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by Daneal Weiner
From the Orchards of Jerusalem
It did it again! Parshas Noach began, "These are the offspring of Noach- Noach was a righteous man..." We had to ask, what does one have to do with the other? And now
begins, "These are the offspring of Yitschak, son of Avraham- Avraham begot Yitshcak." Thanks for the tip! What is going on this time? I'm glad you asked.
Since Rav Wolfson did such a good job in Parshas Noach, I thought we'd have a look at what he has to say this week. With the Rav, no question stands alone! The second verse says that Yitschak was 40 when he took the daughter of Besuel, the sister of Lavan as a wife. Duh hay! (not Rav Wolfson's exact words) Why repeat old news? Then it goes on to say that Yitschak prayed for Rivka because she was barren. The usual syntax of the Torah would have been to say, "Because Rivka was barren, Yitschak prayed." Why reverse the syntax? When Rivka walks past an Idolatrous House of Prayer, (an IHOP), she feels that the child is trying to get out and she complains, "If so, why am I thus?" Let's see. Sarah marries Avraham, moves from home, is hit by a famine, is forced into Egpyt, is taken by Pharaoh, her only nephew wants to be a Sodomite, her husband goes to war, she's kidnapped by Avimelech, doesn't have a kid till she's 90... you get the picture? Never a peep out of her. Rivka feels a couple kicks and starts with the "why me"'s? Something is wrong with this picture. Let's make it right.
Back in Lech Lecha, the Midrash says that H' wanted to give the priesthood to the descendants of Shem but Shem lost the privilege. After chasing the 4 kings out of Israel, on the return trip Avraham was greeted by one of the humbled 5 kings named Malki-Tseddek, king of Shaleim. Rashi says this was Shem, son of Noach. He came out and greeted Avraham saying, "Blessed is Avraham..." and then he followed that up with, "And blessed is G- d..." He disgraced H' by putting Him 2nd. H' took the kahunah away from him. The problem is that there were 10 generations between Noach and Avraham and the 1st one is SHEM! How do you take the priesthood away from the descendants of Shem and give it to Avraham who is a descendant of Shem? The same question can be asked this way. Why is Avraham the father of all the Jews and not Terach, Avraham's father?
The answers begin by knowing that not only was Rivka and Sarah barren but Avraham was too. When it came to the descendants of Shem and Terach, as soon as they got to Avraham, the buckaroo's stop here! No more kids. End of the line. So when H' performs a miracle for Avraham and lets him have children, who's children are they? Certainly Avraham's and we have to say certainly NOT Terach's or Shem's. If those two are still on the books it is through descendants other than Avraham Aveinu. Avraham was a Briyah chadasha- a new creation! So much so that Avraham was able to leave his father's house and not have to worry about not doing kibude Av, honoring his father. "Father? What father? I don't have a father." Remember, Avraham was a professional. Please don't try this at home.
There's a Gemorah that says if a husband wants to know what his future children will be like then he should look at his wife's brother. Not regarding looks but regarding character. Elsewhere, halacha states that if a husband and wife do not have children for 10 years then the husband may assume the wife to be barren and may divorce her in order to remarry. He is the one with the commandment of procreation. He is not forced but is given the option of divorce. This is NOT ANYTHING like marriage in America where divorce is option #1. The Gemorah Kesuvos opens with a law that regards a widow. The question is asked, why not mention the divorced woman for whom the same law would apply? The answer is that in Judaism, we like to talk about pleasant things. That's the Torah's view of divorce. Not a whole lot is worse. But the Torah commands the man to have children. Well, the Torah can't command him to have children because it's not up to him. It's up to G-d. He has the command to try. Never the less, I digress.
So now we can start putting pieces together. We are told that Yitschak was 40 when he married Rivka. She was 3. She is not fit for children till 12 1/2 years and we are told that Yitschak was 60 when Rivka gave birth. That means that the 20 years they were married, the first 10 years she could not have kids and the second 10 she did not have kids. She is now halachicly considered as barren. (Of course, the Torah is capable of telling us that she was really barren.) Being considered as barren, giving birth now would be nothing short of a miracle. A miracle??? Just what the doctor ordered!!! Because who was Rivka's brother? We were just told, it's Lavan! The epitome of evil! For 10 years Yitschak was looking forward to having a son just like him! But now that she's barren, now that her giving birth would be a miracle, she's cut off from all family ties! Now they can have a child without him having the characteristics of Lavan. Now they start to pray. The prayers G-d has been waiting for.
The syntax of the Torah is to put the effect before the cause. It did! It wasn't backwards. "Yitschak entreated H' because Rivka was barren." Gemorah Yivamos, "G-d desires the prayers of the righteous." Her being barren was the cause to effect their prayers. And Rashi tells us that the word `entreated' implies abundantly!
Baruch Hashem, Rivka is pregnant! A new tsaddik is on his way into the world. The prayers were answered, the miracle performed, no more Lavan, and what's next? Rivka goes walking passed the IHOP and the kids wants out!?! How could Rivka not ask after all that, "If so, why am I thus?" If he's just another Lavan, why was I barren?" As we know, there are twins. She is told that the answer to their prayers is to have twins. While one kid gets all the kedusha, the other gets all the tuma! But we know G-d tests no man beyond his capabilities. If Eisav was the fall guy, did he have a chance? The answer is yes. If he would have stayed on the derech he would have been 1000 times the Tsaddik that Yaakov turned out to be! He was destined to marry Leah. His head is burried in the Ma'aras Hamachpelah. The signs of his potential are all there. But I digress.
Last but not close to least, "And these are the offspring of Yitschak son of Avraham..." It all happened just like "...Avraham begot Yitschak." The same story. The same miracles. The same Jewish story. The history of the Jews says we just can't be. That's the way we started. Not just once. Not just twice. Next week we'll see that Rachel and Leah were barren too!
There are a couple interesting Rashi's on the aforementioned verses. On the first verse Rashi says we are told "Avraham begot Yitschak" because of the scoffers of that generation. For years Avraham could not have children with Sarah. Then Sarah is taken in by Avimelech and soon thereafter she is pregnant. The scoffers would say that the child is from Avimelech so G-d made sure all would know this was not the case. Yitschak looked exactly like his father, Avraham.
The Bais Halevi has a question. `Scoffers?' Someone has the gall to say that Sarah Imainu slept with another man and passed the kid off as Avraham's and Rashi, you just want to call them `scoffers'? POND SCUM is more like it! (not the Bais Halevi's exact words) Risha'im gamurim! Obviously, Rashi doesn't mean what you think. No one would think Sarah Imainu would do such a thing. The implication of the scoffers is that the test Sarah passed by rejecting Avimelech is what merited her having a child. Not the prayers of Avraham but surviving Avimelech. And when these jokesters would say, "From Avimelech was this child" although they mean merit-wise, the double inuendo implies otherwise. And their mockery that generation, would be front page news in the next generation. H' made sure no such thing would happen.
A couple verses later, 25:21, "Yitschak entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren. Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him, and his wife Rivka conceived." The famous Rashi on the words, "entreated by him", reads, "By him and not her because there is no comparison between the prayers of a Tsaddik ben Tsaddik to a Tsaddik ben Rasha, therefore him and not her." The excepted explanation is that Yitschak is the son of Avraham and Rivka is the daughter of Besuel. (Relax. I know she is a new creation but we're not talking blood line here.) It is certainly difficult to grow up righteous in the house of the wicked. But one can be so disgusted with the environment that they can't help but want to do things right.
Growing up in the house of the righteous can make someone into an automatic tsaddik. Even Lot in Sodom was willing to take guests into his house at the threat of his life because having grown up in the house of Avraham, there was just no other way. A Tsaddik ben TSaddik has to acheive beyond his environment in order to make his own name. Forge new paths in righteousness. Now that takes incredible effort. That is what Yitshack achieved. And so the prayers of the son of a Tsaddik merit more than the prayers of a son of a Rasha. However, at the end of his comment Rashi mentions the Gemorah which discusses this verse, Yivamos 64a. In Rashi's commentary on the Gemorah he writes `Tsaddik son of a Tsaddik to a Tsaddekes daughter of a Rasha'!
Rashi gets an A+ for gender recognition in the Gemorah. Certainly Rashi knew Rivka was a female when he wrote his commentary on Chumash. Why the masculine form? This question becomes even bigger when we ask why Rashi felt the need to say, `him and not her' twice! So we are talking about her. Obviously, Rashi doesn't mean what you think. (Gotcha again!)
The Gan Ravah puts it like this. The verse says `entreated by him' so the first thing Rashi wants you to know is it doesn't say `them'. Rivka has been excluded. "Him and not her!" Now Rashi wants to know why Avraham had to change his address, change his name, change his wife's name, go through Hagar, and only then does he and Sarah have a son while all Yitschak does is some entreating and boom, call the mohel? So Rashi says, "AH! Because there's no comparison of Yitschak, son of a Tsaddik's prayers to Avraham, son of Rasha's prayers. "Therefore," Rashi says, now it's explained why "him and not her." She's in the same boat as Avraham!
Similarly is Gemorah Brachos 27b. The head of the Sanhedrin, Rabban Gamliel is being a little too hard on Rav Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel is asked to step down for the day. The Rabbis have to decide who to put in Rabban Gamliel's stead. Rabbi Yehoshua is fit for the position but he was envolved in the incident. That would be too big of a slap to Rabban Gamliel. Rabbi Akivah is certainly fit for the job. His Torah knowledge was 2nd to Moshe Rabbeinu's, if not greater on some levels. They decided against him because he does not have z'chus avos- merit from his fathers house. What that means is Rebbe Akivah is not the son of a Tsaddik. What does that have to do with filling the position of head of the Sanhedrin?? Rashi there says, `Maybe Rabban Gamliel would want to punish him.' He says so little but so much. If Rabban Gamliel prays for Rebbe Akivah to be punished, Rebbe Akivah's prayers have very little chance of offering protection.
And speaking of offering protection, not only does Yitschak look like his father but due to famine, Yitschak takes Rivka and heads for Egpyt. Gİd tells him he is too holy to leave the holy land. They turn and settle in Gerar, the territory of Avimelech, king of the Plishtim. The Plishtim being no more G-d fearing then when Avraham dealt with them, force Yitschak to ask Rivka to say she is his sister so they do not kill him in order to take her.
Verse 26:8, "And it came to pass as his [Yitschaks] days there lengthened, that Avimelech, king of the Plishtim, gazed through the window and he saw and behold..." Avimelech now knows that Yitschak and Rivka are really husband and wife. The Torah uses a clean vernacular. It says Yitschak was `mitsachek', playing or jesting with Rivka. Rashi says they were having relations. Rashi doesn't say this on the word `mitsachek'! He doesn't say it on `and he saw'!! Rashi puts this comment on the words `Avimelech gazed'!!! All the way back there? Obviously, (all together now) Rashi doesn't mean what you think. Well, OK, he does. But the verse is not what you think.
We are talking about our holy ancestors of whom G-d just described as too holy to leave the holy land. Yitschak and Rivka didn't do things carelessly, not in the daylight, not in front of open windows. The Maskil L'David points out that the word `chalone'- window, in the Zohar means a crystal ball of sorts. Rashi's comment of what Avimelech saw was in an unusaual spot to attest to the unusual way he was doing his looking. Avimelech was spying on his guests with black magic. Not even 7 verses ago we just heard Avimelech was the king of the Plishtim and in our verse it says it again. Yet in the rest of the story, about 4 more times it's just `Avimelech'? My guess is its to teach that the Plishtim may have been low lifes, but Avimelech was king of the low lifes! We see it here.
Yitschak Aveinu knew who he was dealing with. For protection he would use G-d's name to `black out' Avimelech's crystal ball. So the verse opens, "[Yitschak's] days were lengthened there." It's been a long time! How many times do you dial a busy number before you say forget it? How many times do you try a radio station that doesn't come in clear before you say forget it? How many times could Avimelech try gazing unsuccessfully before he said forget it? Yitschak didn't want to use G-d's name in vein so after a long time passed he stopped...and there was Avimelech! King of the low lifes!!!
Two important messages I would like to cram into this last half page. Rav Dessler says that the biggest test of Yitschak's life was in giving Yaakov the materialistic bracha. His entire life he waited to give Yaakov the Torah and Eisav the world so the 2 should work hand in hand. In an instant, Yitshcak had to realize that Yaakov needed the world. Not for himself but for his descendants. Not only did Yitschak have to admit he was wrong his entire life but he also had to act right then and there, according to the truth. What strength of character. The character to always seek the truth.
Rav Weinberg, head of Aish HaTorah, a Yeshiva for returning Jews says that of you want to talk to a fellow Jew about trading in American values for Jewish ones, do it one on one. Privately. "The hardest thing in the world is to admit you're wrong. And if you think thats hard, the hardest thing in the world is to admit you're wrong in front of people. And if you think thats hard, the hardest thing is to admit you're wrong in front of people you know. And if you think thats hard the hardest thing is to admit you're wrong in front of extended family. And if you think that's hard, the hardest thing is to admit you're wrong in front of immediate family." Probabaly even harder than a spouse in front of a spouse or a sibling in front of a sibling is a parent in front of a child. That's the test Yitschak passed. If you desire the truth, Hashem will show it to you. It will be your job to grab it. Hashem will not test you beyond your means. You qualify for the job. Grab it.
Rav Wolfson notes that Toldos is the 6th parsha in the Torah. Yoseph is the 6th Ushpizin. Yoseph carries an idea of bracha. In Hallel we say, "Yoseph H' alaichem v'al bneichem bruchim atem l'H'..." May H' increase upon you and upon your children, you [Israel] are the blessed of H'. In this 6th parsha some form of the word bracha appears 33 times in 6 of the 7 aliyahs. There is a vessel for recieving bracha. The very last mishna of the 6th order says, "Hashem found no better vessel to hold the blessings of Israel then Shalom. As it says, `Hashem will give might to His nation, H' will bless His nation with Shalom.'" The pristly blessings end with `shalom'. The Shmoneh Esray ends with `shalom'.
Eisav is the antithesis of Shalom. Just like the nachash- snake is the antithesis of the Mashiach and they have the same gematria, so to does Eisav and Shalom have the same gematria. What breaks the vessel of Shalom is machlokes- conflict. There is no conflict without the koach of Eisav in it, chipping away at our Shalom, our vessel for bracha. We have to make ourselves into sturdy vessels. Clog any holes. Thicken our walls. And may H's brachas and Parshas Toldos overflow, and fill our vessels of Shalom, with Shalom, for Shalom. You can help make it happen by avoiding machlokes and having a peaceful Shabbot Shalom.
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