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by Mordecai Kornfeld
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Parashat Toldot 5757


The two children [who would later become known as Yakov and Esav] struggled with each other inside their mother Rivka, and she said, "If it is like this, why am I...?" Rivka went to seek the counsel of the prophets.

The prophet explained to Rivka, "There are two nations ["Goyim"] inside of you, and two kingdoms shall derive from you. One kingdom will constantly try to overcome the other.... [Bereishit 25:22-23]

Two nations ["Goyim"] -- The word "Goyim" in this verse is missing a Vav, and can therefore be read "Geyim," or "proud ones." The two "proud ones" were Antoninus Caesar and Rebbi Yehudah Hanassi, who both had various delicacies on their tables all year long. [Rashi ad loc., based on Gemara Avodah Zarah 11a]

Why did Chazal single out Rebbi Yehudah (aka "Rebbi") and Antoninus as the two "proud ones" from among all the descendants of Yakov and Esav? If Chazal meant to choose the wealthiest and most powerful representatives of the two nations, there were certainly more appropriate examples from which to choose. The Midrash Rabba (63:7) does, in fact, contend that the two "proud ones" were King Solomon and the Emperor Hadrian, who were certainly "prouder" than the former two. Why, then, did the Gemara in Avodah Zarah select Rebbi and Antoninus?

Secondly, how could Chazal justify their interpretation with the context of the verse? Why would the prophet point out to Rivka that her descendants would be the wealthy Rebbi and Antoninus? How would that allay her anxieties?


We may suggest an answer to the first question based on a Gemara in Yoma. We are taught that the two goats used for the Yom Kippur services in the Beit Hamikdash must be similar in appearance, height, and price. They are even to be purchased at the same time. This is derived from the fact that the Torah tells us to take "two goats." Why must it mention *two* goats? The plural form alone -- "goats" -- is enough to convey to us the need for at least two, since a well established rule teaches us to presume the lower limit when interpreting a word that may include a range of numbers. From the addition of the word "two" we can extrapolate that the goats must share common characteristics -- they must be "two of the same." (See also Kol Eliyahu to Parashat Bereishit par. # 2, Rashi to Devarim 9:10 quoting from Midrash Tanchuma).

We can understand our verse in a similar manner. Why did the verse specify *two* nations [Goyim], or proud ones [Geyim]? We would have inferred from the plural form, "nations," that the verse is referring to two nations! The additional word "two," teaches us that the two will be *equally* powerful, and that they will partners.

At which point in history do we find Yakov and Esav's descendants on equal footing? Doesn't Rashi (Bereishit 25:23) tell us that the two will never be equally powerful? When one rises, the other will fall! And as far as peaceful coexistence is concerned, "It is a well known fact that Esav and his descendants will always hate Yakov!" (Rashi to Bereishit 33:4)

The only time in history that the leaders of Esav and Yakov were both powerful and cooperated with each other was during the times of Antoninus and Rebbi, as described in detail by the Gemara in Avodah Zarah 10b (and Tosafot). It was these two who were the two "equally proud ones" to which the Torah refers, not King Solomon and Hadrian! (see Maharal in Gur Arye, and Maharsha in Avodah Zarah who suggest a similar approach.)


Was the era of Rebbi just a fluke of history? Why did this seeming change of human nature, whereby Yakov and Esav coexisted peacefully, occur in Rebbi's days? Far from a random occurrence, it is clear evidence of Divine intervention in the forming of Jewish history. Rashi describes the background to this period of history.

In the generations preceding Rebbi, there was so much disunity in the interpretation of the Torah, that the Torah was as two Torahs. This was due to the cruelty of the Roman empire and their anti-religious decrees. The Jewish leaders were not able to calmly analyze the Halachah due to the prevailing situation.

The situation remained as such until the times of Rebbi, when Hashem caused Rebbi to find favor in the eyes of the Roman Caesar, Antoninus, who relaxed the evil Roman decrees. Rebbi gathered all the Rabbinical students of Eretz Yisrael... and calmly analyzed all of the halachic opinions, organizing them into the Mishnaic code. [Rashi Bava Metzia 33b]

By the times of Rebbi, the oral Mesorah was in such a sorry state that it appeared as though it would be totally forgotten (cf. Rambam's introduction to Mishneh Torah; Gemara Ketuvot 103b "Gedolim Ma'asei Chiya..."; the story of Rebbi Yehudah ben Bava and the Semichah in Sanhedrin 13b). But Hashem already promised us that "the Torah will never be forgotten from Yakov's children" (Devarim 31:21, and Rashi). In keeping with his promise, Hashem intervened with the natural course of history and caused Antoninus to be best of friends with Rebbi (Avodah Zarah 10b). In this manner the Jews were given a chance to reorganize the Mesorah and establish it in a permanent manner.



We may now answer our second question: How did the prophet's statement regarding Rebbi and Antoninus answer Rivka's questions? Let us re-analyze Rivka's question.

Rivka deduced that one of her children would be a righteous person who would learn Torah while the other would be attracted to houses of idol-worship (see Rashi to 25:22). Since "our forefathers' lives set a historical precedent for our own destiny" (Tanchuma, quoted and expounded upon by Ramban Bereishit 12:6, see Parasha-Page, Lech Lecha 5756), it was already clear that the two nations that would derive from Rivka would be opposites. What bothered Rivka was "If it is like this, Why am I"? -- i.e., why should two such opposites be carried by the same woman, at the same time? Such an intimate association would seem to hint that the descendants of the two would be inseparable companions, while nothing could be farther from the truth! Why then, she wondered, were the two of them born to one mother, in a single birth?

The prophet answered, "These are Rebbi and Antoninus." If not for this temporary togetherness, there would be no opportunity for such opposing nations to share any common destiny. Hashem had them share a birth, because He foresaw the need for Yakov and Esav to unite during that one period in history when their unity would be necessary for the survival of Judaism. The prophet answered Rivka, "There are two equally powerful nations inside of you -- Hashem wants to unite your offspring during the times of Rebbi and Antoninus. Aside from that period, however, the two will part ways -- "Mimei'ayich Yiparedu" (see Rashi). May Hashem return Yakov to his former glory, speedily in our days!

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