by Daneal Weiner
Rav Moshe Wolfson on the parsha. With blessing and mazel to my brother and his wife on the birth of their first born, Avraham Eliezer ben Yehoshu Meir. May he indeed be a model of faith and chesed in whose merit salvation will shine on Israel.
“V’ayleh Toldos Yitschak ben Avraham, Avraham holeed es Yitschak.” And these are the offspring of Yitschak, son of Avraham; Avraham gave birth to Yitschak. Quite unusual, to begin a mans lineage with the man himself. Rashi explains the point of the extra words. “After his name was changed to Avraham is when he gave birth to Yitschak.” This answer’s one question and begs another. So what?
Not only that. The word “holeed” is unusual. Usually the Torah would say “yalad.”
is taking us into the birth of Yaakov. Now we need to know that when Yitschak was born it was after Avraham had his name changed?
“Vayetar Yitschak LaHashem l’nochach ishto ki akarah he”- Yitschak entreated Hashem opposite his wife because she was barren. The Gemorah Yevamos expounds on why it does not say he prayed “for” his wife but “opposite” her. To teach us that Yitschak was barren as well Rivka. The Zohar, however, says that he is praying for her, not himself therefore it is only her that is barren, not him. The Midrash says on “because she was barren” that she was lacking her womb and Hashem engraved for her one.
Also brought in the Midrash, “Vayetar”- entreated is from “chatirah”- digging. Yitschak dug out a tunnel with his prayers for Hashem to perform for him a miracle. The verse then says “Vayai’ater lo Hashem”- Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated. The Midrash says Hashem dug a tunnel back to fulfill Yitschak request.
The Midrash is saying that the only creation of something from nothing was during the first 6 days of existence. After that everything came by way of nature. Even events like the splitting of the sea, the earth opening under Korach, Bilaam’s talking donkey, all these things have connections back to creation. Giving Rivka a womb, however would be a something from nothing. None of the angels overseeing the channels of prayer would allow such a prayer to go through. Yitschak dug his way underneath them to get to Hashem. Hashem, in turn, dug a tunnel back. He bypassed the attribute of Judgment to do this kindness for Yitschak.
Having his work cut out for him, Rav Moshe Wolfson, in his inimitable fashion, will paint for us an inspiring portrait of our ancestors.
The Gemorah Berachos discusses a verse in the book of Samuel, another episode dealing with a prayer for childbirth. Sam I, 1:13 says, “Channah was speaking to her heart. Only her lips moved.” The Gemorah says she was speaking about her heart. She said to Hashem, “Master of the Universe, all that You created for a women, nothing is superfluous. The eyes see, the ears hear… and her bosom is for nursing. The bosom You placed upon my heart, are they not for nursing? Please give me a son that I may nurse him.” We know that Hashem answered her prayer. She gave birth to Shmuel.
Commentaries say that if this is so, any couple who is wanting of children can make this claim before Hashem. Yet not all succeed.
Rav Wolfson respectfully feels there is contradiction. Hashem made man perfect. Spiritually and physically. Even more than this, the two are intertwined. The physical reflects the spiritual. It is our own sins which brings upon us the weaknesses of our limbs and organs. So Hashem can respond that, in fact, He did His part but our shortcomings caused our bodies to malfunction, whether they were sins from this life time or from a previous one. So any childless couple may try this prayer but Hashem hand is not forced to respond. So how did it work for Channah?
The Arizal says that Channah was a reincarnation of Sarah. We just saw last week that the life of Sarah was 100 years and twenty years and 7 years. Why spell it out like that? To teach us that every one of her years were complete. She was sinless. Is Channah was an incarnation of her, there was no reason for her organs to be flawed. If Hashem gave her her form, in it’s entirety, everything should work. Obviously, all the reproductive organs are involved in this claim but Channah chose to speak “about her heart” to pray with decent expression.
Taking these ideas back into our parsha, the Gemorah says Yitschak was also barren while the Zohar says only Rivka was. The Midrash explained she had no womb. Yitschak, although barren, was not lacking any organs. Yitschak was in the perfect position to pray exactly as Channah had prayed. But Rivka couldn’t pray that way because she was lacking her womb. So we can say that the verses brought before us, in the Torah, are focusing in on the needs of Rivka. Yitschak’s prayers for himself were answered but for Rivka, Vayetar Yitschak LaHashem- Yitschak dug a tunnel to Hashem because for Rivka he needed to request something beyond the realm of nature.
This can answer the discrepancy in the Gemorah and the Zohar. Although they were both barren, all Yitschak need was a refua, a healing while Rivka needed a new creation. And so the Zohar looked at the verse and said, “Vayetar… l’nochach ishto”- [Yitschak] entreated… opposite his wife meant only his wife because only she needed this expression of entreating/digging.
All this is alluded to in the verse because Vayetar Yitschak LaHashem… vayai’ater lo Hashem = 1698 = Vayomer lahem Elokim p’ru ur’vu umilu es ha’arets- And G-d said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” The words of our verse connect back to creation because the answer to the prayer was a creation-like response. Furthermore, V’taher Rivka- And Rivka gave birth = 918 = Vayomer lahem Elokim, “P’ru urvu.”
Right after the first narrative of creation the Torah says, “Eileh toldos hashamayim v’ha’arets b’hibaram.”- These are the offspring/products of the heaven and earth when they were created. The word here, which is the same as our parsha, toldos, can not be translated as “offspring” regarding heaven and earth so we’ll say “products.” The word b’hibaram- when they were created, is looked at by our Sages and they say it has the same letters as b’Avraham. The meaning is that the whole purpose of creation, its only merit, is the existence of Avraham. Because Avraham’s offspring, Israel, are called ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim- believers, sons of believers, and Avraham was the first believer. He worked on his belief and ingrained it so greatly into himself that he would forever transmit that spiritual gene of belief to every descendant.
Commentaries say that this is the reason all our Forefathers and mothers were barren. So that it would not be possible to say we are not descendants of Avraham but Avraham’s father. We are not descendants of Sarah but Haran her father. As far as their parents went, the buck stopped there. There lines were finished. Only by the individual merits of our ancestors was each blessed with the ability to bear offspring. The Maharal uses this as the explanation of a Midrash which brings that Hashem told Avraham he is no longer obligated in the mitsva of “Honor your father and mother.” Because from that time onward, there was connection backward, only forward.
Going a step further, another layer deeper, this is why the letter hey was added to Avraham’s name. A hey represents a force for childbirth. The Chidah wrote that a segulah, an added merit for having children was carrying a silver hey. It is based on the verse (Gen. 47: 23), “Hey lachem zerah”- Here is seed for you. (This was Joseph speaking to the Egyptians during the years of famine.) Hashem changed Avram to Avraham and shortly thereafter he gave birth to Yitschak. The hey was a special strength from heaven that label Avrahm as his own man, no longer connected to his father.
Yitschak now descended from Avraham. The Gemorah says he was barren but the Zohar says he wasn’t. Because Yitschak’s father was Avraham, the first ma’amin. Yitschak was to be the second. Rivka, however, was the daughter of Besu’el and she needed a clear indication that she would no longer be the daughter of a wicked idolater but the mother of a nation of ma’aminim.
In the prophet Nechemia’s Levite song of Praise he recaps the history of the Nation of Israel. We say this portion of it every day in the morning prayer’s Pesukei Dezimra- verses of song. Nechemia starts out saying, “Hashem, You made the heavens, the most high heavens and all their legions.” But there was still something missing. Avraham. Because from him would descend a new class of people. A nation of a natural order. One who’d inherited via the genes of their ancestors just as any trait is passed down. Nechemia Continues, “You are the L-rd, our G-d who chose Abram, and changed his name to Abraham.” The addition of the hey was the source of strength by which could continue this unique nation. And what was this special character of Avraham and his descendants? “You found his heart faithful before You.” Avraham was the first ma’amin. We are ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim.
Now we can understand why a parsha which tells the birth of Yaakov, which opened with the generation of Yitschak, had started with the story of Avraham. Avraham holeed es Yitschak. Why holeed instead of yalad? Because Avraham did not just give birth to Yitschak. He genetically passed down to Yitschak this special strength of giving birth to a nation of ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim. Rashi gets right to the heart of the matter. Yitschak was born after the hey was added to Avraham’s name. Because the hey is the source of that ability to bear. “V’ayleh Toldos Yitschak = 1096 = Hey lachem zera v’zaratem- Here is seed for you for planting. Hashem responded favorably to Yitschak, even for this unnatural request because Yitschak has the tremendous merit of being the first ma’amin ben ma’amin. He too was willing to give his life for Hashem at the Akeida by the words of his father, the prophet of Hashem. Vayai’ater lo Hashem = 748 = v’tsaddik b’emunaso yichyeh- And the righteous shall live through his faith.
This new month of Kislev is a month for birthing. The students of the Baal Shem Tov wrote that Chanukah, which begins the 25th of Kislev, is a time when Hashem remembers Israel’s barren. The portion we read Rosh Hashana begins VaHashem pakad es Sarah- and Hashem remembered Sarah. She conceived Yitschak on Rosh Hashanah. It seems like Rosh Hashanah and Tishrei is the time when Hashem remembers. The Bnei Yissachar writes that the hero of Chanukah, Mattisyahu = 861 = Rosh Hashanah.
The first Shabbos of Kislev is Parshas Toldos. Kislev and Toldos are about blessing and increase. In the first verses we read that Avraham’s name was increased, his seed was increased through Yitschak and again through Yaakov. The Maharal writes that the 3 letter root of beracha- blessing- beis, reish, chaf- is itself the sign of increase. The Hebrew alphabet uses three decimal places of a base 10 system for its numeric equivalents. Ones, tens and hundreds. The least possible values for these are 1, 10 and 100. Regarding the root of blessing, the beis = 2, the reish = 200 and the chaf = 20. Each letter is the first increase within its unit.
Kislev is the month of the miracle of the oil. Oil- shemen shares its root with shemona- 8 and we know wherever there is 8 there is an aspect of messianic times which will be a time beyond the present realm of nature. The Midrash says about the oil that it rises to the top of all liquids. Oil Kislev and remembering the barren all testify to the unnatural nature of Israel. According to nature of offspring, none of us should be here because our ancestors were barren. According to the nature of anthropology none of us should be here having been despised and persecuted by every world power we were ever subjected to. Chanukah typifies such a time. Even more so because our enemies were joined by our assimilated brethren who joined and fought with them against their G-d and their people. Like the oil, the devout few unnaturally rose to victory. The ma’aminim bnei ma’aminim survive to this day while the hellenists became but one more paragraph on the many pain-filled pages of Jewish History.
On Chanukah we set up our Menorah’s below 10 tefachim from the ground because, as Kabbalah teaches, the Shchinah doesn’t descend below 10 tefachim. That area represents the Jewish souls who are wayward and detached from their roots. Similar to the members of the Tribe of Dan who were expelled from the Clouds of Glory and the last 8 verses of Torah written after the death of Moshe, these are all various manifestations of this same concept. The reason the Mashiach has not yet come is because we are waiting for every Jews to reconnect back to their roots. In Kislev, we light the Chanukah oil below the 10 Tefachim so that its unnatural light can shine and awaken the Yidden who spiritually are still below the 10 tefach mark. Toldos = 846 = l’matah m’asarah tefachim- below 10 tefachim.
When Moshe anointed Aharon as the first Kohen Gadol, a bit of oil dripped down onto Aharon’s beard. Moshe shuttered that he might have negligently wasted even that little bit of the first sanctified oil. Hashem told him not to be alarmed. Those drops were decreed from above. In fact, they represent a source of tremendous blessing. King David, in a psalm of ultimate unity in Israel writes, “Like the best oil upon the head, running down the beard… so too may the dew of the Hermon descend upon Zion. For there Hashem commanded the blessing, May there be life forever.”
Kislev is the month which correlates to the Tribe of Binyamin. The prince of Binyamin was Avidan ben Gidoni. The 8 days of Chanukah crossover into the month of Teves. The month of Teves correlates to the Tribe of Dan. The prince of Dan was Achiezer ben Amishadai. Avidan ben Gidoni Achiezer ben Amishadai = 1038 = K’shemen hatov al harosh- Like the best oil upon the head.
In Devarim, Moshe impresses upon the Jewish people the virtue and rewards of following in the ways of Hashem. One of the blessings promised for our commitment is lo y’heyeh b’cha akar v’akarah- [You will be the most blessed of peoples.] There will not be amongst you a barren man nor barren woman. What a concept! What will make us the most blessed of nations is that every single couple will have children. Other nations write children out of their budget. Some kill their child for population control. Others vacuum them out of existence because that serves the mood the mother is in that day. Our blessing is children. Our guarantee to G-d of our commitment to Him is the Torah of our children. Is it any wonder that in Kislev, the month Hashem remembers our barren, is the holiday of Chanukah, when the Jews fought valiantly for Torah, and we were blessed with the mitsva of lighting the menorah, which we do with the best possible oil. Pure olive oil- shemen zayit zach = 834 = lo y’heyeh b’cha akar v’akarah. And lo y’heyeh b’cha akar = 453 = Melech Hamashiach because where there is 8 there is always Mashiach. And the milui gematria of Kislev (spelling out each letter) Chaf-fey, Samech-mem-chaf, Lamed-mem-dalet, Vav-aleph-vav = 307 = Rivka.
The most barren of all women, one who has been waiting almost 2000 years, is Tsion, herself. In the heart of her lies a mountain fit for the edifice and presence of the Hashem. Did Hashem create it to lie barren? It was not her sins which caused her shame. May it be this Kislev that Hashem allows Himself to be entreated by her prayers. But like with Rivka, it was Yitschak whose prayers were answered. Rashi emphasizes, “His and not hers.” We need to pray on her behalf. Our prayers need to dig a tunnel to Hashem. The Gemorah told us Hashem would willingly dig His way past Judgment to bestow upon us His Kindness. May the abundance of His blessing flow down from the Hermon. May the Merciful One bless His nation with peace. Peace and children.