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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And these are the offspring of Yitzchak, son of Avraham. Avraham begot Yitzchak. (25:19)

Why is it necessary to repeat that Avraham begot Yitzchak, when the Torah had just asserted that Yitzchak was Avraham's son? The Midrash, as cited by Rashi, explains that the Torah emphasizes that Avraham fathered Yitzchak because the scoffers of that generation had concluded that Sarah had become pregnant by Avimelech during her short stay with him. Decades had passed, and she and Avraham had not been blessed with a child. Suddenly, after she was with Avimelech for a short duration, she was visibly pregnant. Thus, to allay any slander, Hashem made Yitzchak's features clearly similar to those of Avraham, so that there would be no question concerning his paternity.

Let us sit back and analyze this question. What purpose did these cynics have in questioning Yitzchak's paternity if not to deny that a miracle had occurred and Sarah had conceived? Let us say that the cynics were right and Sarah had become pregnant by Avimelech: is that any less a miracle? She was certainly beyond her child-bearing years!

Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita offers an insightful explanation. The scoffers were not concerned about the miracle. They could understand miracles. Their problem was hemshech, continuity. The last thing they wanted was the continuity of Avraham's legacy. To explain this further, we cite the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos 5:2, "There were ten generations from Noach to Avraham - to demonstrate how slow Hashem is to anger; for all the generations did more and more things to make Hashem angry, until Avraham Avinu came and received the reward for all of them." This means that had they been worthy, they would have received reward. Instead, Avraham merited this reward. This Mishnah is enigmatic. Are we to accept that every person from Adam until Noach and from Noach until Avraham were all evil? Was there no one that was worthy? Are we to ignore Shem, Ever, Mesushelach, and Chanoch? Surely, there must have been others, as well. The answer is that although these people were righteous, moral and upstanding, they were individuals. They had no impact on their progeny. They had no legacy, no continuity. The entire generation was viewed as evil, because the few individuals that were righteous left no one to transmit their righteousness to the next generation. When Avraham came on the scene, he gave birth to Yitzchak. He left a son that followed in his ways and chose his way of life.

When the cynics saw that Avraham was different, that he had someone to continue his legacy of monotheistic belief, they became distressed. They immediately countered by asserting that Yitzchak was not Avraham's son and that his real father was Avimelech. The miracle did not concern them. It was the threat of continuity, of a future, that unnerved them.

This has been our challenge throughout history. Our antagonists - whether the Tzadukim, Baisussim, Maskilim, or whatever name they adopted to veil their real intentions - have had the goal of undermining Judaism and making sure that it not continue. They sought to sever the chain that stretches from Sinai, to live as a "free" nation: free of G-d; free of Torah and mitzvos. They succeeded with many. By producing a sterile generation of Jews who paid lip service to Hashem and His Torah, they ensured that their children would not even do that! They have succeeded in destroying aspects of the Jewish future.

We, who believe in "Avraham begat Yitzchak," who stood at Har Sinai and declared, Naaseh v'nishmah, "We will do and we will listen!" have maintained that chain of transmission. Despite persecution, genocidal torment, and "cultural enlightenment," we have maintained the heritage of Sinai and transmitted it to the next generation.

The spiritual survival of Klal Yisrael is one of the mysteries of history. What is the secret of our endurance? Rav Galinsky cites a passage in the Talmud in which a Roman matron asked Rabbi Yosi, "How large is this sheep?" She was referring to Klal Yisrael, who is compared to a sheep among seventy wolves, symbolizing the seventy nations of the world. She was wondering what power this sheep had to promote their survival among these hungry wolves. He replied, "How large is the shepherd?" He explained that actually the sheep were small and weak. The wolves were large, mean and hungry. So, how did the sheep survive? Their survival was due to the shepherd. The sheep held onto the big and strong shepherd for protection.

This is our source of survival: the shepherd. From Har Sinai until today, through every sort of religious persecution, we have endured because we have held on to Hashem, our Shepherd. The cynics of every generation have attempted to undermine our ability to transmit our legacy to the next generation. We triumph as long as we cling to the Shepherd and His Torah.

Eisav said to Yaakov, "Pour into me, now, some of that very red stuff for I am exhausted." He, therefore, called his name Edom. (25:30)

As a result of Eisav's inappropriate speech, the manner in which he referred to the bowl of red soup, ignoring its significance and underlying message, he was given the name Edom, which means red. The name Edom in this circumstance is a term which signifies contempt - contempt for an individual who was so obsessed with satisfying his physical needs that he looked at food and referred to it only by its color. This was one sin, which epitomized his lack of values, but what about the other five sins that he committed that day? These were sins involving immorality, murder and idol worship. Are they to be ignored? Should they not be contributing factors to establishing Eisav's name?

Horav Avraham Yitzchak Bloch, zl, explains that Eisav, having been raised in both Yitzchak Avinu's home, and in the presence of his grandfather, Avraham Avinu, had acquired a profound perception of the ways of Hashem, so that he understood the erudite theology concerning serving the Almighty. Thus, he had sufficient rationale for validating and even justifying his more serious sins. Therefore, these sins were non-factors in deriving his name. They did not define his essence. Once he expressed himself in a manner that underscored his values and perspective on life, however, he had no excuse, no justification for his behavior. This is what he was, and so he was named. The real Eisav spewed from his mouth.

Because Avraham obeyed My voice, and observed My safeguards, My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs. (26:5)

The four categories of mitzvah observance, as explained by Rashi, are: Mishmarti, My safeguards, referring to Rabbinic decrees which serve as barriers against transgressing a Biblical prohibition, mitzvosai; My commandments, denoting those laws that man's moral compass demands, chukosai; My decrees, which are laws that defy human rationale; Torasai, My Torahs, which is a reference to the two Torahs, Torah She'BiKsav, Written Law, and Torah She'Baal Peh, Oral Law. This basically includes everything that a Jew must observe. What, then, is the meaning of Koli, "My voice?" To which mitzvos does "My voice" refer?

Horav Aizik Ausband, Shlita, cites the Rambam at the beginning of Hilchos Taanis, who writes, "This is one of the ways of teshuvah, repentance. At a time that a calamity or trouble befalls the community, the people are to cry out and to blast the shofar. They should know that what occurs is the result of their evil deeds. By correcting their ways and repenting, they will cause the decree to be rescinded." By extension, this idea should apply to all incidents which occur in our lives. Everything that takes place does so for a reason and flashes a unique message intended specifically for the individual who has experienced the incident. Hashem is talking to him, telling him something. He should wake up and listen!

This is the meaning of "obeying Hashem's voice." One understands that everything that happens is Hashem's voice calling out to him, an awareness that should effect an appropriate response. Avraham Avinu taught us to listen to Hashem's voice, to be acutely aware that Hashem speaks to us through the episodes that happen in our lives. We must open up our eyes and "listen" to those hidden messages.

The stellar pasuk in Jewish life, the one that accompanies us through hardship and even death is, Shema Yisrael - "Hear O' Yisrael." We have to "hear" what Hashem is saying even if He does not articulate His messages in words, but, rather, in actions. Everyone has moments in his life when Hashem speaks to him. At times, it is a warning; alternatively, it may be an opportunity. If the individual is not listening to the message, however, it is wasted.

Harav Yissachar Frand, Shlita, relates the following story which gives us an insight into the meaning of listening to our messages. There is a small, nondescript, bleak town in northern England called Gateshead, right across the river from the well-known coal-producing town of Newcastle. The shochet, ritual slaughterer, of the Jewish community, Reb David Dryan, had a strange idea. He wanted to bring a group of young Torah scholars to the community to establish a kollel. He saw that his community lacked much in its spiritual dimension, and he felt the kollel would stem the tide, elevating the community. Little did he dream of the consequences of his actions. He was a determined man, and he began writing letters to no less than twenty-two rabbanim, inviting them to Gateshead to head this project. Twenty of these rabbanim did not even take the time to respond. One of them was kind enough to demur the invitation. The last one, the esteemed author of the Michtav M'Eliyahu, Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, wrote back, "The next time you are in London, we should talk." Rav Dessler went to Gateshead and established what was to become the world class kollel of Gateshead. Indeed, Gateshead became the largest, most prestigious center for Torah study in Europe, replete with a Yeshiva, a Bais Yaakov High School and a Seminary. All of this occurred because one man listened to his messages. Rav Dessler certainly had enough items on his daily agenda that he could have easily placed the letter at the bottom of his pile of correspondence. He was a Torah scholar of distinction, a man to whom the entire world turned. Yet, he took the time to return a letter to a shochet in Gateshead, because he viewed everything that occurred in his life as a message from Hashem.

This thesis is in no way meant to cast aspersion on any of the other rabbanim who ignored Reb David's letter. Surely, each of them had an important reason for what he did not do. After all is said and done, however, they all missed the opportunity of a lifetime.

We have to ask ourselves: how often has this happened in our own lives? How often have we taken our time responding to a request - or even responded in the negative, only to see someone else respond and achieve incredible success. That success could have been ours, or perhaps, if we would have reacted positively, we would have achieved even greater success. There are people who respond to the message and take advantage of the good fortune, because they know that Hashem is affording them an opportunity. There are, alas, those who do nothing but complain when others are successful. We should each ask ourselves: Which one am I?

And it came to pass when Yitzchak had become old, and his eyes dimmed from seeing. (27:1)

Rashi cites a number of reasons for Yitzchak Avinu's failing eyesight. One reason which he mentions is that when our Patriarch was laying on the Akeidah, bound and prepared to be offered up as a sacrifice, the ministering angels wept over him. Their tears fell into his eyes, dimming them. Obviously, there is a deeper meaning to this experience and these eye-dimming tears. The question that we might ask is: Yitzchak was involved in an incredible act of mesiras nefesh, self sacrifice. Was this his reward for such an unprecedented act of devotion to the Almighty? He was the one that planted the seeds of Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying Hashem's Name. Did he deserve to lose his eyesight for that?

When we think about it, the question is short-sighted. It is only due to Yitzchak's dimmed eyesight that Yaakov Avinu was able to receive the blessings from his father. Otherwise, Eisav would have been the beneficiary of the coveted blessings. In other words, Yitzchak's dimmed eyesight was a blessing in disguise. We see how what appears to be a punishment or a negative experience can really be a positive occurrence.

Rivkah grew up in Besuel's home. Her brother, Lavan, must have have been a great source of nachas, pleasure, to his wicked father. Like father, like son. Why did Rivkah have to be there? Surely, she could have been raised in a home more suitable to her exemplary character traits. Did she not deserve better than that? Another perspective is that exposure to corruption and swindling educates a person to be aware and apprehensive of such behavior. A person raised in this type of environment can discern a swindler and prevent a mishap. Rivkah's "education" gave her a perceptive eye to see through Eisav's ruse and cunning. It is because of her background that she was able to save Yaakov and enable him to receive the blessings. Once again, we see that what appears to be negative, can really be a hidden blessing.

We all undergo experiences in life when what seems to be a negative occurrence is really a source of blessing. I am certain that this Torah thought will stimulate my readers to remember their own experiences. The following story, related by Rabbi Yechiel Spero in "Touched By A Story (2), is an inspiring one: One of the major philanthropists of our generation is an individual who not only gives of his material assets, but also opens his heart to the needs of those seeking his support. Every tale of woe, of sadness and misery, finds a receptive ear. He does not merely want to give money and say goodbye. He wants to lend a sympathetic ear.

Every year he and his family would spend Succos in Yerushalayim, where he was besieged with people seeking his help. While he usually took care of the contributions himself, this year he had hired a man to be his gabbai tzedakah, secretary to disburse the charitable funds. He figured that this way he would have more time to listen personally to each person's needs. He would hand each person a card with a code denoting a specific amount of money. There were a total of five cards. While they represented clearly defined amounts, the gabbai had the right to render his own decision if he felt that his employer had underestimated the gravity of the situation.

The weeks went by, and the process went along smoothly. One day, a distinguished rabbi came to plead on behalf of his sick nephew. With tears in his eyes, he explained how his twenty-two year old nephew had been born with a brain tumor which, at the time, seemed non life-threatening. Over the years, it had shifted and now had to be removed. The surgery, which was dangerous and difficult, could only be performed in the United States. This operation involved a fortune, and there was no insurance. Could he, please, help? Without the surgery, his nephew, who had recently become engaged, had only three months to live.

The philanthropist himself was moved to tears. He immediately gave the rabbi a card indicating by code that the gabbai should extend all courtesies to this man and give him significantly beyond the usual amount. He wanted to make sure that the surgery and all ensuing costs would be addressed. He never told his gabbai to overrule him, but, this time, he hoped that he would.

The next day the gabbai came to his employer with an incredible story. "Twenty-four years ago, my wife and I lived in an apartment. We had two children, a two year old and a three month old. One day, a terrible fire broke out in the apartment. My wife thought I had escaped with both of our children. When we looked at each other and realized that the baby was still sleeping in the apartment, we became hysterical. The firemen would not let us return to the apartment, claiming it was too dangerous. We would never emerge alive. It was Hashgachah, an act of Divine Providence, that a bus returning from Tel Aviv stopped in front of the blazing apartment, at the behest of one of the passengers. This man ran out of the bus and, after assessing the situation, ignored everyone, ran to the rear of the building, climbed the fire escape and, with Hashem's help, saved my baby's life. That man was the father of this young man whose life is in danger. Twenty-four years ago, he saved my child's life. Now, I have the opportunity to repay this favor. I beg you to allow me to give him whatever he needs."

The philanthropist needed no encouragement and gave his gabbai a blank check to cover all expenses. We do not know why things happen the way they do. We live through what seems to be an isolated experience, only to discover many years later that it was an act of Providence to enable us to merit further deliverance. We must remember that nothing occurs in a vacuum and without reason. Hashem is the Source of all activity, and it is His way of calling to us. We should listen and respond accordingly.

Va'ani Tefillah

Melech mehullal ba'tishbachos - A king extolled in praises.

In an alternative exposition, the Baal HaKsav V'HaKaballah distinguishes between shevach, praise, and hallel, extollment, in the following manner. Shevach has another connotation with regard to praise. David HaMelech says in Tehillim 89:10, Atah mosheil b'geius hayam, "You rule the towering of the sea," B'so galav atah t'shabcheim, "When its waves rise, You calm them." In this vein, shevach suggests a stabilizing, calming effect or subduing and toning down. When we seek to praise Hashem, we are at a loss to recognize and acknowledge fully His boundless praise and exaltation. It is almost as if by saying less, we are praising Him more. This is consistent with David HaMelech's expression in Tehillim 65:7, Lecha dumiah tehillah, "To You, silence is praise." The praises of an Infinite G-d can never be sufficient, nor can they be exhausted. The most eloquent praise is silence, because it demonstrates that expounding will only detract by what is left unspoken. This is why we conclude with the words mehulal ba'tishbachos: We praise Hashem - How? - ba'tishbachos, by subtlety and quiet, by a lack of elaboration. Less is ultimately more.

in loving memory

By his children and grandchildren

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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