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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And these are the offspring of Yitzchak ben Avraham. (25:19)

While the narrative in Parashas Toldos addresses the life and accomplishments of Yaakov Avinu, its scope pales in comparison to the space devoted to the lives of Avraham Avinu and Yitzchak Avinu. Yitzchak lived longer than both his father and his son; yet, much less space is dedicated to his life. The Rambam reinforces this pattern, by devoting considerable space to Avraham's achievements in the area of outreach to the pagans. Similarly, he writes that Yaakov sanctified Hashem's Name through harbotzas Torah, dissemination of Torah teachings. Regarding Yitzchak, he writes simply that he studied and mandated his son, Yaakov, to transmit his teachings to the world. Thus, in comparison to Avraham and Yaakov, Yitzchak's spiritual activity in relation to the outside appears diminished. While Avraham and Yaakov reached out to thousands, Yitzchak had only one talmid, disciple: Yaakov.

Horav Yaakov Kaminetzky, zl, explains that the distinctions in the diversity of activities manifest by each of the Avos, Patriarchs, is to be understood in light of the differences in the manner that each spread emunah, faith in Hashem, which was an outgrowth of the uniqueness of his respective mission. We are accustomed to thinking that Avraham left his door open to the world, encouraging everyone to share his bread. When they conveyed their gratitude in response, he would instruct them to offer their gratitude to Hashem. While this is true, his manner of outreach was a little more complicated.

Avraham's avodah, service, was founded in his awe before Hashem's unceasing flow of chesed, kindness. Avraham saw his own role as exemplifying this character trait, teaching it to the world. When his guests expressed their gratitude for his generosity, they also marveled at his nobility of character. He would explain that his acts of altruism were a form of Divine service, which reflected the beneficence of the Almighty. This is a character trait that all of Hashem's creations should emulate. Indeed, the idea of a religion based upon kindness and altruism was attractive to the many thousands whom Avraham introduced to monotheism.

Yaakov's mode of avodah was Torah study as a pursuit of eternal truth. Although, his approach was clearly more restrictive than that of Avraham, he nonetheless did reach out to a multitude of adherents, people who came to form the first yeshivah. Yitzchak's approach to Avodas Hashem reflected middas HaDin, the attribute of strict justice. This required total discipline, living life as fully as possible within the most exacting demands of Hashem's will, self-abnegation to the point that he was prepared to give up his life at the Akeidah - if this was Hashem's will. This type of service was certainly not as popular as that of the other two. Yitzchak attracted one faithful student - Yaakov. Yitzchak's yeshivah of "one" constituted the Patriarch's outreach to the world. Thus, his activities were not acknowledged with as much fanfare as those of Avraham and Yaakov.

The lifework of each Av is recorded in consonance with his individual success. The long-term success of the Patriarchs' dissemination of emunah in Hashem can be appreciated by noting how deeply the lessons of each has become indelibly ingrained in the Jew's national character. Yitzchak's lesson of self-negation to the point of self-sacrifice has surfaced in every era of Jewish history. Indeed, our readiness to sacrifice our lives for the Jewish ideal has been manifest in even the most dubious circumstances by the most improbable Jews. Our willingness to die for our beliefs has been the source of our survival.

A well-known incident that occurred in the early days of the Russian revolution demonstrates this idea. A band of outlaws entered the Russian hamlet of Machanov'ke, rounding up the town's thirty-seven Jews with one thing in mind: to kill them. The townspeople, who had lost no love for the Jews, were all there to witness the atrocity. As the robbers picked up their rifles to begin the "proceedings," a voice shouted from the crowd, "I am also a Jew!" It was a pharmacist who had been living in town for years, whom no one, neither Jew nor gentile, had ever suspected of being Jewish. One wonders why this man, who had so completely assimilated into Christian life, suddenly - after so many years of being estranged from his people - had come back, especially when doing so meant certain death. Rav Yaakov suggests that he was responding to his innate Jewish willingness to surrender his life to affirm his commitment to Hashem. Yitzchak's seminal act at the Akeidah imbued a spirit of self-sacrifice in the Jewish psyche that has remained integral until this very day.

The robbers fired their guns in the air and released the Jews - only to gather them back to the village square once again to repeat the ruse. They repeated the charade, finally letting the Jewish citizens go free. Perhaps it was the zechus, merit, of the Jewish pharmacist, who dramatically awoke to his true identity, that saved the Jews that day.

Yitzchak loved Eisav…but Rivkah loved Yaakov. (25:28)

Horav Aharon Kotler, zl, asks a number of compelling questions concerning Yitzchak Avinu's relationship with Eisav. First, why did Yitzchak love Eisav? He certainly must have known that this son was far from the ideal. Why would he want to impart the berachos, blessings, to him - instead of Yaakov? Moreover, Chazal tell us that on the day Avraham died, Eisav transgressed five sins, among which was the sin of denying the existence of the Creator. Is this the kind of person that should have received the berachos? Second, how did Eisav turn into an apostate after being raised in Yitzchak's home? He was fifteen years old when Avraham Avinu died. He apparently had experienced an unparalleled exposure to ruchnius, spirituality. Yet, he became an apikores, apostate. How did this happen? Last, if Eisav did not believe in Hashem, why did he grieve so bitterly over losing the berachos?

Rav Aharon explains that Eisav undoubtedly had developed an acute awareness of Hashem. He, therefore, realized that losing the berachos meant losing a treasure of inestimable value. As we have pointed out previously, one could not have grown up in a home that was so suffused with spirituality and not build a strong understanding and appreciation of Hashem. Eisav was aware and understood but, nonetheless, he did not care. Kofer b'Ikar means that a person knows, yet denies. The reason for this is that in order for man to be a baal bechirah, have the ability to choose equally between right and wrong, good and evil, he must not be predisposed more to one side than to the other. Consequently, one who is very righteous, who has a profound understanding of Hashem, must have a yetzer hora, evil-inclination, that is equally powerful, that has the guile and ability to sway him away from his beliefs. How does a great person with a deep perception of the Almighty fall prey to the yetzer hora? The answer is clear: the yetzer hora, in his case, is armed with special weaponry. It can entice him to turn to his base desires to the point that he is prepared to throw away his opportunity for achieving eternity. Chazal teach us that the wicked are aware that in the end they must confront their own mortality. Despite this, their evil-inclination entices them to have a "good time" until the end.

Eisav's perception of the Almighty was sublime. Even so, he chose to live a life dedicated to materialism, debauchery and licentiousness. He knew better, but he did not care. He disregarded Hashem, because he wanted to live a lifestyle that was base and meaningless. This is why his "head" is buried in the Meoras Ha'Machpeilah. His mind was aware, but is body did not care. He had the "head" of a Torah Jew, but lived the life of a pagan. He chose to satisfy his physical desires. He was great, but so was his yetzer hora. The yetzer hora was victorious.

Yitzchak knew the difference between Yaakov and Eisav. He still, however, wanted to give the blessings to Eisav. Yaakov was spiritually pure, his sanctity unimpaired by any materialistic concerns or desires. His sons followed in his hallowed nature. They were destined to form the nation that would be a mamleches Kohanim, Nation of Priests, and goi Kadosh, Holy Nation. If Eisav and his descendants were to be bequeathed the material blessings of Eretz Yisrael they would be able to share in Yaakov's holy work by sustaining him and his descendants. In this way, Eisav would not be eternally severed from the Patriarchal heritage. He would not be a "Yaakov," but he still would not have descended to the nadir that he did. Rivkah, however, saw that regardless of the positive influence on Eisav, it was not worth the risk for Yaakov to be subordinated and subservient to him in any way. Yaakov must be completely divorced from Eisav. This is why she wanted Yaakov to be independent of Eisav and be the sole beneficiary of Yitzchak's blessings. Apparently, Hashem agreed with her.

And he called them by the same names that his father had called them. (26:18)

Yitzchak Avinu dug up the wells that the Philistines had stopped up. He then called them by the same names that his father, Avraham, had called. Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, compared the emergence of the "yeshivos" that were rebuilt after the Holocaust to Yitzchak's wells. In the previous pasuk, the Torah writes, "And Yitzchak dug anew the wells of water…the Philistines had stopped up." The yeshivos that taught Torah, the fountain of life of the Jewish people, which were originally founded in Europe by Avraham Avinu's descendants, the Roshei Hayeshivah, were "stopped up" by the Nazis. Those wellsprings of Torah were dug anew in Eretz Yisrael and were given the same names of Mir, Slabodka and Ponevez. We may add that it was not only out of respect that these names were carried forward. It was to emphasize that the derech halimud v'hachaim, the manner of Torah study and the lifestyle that was inherent in these yeshivos, did not die. It had been transplanted to another place with renewed vigor and vibrancy.

In truth, these bastions of Torah constitute the fountainhead of Torah in Eretz Yisrael and throughout the world. They are what gives a place distinction. They are what gives it its size. The Alter, zl, m'Slabodka was wont to say that just as there is a world map that points out where every country is located, so, too, is there a spiritual map. There is a difference between the two in regard to distinguishing one city/country from another. In the standard world map, many small cities/towns are either not marked or they are marked with a tiny dot. This is due to their miniscule population. The size of the dot denotes the population and significance of a place. The spiritual map is different: it does not place significance on population, but, rather, on spiritual influence. The dots on the global map for the cities of Radin, Mir, Telz, Ponevez were probably very tiny, if they existed at all. On the spiritual map, in contrast, they were mammoth, because these small towns had a spiritual influence that outshined that of many of the largest cities. Furthermore, we may add that if a small town produces a Torah giant whose influence reaches out on a global level, he gives his hometown unparalleled distinction. Man's perspective must be guided by Torah orientation if he is to see any given situation with clarity and truth.

Rivkah said to Yitzchak, "I am disgusted with my life on account of the daughters of Cheis." (27:46)

The way parents act - between themselves and in regard to their children - leaves an enduring impression. When Rivkah told Yitzchak that she wanted Yaakov to leave home, she said that there was no way he could find a suitable wife among the Bnos Cheis. On the other hand, she told Yaakov that she had instructed him to leave because Eisav sought to kill him. Why did she not tell Yitzchak the truth, that it was revealed to her b'Ruach Hakodesh, with Divine Inspiration, that Eisav was preparing to do away with his competition? The Ohr Ha'Chaim Hakadosh explains that Rivkah did not want to become a talebearer by relating to Yitzchak the evil intentions of their son, Eisav. If she could make do by simply telling him that it was for shidduch purposes, it would be more appropriate. To Yaakov, however, she told the primary reason: that Eisav was pursuing him. She could not take any chances that Yaakov might remain. His life was in danger, and it was necessary to impress this upon him. When a mother is sensitive to all of the laws of the Torah, it is no wonder that she raises a son like Yaakov Avinu.

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, derives a powerful lesson in how parents should speak to their children from the dialogue between Yitzchak and Yaakov. When Yitzchak "encouraged" Yaakov to leave home and go to seek a wife, he had specific criteria concerning who this wife should be. She could not be from the Bnos Canaan, and it would be best that she be from Rivkah's family in Padan Aram. Interestingly, when Yitzchak instructed Yaakov concerning whom not to marry, he preceded his negative command with a blessing. He then said, "Do not take a wife from the Canaanite daughters." Why did he couch his instructions to leave with a blessing? Would it not have been more appropriate to first instruct him to leave and then to bless him prior to his trip?

Rav Zilberstein infers from here a valuable lesson in education and parenting. When Yitzchak commanded Yaakov to marry only from a specific milieu, he placed some very clear restrictions upon him. By limiting Yaakov to a specific group of people, Yitzchak was imposing a lot on his son. Perhaps he would not find a wife to his satisfaction among Rivkah's family. Who says that Lavan would agree to the match? Therefore, before Yitzchak could impose these restrictions on his son, he blessed him. Doing this would render his command more palatable and would insure its acceptance.

What a contrast for those parents who feel that the only way to raise their children is by exercising an iron fist. Placing restrictions and imposing obstacles every step of the way will only strain a relationship. While it is true that it is necessary to lay down the rules and that some rules must be inflexible, there is a way to present these rules on a positive note. Give the blessing of good will before you send the child to a corner. This way, he will at least realize that your intentions are noble.

Va'ani Tefillah

Al yad ne'vio neeman baiso, - through His prophet, trusted in all His house.

In his commentary to Sefer Yeshayah (1:21) The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, writes that ne'eman, trusted, means to believe in Hashem b'lev v'nefesh, with heart and soul. Moshe Rabbeinu's entire being was devoted to Hashem.

ubhr,x gsuhu vpum - Tzofeh v'yodea sesareinu - He sees, He knows our secrets.

The Gaon explains that the wicked might think that Hashem, in His holiness and purity, would never look at their iniquity. He would never notice their despicable activities. He is above that. The Hymn teaches us that Hashem is all-seeing. Nothing evades His penetrating gaze. Therefore, the wicked will receive their due punishment.

Alternatively, the Chafetz Chaim, zl, cites the Targum to Koheles 12:13 - Sof davar ha'kol nishma - "In the end of the thing, all is heard." Those who sin covertly, concealing their iniquity from the public, will be exposed on the Final Day of Judgment, when every person's actions are made public. With the advent of Moshiach Tzidkeinu, all of the hidden sins, sesareinu, and also man's true intentions - which he has concealed from others - will all be revealed. Even the nations of the world who say that they did everything for the Jews will have to contend with the truth: their words are nothing more than a sham.

in loving memory

By his children and grandchildren
Birdie & Lenny Frank & Family

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