This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas Jack Levin
Vol. 8 No. 6
ChayimYa'akov ben Sh'lomoh Yitzchak ha'Levi ztl.
"And the babies struggled inside her, and she said 'If so, what is Onochi all about', and she went to seek advice from Hashem" (25:22).
Both the Gro and R. Simchah Bunim from P'shischa ascribe Rifkah's query to her belief that she was expecting only one baby. Consequently, they explain, she was frustrated at the fact that that baby seemed to want to serve Hashem and to worship idols at one and the same time.
And so, based on her knowledge that there is only one G-d, she went to enquire from Hashem about this troublesome phenomenon, as to who would win the battle - the Yeitzer ha'tov or the Yeitzer ho'ra. Back came the reply: "There are two nations in your stomach. You are pregnant with two babies, not just one". And Hashem went on to assure her that her tradition of one G-d was sound, and that she would indeed give birth to a son who would follow in that tradition. However, she would also give birth to another son, who would not. He would serve only idols.
It must certainly have been reassuring to hear that she would have a son like Ya'akov. But what sort of consolation was it to hear that she would also have a son like Eisov?
When Eliyohu ha'Novi confronted the prophets of Ba'al on Mount Carmel, he turned to Yisroel and chided them for serving Hashem and Ba'al intermittently. "If Hashem is G-d, then follow Him, and if Ba'al is god, then follow him (but don't try and serve them both)!" And that explains why Rifkah was perplexed when she thought that she was pregnant with one child and relieved when she discovered that she was carrying two, even if one of them would be an idolater. Firstly, because one of her sons would be a total tzadik, and secondly because, even if her second son would be a total idolator, at least he would not "jump on two thresholds".
It is also possible that the news that she would have a son like Ya'akov, who would go in the ways of Hashem and fulfill his destiny, was indeed ample consolation for Rifkah, even if she had another son, like Eisov. And this is especially true in light of the prophecy that "the older one would serve the younger one" - provided that the younger one fulfilled the mitzvos (Targum Yonoson - 25:23). The fact that Ya'akov held the key to his own destiny as well as Eisov's, would suffice to console her over Eisov's birth, together with the knowledge that he (Eisov) would in due course rise to greatness.
In addition, it may well have pleased Rifkah to know that her son Eisov (the instrument that Hashem would use to chastise Ya'akov and put him in his place whenever he strayed from the path, as the prophecy cleary depicted) would somehow assist Ya'akov to keep on track. In other words, she would be pleased that Eisov would play a major role in the development of Klal Yisroel, and that he would be the tool to achieve this, rather than a total stranger.
The Kli Yokor agrees with the initial contention, that Rifkah was worried because she believed that she was carrying only one baby who could not decide which way he was heading. But he adds that when she said "If so, why am I ... " she meant to ask in what way she was any different than other women who also gave birth to children who subsequently worshipped idols. If she would give birth to a child who believed in dual deities, then she was no better than they.
In his second explanation however, he presents the following explanation of Rifkah's frustration. When Yitzchok prayed on behalf of Rifkah for children (and not on his own), it was because he was a tzadik ben tzadik, whose merits exceeded those of Rifkah, who was a tzadik bas rosho. He knew full well that, as far as he was concerned, his children would be tzadikim. If there were problems and there would be bad children from their marriage, then it would be the result of Rifkah's poor yichus - seeing as her father was Besu'el and her brother, Lovon (see Ba'al ha'Turim 24:29). Indeed, that was probably the cause of her barrenness. It was very much like his father's marriage to Hogor, which produced a bad son Yishmoel, as a result of Hogor's poor yichus.
When in the course of her pregnancy, one child tried to emerge whenever they passed a place of idolatry and the other whenever they passed the Yeshivah of Shem and Eiver, she saw herself on the same level as Hogor. (It is not clear however, why the Kli Yokor does not give this explanation in conjunction with his initial contention that Rifkah originally believed that she was pregnant with only one baby, in which case it would render her even more like Hogor.)
But when she went to complain to Hashem that, if her son was to be no better than Hogor's, she had davened in vain, He replied "There are two nations in your womb" (Yisrael and Rome). The word "ge'im' however, can also mean 'two proud ones (i.e. two eminent men), Rebbi and Antoninus, as Rashi explains. For the emperor Antoninus was no ordinary Roman, but a righteous gentile who later converted to Judaism. And in that point, Rifkah had a distinct advantage over Hogor, from whom no righteous gentile descended.
And what was it that granted Eisov this distinction over Yishmoel? Perhaps it is as we wrote earlier: Yes, he served idols, but he served them in toto, not idols one day and Hashem the next. And in doing so, he created an atmosphere that could cause him to reverse his outlook. Because someone who is totally dedicated to idolatry today, stands a chance of becoming totally dedicated to Hashem tomorrow, if not him, then his son or his grandson. And it is with Antoninus that the reversal ultimately occurred.
The Cart Before the Horse
"And Yitzchok davened to Hashem on behalf of his wife because she was barren" (25:21).
Surely the Torah should have inverted the phrases, and to have first informed us that Rifkah was barren and then that Yitzchok davened for her, asks Rabeinu Bachye? Only that would have implied that Yitzchok davened because Rifkah was barren, he replies, whereas in reality, it was the other way round. Rifkah became barren in order that Yitzchok should daven - because as Chazal have said, 'The reason that three out of the four mothers were barren was so that the fathers should daven on their behalf.' Consequently, the Torah first states that Yitzchok davened and then that Rifkah was barren.
The Wondrous Pitchfork
The reason that the Torah uses the expression "va'yetar" for tefilah (rather than "Vayispalel") say Chazal in Sukah, is because it is rooted in the word 'osor' (a pitchfork). Just like a pitchfork turns over the hay, until it transfers the hay that is at the bottom to the top, and what is at the top to the bottom, so too, does tefilah have the power to switch G-d's midas ha'Din to midas Rachamim (to relegate the one and to elevate the other).
The parable, explains Rabeinu Bachye, also suggests that our prayers will ascend to G-d's Throne, then serve as a conduit to bring G-d's blessing down to us.
So powerful is prayer, he adds, that it can even achieve the impossible by changing nature - as is evident from Yitzchok's prayer, which enabled his barren wife to have children.
Everything Has a Reason or Two
As mentioned above, three out of the four mothers were barren, Soroh, Rifkah and Rochel, so that Avrohom, Yitzchok and Ya'akov should daven on their behalf. This is due to Hashem's special attachment to the prayers of tzadikim (and certainly of the Ovos). Leah presumably, was not barren because, as the Torah specifically writes, Ya'akov did not initially love her, and would therefore not have davened for her. (It was only after she began to bear him children that his love for her developed.)
Rabeinu Bachye points to other reasons as to why the mothers were barren. Soroh, he says, was barren in order that Avrohom should marry Hogor, who would bear him Yishmoel (because Yishmoel was destined to descend from Avrohom), and in order to change her name from Sorai to Soroh. This in turn, was to demonstrate that the same 'hey' (a letter from G-d's Name) which G-d used to create the world, was endowed with the power to negate the 'Mazel' which guides the world, a sign that the Master who appointed the heavenly powers, retained jurisdiction over them, to negate them at will.
Rifkah was barren for twenty years (from the time that Yitzchok was forty until he reached the age of sixty), to ensure that Eisov's birth be postponed for twenty years, and that as a result, the day he strayed from the path would not take place during Avrohom's lifetime. G-d had promised Avrohom that he would die in peace, and so on the one hand, Yishmoel did teshuvah during his lifetime, and on the other, Eisov did not sin publicly until the day he died.
And as for Rochel, her inability to have children was part of the Divine plan to enable Bilhoh and Zilpoh to marry Ya'akov and to bear him Don, Naftoli, God and Osher.
Midos Override All
"And G-d answered him, and Rifkah his wife became pregnant" (25:21).
The Torah Temimah cites a dispute between the Bach and the Maharshal, who rule that it is preferable to pick a Shatz whose father was a tzadik, whilst the Taz is of the opinion that 'G-d wants the heart'.
The Taz does not explain how he interprets the Gemoro in Yevomos (quoted by Rashi here). The Gemoro derives from this posuk (implying that Yitzchok's prayers were answered and not Rifkah's) that one cannot compare the tefilah of a tzadik, the son of a tzadik, to that of a tzadik, the son of a rosho.
The Torah Temimah therefore does so on his behalf. He explains that the Gemoro is speaking about two people of comparable standing, even where one is perhaps more learned than the other. That is where the son of a tzadik nevertheless has the edge over the tzadik who is the son of a rosho. The Taz on the other hand, is speaking about someone whose midos are superlative - and that overrides even the advantage of a tzadik, the son of a tzadik.
And he proves his point from a Gemoro in Ta'anis (25b) which cites an episode where Rebbi Akiva's prayers for rain were answered after those of Rebbi Eliezer were rejected. This was not because Rebbi Akiva was greater (in learning) than Rebbi Eliezer, but because he was willing to overlook the transgressions of others (superlative midos), whereas Rebbi Eliezer was not. And that, in spite of the fact that Rebbi Akiva (who descended from converts) lacked z'chus ovos, whereas Rebbi Eliezer did not.
"Rebbi Shimshon Refoel Hirsch asks why Rifkah saw fit to send Ya'akov in to Yitzchok for the b'rochos, even though she knew that in the end his ruse would be discovered. And he replies that she did it to bring to Yitzchok's attention the realization that he could be tricked, and if Ya'akov could trick him, so too, could Eisov.
I would suggest two additional answers:
1. She did so in order that, in the meantime, Ya'akov would receive the b'rochos, turning him into a 'muchzak' (the established owner). And once he had become a muchzak, on the basis of the principle 'possession is nine-tenths of the law', it would be more difficult to deprive him of them afterwards.
2. Yitzchok would realize that the blessing that he gave Ya'akov was a Divine one, and that Ya'akov had received them by the grace of G-d.
All three reasons were finally justified: 1.Yitzchok did indeed discover Eisov's trickery (as Rashi explains 27:36). 2.It is clear from the pesukim that once Ya'akov had obtained the b'rochos it would not be easy to retrieve them. 3. Yitzchok added "Let him also be blessed", because as the Seforno explains, so smoothly did the words flow from Yitzchok's mouth, that he accepted them as the Divine will.
History of the World
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
There were more than three hundred Kohanim Gedolim during the period of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh. Of these, Shimon ha'Tzadik served 40 years, Yochonon Kohen Godol 80, Yochonon ben Naharvo'i 10 and Elozor ben Charsum 11, a total of 141 years. It transpires that, on average, none of the other Kohanim Gedolim survived even one year.
The second Beis ha'Mikdosh is destroyed four hundred and twenty years after its construction.
Those that are slain at the hand of Titus, over and above those that are unknown and those who died in the battles of Elozor ben Anoni, number one million one hundred thousand.
Of the numerous captives, Titus takes sixteen thousand with him to Rome. He has Yochonon, leader of the zealots, cruelly tortured to death, and Shimon the zealot tortured and killed and his body thrown to the dogs. On his return journey to Rome, in every town that he camps, he captures the zealots and throws them to the lions, until none remain.
In Rome, they construct a large stone slab on which they engrave pictures of the vessels of the Beis ha'Mikdosh and of the Jewish captives being led to Rome, as a perpetual monument to the might of Titus. (It is known today as 'Titus' arch'.)
The first of the ten martyrs is Rabon Shimon, son of Rabon Gamliel ha'Zoken. He is killed shortly before the churban, as is Chananyah the deputy Kohen Godol and Rebbi Yishmoel ben Elisha, the Kohen Godol. Some of the remaining seven martyrs die only fifty-two years after the Churban, and others a long time after that.
The author of the Piyut 'Eileh Ezkerah' that we recite on Tish'oh be'Av and on Yom Kipur mistakenly creates the impression that all ten died around the same time.
In fact, Titus wants to kill Rabbi Shimon's son, Rabon Gamliel of Yavneh (whose father he has already killed, as mentioned earlier). However, Rabon Yochonon ben Zakai intercedes on his behalf, and Vespasian grants his request. He spares Rabon Gamliel (as well as Yavneh, the seat of the Sanhedrin, and its sages, and to provide a doctor to cure Rebbi Tzodok, who had fasted perpetually for forty years in anticipation of the churban Beis ha'Mikdosh. Rebbi Papayas, Rebbi Yohonon ben Bag-Bag and his son Rebbi Elozor, all witnessed the Churban.
Rebbi Tzadok and his son Rebbi Elozor are contemporaries of Rabon Yochonon ben Zakai, who is the Nosi at the time of the Churban.
Yosef ben Gurion (Josephus) writes his book after the Churban. Although some of his words regarding Titus appear to contradict those of Chazal, he is a man of great wisdom and understanding, and is righteous and honest. He lives many hundreds of years before the Sages of the Gemoro, and is a first-hand witness of the events that transpire at this time. Consequently, his work is accepted as authentic, and this explains why various sages make every effort to reconcile his words with those of Chazal, so that they should not contradict one another.
The emperor Nero is murdered, in which case, unless there were two emperors called Nero, the Nero who converted to Judaism must have been a Roman general and not the emperor. Others however, record that Nero was not murdered, but ran away and it is not known what became of him. This makes it possible for the Nero who converted to have been the emperor himself.
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