countries began rapidly moving up in the ranks. The officers feared that the next step would be the inclusion of officers from other nations and religions. These fires of aggravation were fueled by the religious leaders, who secretly incited others against the government's decisions and warned of grave consequences. However, the Sultan's power remained steadfast, and his fear was still instilled within the majority of the population. No officer, no general, not even a fiery zealot dared call for a rebellion or translated the harsh warnings into action.

There was just one individual, who was incited by the religious leaders and whose zeal knew no limits. This was none other than Mustafah Halil Aga, Eli's father, who forgot the kindness the Sultan had showed him and his son, and he called a gathering a rebels into his home...

to be continued...

excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Rehearsal for afterlife part VI

The foundation of piety is the Awareness of the Afterlife. Therefore, any piety without this foundation cannot be secure. This awareness is also the root from which grows the perfect service; without this Awareness, there is no source or incentive for perfect service of G-d. The joys of the Shabbat are a sensory means of gaining Awareness of the World to Come. Happy is the nation which eats and drinks on Shabbat, and reflects on the necessity of utilizing their lives for the attainment of Perfection in G-d's service, and they sing of His creation of the Universe out of nothing, and they are happy in his kindliness and enjoy his bounty with gratitude; and all the while they contemplate themselves as rehearsing for the great Shabbat to come when they shall be rewarded for this happiness by an immensely greater joy which never comes to an end.

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