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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him. (25:21)

What is the significance of the fact that the Torah describes Hashem's response to Yitzchak Avinu using the same word which it attributes to the Patriarch's prayer? Atirah means to entreat. Yitzchak entreated Hashem. The Almighty did not entreat Yitzchak. Therefore, we translate the pasuk, "Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him." Could it not have used another word for "answered" or "listened"? It is almost as if Hashem responded to Yitzchak in the same manner in which Yitzchak prayed to Him.

The Nesivos Shalom presents the scenario of Yitzchak and Rivkah Imeinu praying side by side, putting it into perspective. They were up against a stone wall. Their prayers were seemingly ineffective, because the decree against their having a child was firm and unyielding. Al pi derech ha'teva, according to the laws of "nature," our Matriarch, Rivkah, was not going to be able to have a child. Our Patriarch, Yitzchak, was acutely aware of this. He realized that all of their hishtadlus, endeavoring, had been spent; the path to offspring was spiritually impeded. The situation appeared hopeless.

A Jew, however, never loses hope. Yitzchak was aware of one last, albeit difficult, approach. The Midrash reads the word va'yeetar Yitzchak as va'yachator Yitzchak, "And Yitzchak dug/penetrated." They compare this form of supplication to a king who wants to avail his son of a large treasure. The problem is that the monarch is in a sealed room, behind locked doors that are impenetrable. How is the prince to reach his father? There is one way: Digging beneath the ground, creating a channel whereby the prince can come up beneath the floor of the room.

The prince begins to dig his tunnel. To make things more feasible, the king begins to break the floor in his sealed room and also dig beneath the ground. The prince is digging toward his father; the king is digging toward his son. Soon they will meet and the gold treasure will be transferred.

Yitzchak was aware of this type of last ditch effort that works under even the most adverse conditions. The storm clouds are dark; the future appears bleak; hope does not seem to be on the horizon. What is a person to do - if he must receive a positive response from Hashem? What does one do if "no" is not an option? He begins to "dig," seeking an opening, making a last attempt to penetrate the Heavens, to break through the sealed gates.

Many of us have needs: physical; spiritual; emotional. Some are suffering in emotional and physical pain - with no letup in sight. There are two possible approaches: One is the tried and proven way, consisting of teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah; prayer, repentance, charity, which usually invoke Hashem's merciful response. What, however, if nothing has yet worked? Do we throw up our hands and give up? Do we say, "I have tried it all: every segulah, every tefillah, every brachah?" This might all be true. When all else fails, begin to dig! This is what Yitzchak Avinu taught us. It worked for him. Perhaps it will work for us.

And she (Rivkah) said, "If so, why is it that I am?" (25:22)

Rashi explains Rivkah Imeinu's question to be: Why am I desiring and praying for pregnancy? Ibn Ezra explains that Rivkah questioned other women who had given birth to determine whether this experience that she was undergoing was usual. They replied that it was certainly out of the ordinary. Rivkah now wondered, "Why is my pregnancy so strange?" Ramban does not agree with Rashi or Ibn Ezra. He posits that Rivkah was saying, "If this is the way it will be for me, why am I in this world? I would rather not be alive. What purpose is there in such a life?" Ramban does not agree that the word anochi, "I," is a reference to the pregnancy. He views it as a reference to Rivkah's being alive: "What is life if I cannot fulfill my G-d-given purpose?"

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, suggests a deeper understanding of our Matriarch's statement, especially in light of a parent's inner-conflict when he or she witnesses his or her child's anxiety. The Torah is teaching us that the agitation, anxiety, ambiguity and inner-torment which we notice in our children have a much deeper source in ourselves. A child that appears torn between two worlds is often reflecting a problem that his or her parents have manifested.

Perhaps the parents are themselves conflicted, torn between two value systems. The parents want to be like the Joneses, but they are unable to cope with the reality that they are not the Joneses. This is obvious to their child who plays out this conflict in his or her own life. After all, the child muses, "What is good for Mom and Dad must be good for me."

This might be what Rivkah Imeinu felt during her strange pregnancy. She sensed conflict. Her first thoughts might have been, "Why am I thus? Is there something about my life that is conflicted? Is there something about my soul that is out of balance? What is the discord that is taking place in my womb telling me? Is there something about the anochi, I/me, that must be corrected, reexamined, reconciled and resolved, so that I can be a better servant to Hashem?"

Eisav became one who knows hunting, a man of the field; but Yaakov was a wholesome man, abiding in tents. (25:27)

Pathology is a word which often conjures up images of fear and the macabre. Actually, it means to search for the source, the origin, the root of something, so that one can define its nature and eventual course of growth. Thus, if it is a disease, the choice of treatment will depend on its origin. A speech pathologist is able to discern among various speech impediments. Thus, she is able to determine the proper course of therapy. A "sin pathologist" studies the source of one's aberrant behavior in search of a course of therapy to assist the subject in returning to Hashem. Thus, when we describe a person - and we do so with seichal, common sense, with an astute perception of his character - we use terms that reach into his origin, the source of his sinful behavior.

Yaakov Avinu and Eisav ha'rasha were twins, born from the same parents, carried together in the same womb - but this is where their likeness ended. One was a tzaddik, righteous and virtuous, who became the third Patriarch, while the other was his archenemy, whose descendants hounded our People, becoming successful heirs to his legacy of hate. We know all of this, but wherein lies the source of their variance? What about Eisav's pathology, his basic nature, distinguishes him from Yaakov?

Horav Chaim Friedlander, zl, addresses this question and posits that the many differences which manifested themselves in the lives and behaviors of Yaakov and Eisav all revert back to the major discrepancies in their lives: Their individual attitudes towards enlightenment and their willingness to be educated further. Eisav maintained an attitude of, "I know it all, I need no further enlightenment; I am there already." Yaakov, however, was never able to garner enough learning. Let us see how this divergence characterized the lives of these two seminal figures: one representing good and all that is positive; and the other representing the complete contrast.

Vayikreu shemo Eisav - Vayikra shemo Yaakov, "They named him Eisav" - "He called his name Yaakov." From their births, the twins were different. Eisav was born red, entirely like a hairy mantle, while Yaakov was born grasping on to the heel of Eisav. Eisav was not simply "red," he was covered with a red mantle. Thus, upon seeing such a completely formed, mature child, everyone called him Eisav. His name came to the mind of everyone at once, because it was most fitting, given that he appeared to be a mature, fully-developed "adult - in appearance." Eisav means asui, completely finished. The name given to the infant, Eisav, defined his essence. He was complete - finished - done. He had no need to learn from anyone, having entered into this world as a consummate person. Does this name really define Eisav? The man was a moral degenerate; an individual whose base desires could not be satiated. His name should also have addressed his profligate behavior. Apparently, the name Eisav, implying complete, finished, says it all. This was his pathological source of evil. He was a finished person, who could learn from no one and had no reason to learn.

Not so his twin brother, Yaakov, who emerged into this world grasping onto the heel of Eisav. Indeed, it was Hashem Who gave him his name, because only the Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, was able to see the future Yaakov, the man who would hold onto Eisav's heel and eventually take him down. Yaakov was not complete; he was patient, "hanging in there" until the opportune moment in which he would take over and reign supreme over Eisav and his minions. Eisav was a hunter, a man of the field. The commentators explain that he felt no sense of responsibility. He was a complete wastrel who had no desire to do anything other than to take it easy. Yaakov, however, went from tent of Torah to tent of Torah. He would first study with Yitzchak Avinu and then supplement his studies at the yeshivah of Shem and Eivar. It was never enough for him. The more he could grab, the more he would grab. As Targum Yonasan ben Uziel writes, Yaakov tova ulpenah, "he demanded and sought learning, constantly seeking to further and further his growth and self-development."

Yaakov was an ish tam, a wholesome man, but there is never an end to wholesomeness. One can always strive to achieve greater sheleimus, perfection. Eisav was also aroused to achieve holiness. After all, why not? However, he was, tzayid b'fiv, his hunt was in his mouth. As Horav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler, zl, writes, "Whatever inspiration for sanctity that Eisav had - remained in his mouth." It went no further. He talked about it, but he was never serious about pursuing kedushah, holiness.

Yaakov was wholesome; his mouth and his heart were on the same page. What he sought, he worked for with every fibre of his body.

The parsha concerning Yaakov and Eisav teaches us an important principle of education. Animals are considered full-term at birth. This means that a baby calf is already considered in the eyes of Halachah to be a fully grown ox. Animals achieve completion with birth, because their potential is realized at birth. A baby animal can walk, sprint, eat, drink on its own. It requires no assistance. Not so a human being, who, without the help of its mother, cannot function. A human being develops throughout a lifetime, growing steadily, achieving more with each ensuing day.

Does it have to be this way? Should not the human being, the crown of Creation, be complete at birth? Why should we be born in the infant stage, which requires growth and development? Why could we not have been created like Adam HaRishon, Primordial Man, complete and finished, fully-developed and ready to take on the world? Horav Simcha Zissel Broide, zl, the Alter m'Kelm, explains that the manner of man's birth and his lifetime of development are in consonance with his essence, his manner of education, and ultimate purpose in life.

The purpose of man's presence in this world is ruchniyos, spirituality. He must strive to become closer to the Source of all spirituality - Hashem. In order for one to have a desire for positive growth, it is necessary for him to be created in an incomplete manner. Otherwise, what would he be missing? Why would he bother to seek more when he already has it all? Thus, by looking around and observing the image of an adam ha'shaleim, he seeks to improve and follow the same course. Indeed, a child achieves more growth in his early years than throughout any other period in life.

We now understand the progression of Eisav's life, as he became the evil incarnate that he ultimately represented. Eisav was born complete, with no need for continued learning. He had no desire to learn. Yaakov was born an unfinished infant, with a desire to develop into adulthood. He, therefore, seized every opportunity for growth.

A ben Torah is one who is constantly striving to achieve greater and loftier heights in Torah knowledge. The Chazon Ish was prepared to give up his precious time and strength to respond to any question concerning bnei Torah. He would spend hours searching for ways to help a yeshivah student advance in his studies. In his eyes, the entire world revolved around yeshivos and bnei Torah. This was the focus of Creation: the true ben Torah and helping that ben Torah develop.

The centrality of the yeshivah was uppermost in the mind of the Chazon Ish. Prior to taking a trip to the diaspora, Horav Shlomo Lorincz asked the Chazon Ish if he could do anything for him. The Chazon Ish replied that a certain yeshivah was in the midst of putting up its building and was short five tons of cement. Apparently, the country was rationing cement, and the shortage was hurting the yeshivah. The building could not be delayed any longer.

Rav Lorincz looked at the Chazon Ish and asked if the matter was really one of such high importance. There are priorities; it was a small yeshivah which did not occupy a critical position in the Torah world.

The Chazon Ish replied, "Know that this yeshivah stands b'rumo shel olam, at the apex of the world. Everything outside of the yeshivah is subsidiary. This does not refer only to a large yeshivah with a multitude of students; it applies to every yeshivah - regardless of its size - even if it just recently opened its doors and no one has ever heard of it. Even that yeshivah stands at the pinnacle of the world, and it is worthy that you should devote yourself to seeing to it that they can complete their building and begin learning in earnest."

The ben Torah was the center of the Chazon Ish's world. He personally guided hundreds of yeshivah students in their spiritual growth. He was the spiritual leader of the entire Torah world, whose days and nights, when he was not personally studying or writing novella, were devoted to the critical issues facing the Jewish People. Yet, he always found time to help a young teenager who was stymied in his learning. No student was ever turned away, and each one felt that he was the only student about whom the Chazon Ish was concerned.

Spiritual growth was paramount to the Chazon Ish. He understood that status quo represented Eisav's perspective on life. He could not offer enough encouragement to individuals to continue their upward growth in learning. To paraphrase the Chazon Ish in his Igros (1:14), "A young man who steeps himself in Torah heartens me and captivates my soul. The memory of him fills my entire world, and my soul is bound to him with unbreakable bonds of love."

But he (Yitzchak) said, "Your brother came with cleverness and took your blessing." (27:35)

That Yaakov Avinu received the blessings from Yitzchak Avinu under what seems to have been a surreptitious method has been a major point of contention presented to challenge those who adhere to the Patriarch's way of life. Veritably, the question is glaring: Why did Hashem cause the blessings that apparently belonged to Eisav to go instead to Yaakov? One who studies the gist of the blessings notes that they are physical in nature, promising material bounty. Is this really what Yaakov wanted? The Patriarch was devoted to his spiritual development: Why would he want a blessing that guaranteed him abundant physical bounty? Imagine a contemporary ben Torah blessing his son: Would he bless him with materialistic success, or would he pray that the boy grow spiritually into a great Torah scholar who would illuminate the hearts and minds of our People?

In order to explain this anomaly, Horav Arye Leib Heyman, zl, first focuses on the variant images of Yaakov and Eisav. Yaakov was an ish tam yosheiv ohalim, "wholesome man abiding in tents." These tents are a metaphor for the tents of Torah, various yeshivos in which Yaakov imbibed Torah values. There was nothing else of importance to Yaakov. The world at large was not his concern. As long as he had his Gemorah, he was fine. His world was one that was pristine, pure of any vestiges of materialism and mundane issues which occupy the minds of lesser men.

His brother, Eisav, was an ish sadeh, man of the field. His desires revolved around olam hazeh, this world, with its materialism and physicality. His very essence bespoke taavah, passion and base desire. Even as an infant in his mother's womb, Eisav would attempt to free himself of the encumbrances of his "prison," so that he could emerge and have his fun.

One thing is certain: When two individuals are so vastly disparate, no partnership can be established between them. They each have their own individual proclivities, with no room for compromise. When the Torah writes that Yitzchak Avinu's eyes dimmed with age, Rashi comments that this was actually Providential, so that Yaakov would be able to appropriate the blessings. This is a reference to the specific blessings which Yitzchak had planned to bestow on Eisav. The materialistic blessings which seemingly are endemic to Eisav were to be "channeled" instead to Yaakov. Why? What would he do with them? Imagine giving a mansion with all of the accoutrements to one of our gedolei hador. It would be ludicrous.

Yitzchak was well aware of the disparate personalities of his twins. He knew that Yaakov had no use with gashmius, physicality. Materialism which is used purely for mundane purposes will ultimately defeat one's spiritual goal in life. The idea is to sanctify the physical by utilizing it to sustain the spiritual. Yitzchak sought to develop a sort of Yissachar/Zevulun partnership, in which Yaakov would devote himself to Torah, and Eisav would commit to material pursuits. Eisav would, of course, support his brother, and Yaakov's merits from his incessant Torah study would protect Eisav. It did not work out in the way that Yitzchak had planned. In order for a partnership to work, each partner must appreciate what the other one is doing. One places greater emphasis on Torah, while the other one underscores the material. It cannot work, however, when each one absolutely shuns the other's contribution. Yaakov had no interest whatsoever in the materialism. Eisav absolutely rejected anything spiritual. Such a relationship would not have achieved a positive outcome. Furthermore, if Yaakov were to have been blessed with material abundance, would he even have appreciated it? Would he know what to do with it?

Thus, the Master of all that occurs created a situation in which Yaakov, at the behest of his mother, Rivkah Imeinu, presented himself to Yitzchak in the guise of Eisav in order to receive the blessings. Thus, the blessings of material abundance were given to Yaakov, so that he could elevate the physical dimension of this world.

Veritably, had Leah Imeinu not been switched with Rochel Imeinu, she would have ended up marrying Eisav - which would have appropriated the materialistic blessings for her. So Yaakov, who married Leah, received the blessings in a more indirect manner. Yehudah, who was Leah's son, became the monarch of the tribes and was able to make constructive use of these blessings. A king must rule over both the physical and spiritual dimensions. As a result of his maternal and paternal lineage, Yehudah had access to both.

Let us go back further in time, to the birth of Rivkah into the family of Besuel and Lavan, men who exemplified the "art" of ramaus, cheating and swindling. The Midrash in Shir HaShirim compares the Matriarch to a shoshanah bein ha'chochim, rose among thorns. Had she been raised in a more suitable family, however, she might not have seen through the guile of Eisav or had the temerity to induce Yaakov to appropriate the blessings. Everything in life happens for a reason. Initially, it often does not make sense. As we continue down the road of life, the many questions which had troubled us earlier on all seem to resolve themselves. We must trust in Hashem and rely on Him. He knows what is best and how to bring it forth - all at its proper time and place.

V'Shinantam levanecha. Teach them thoroughly to your children.

In the Talmud Kiddushin 30a, Chazal interprets v'shinantam as being derived from shinun, sharp. They teach that the words of the Torah are to be sharply expressed by your mouth. The idea is that Torah should be rendered in a sharp, precise, clear and concise manner, so that the student will be able to grasp the material more quickly and retain it longer. Chazal quote a pasuk from Mishlei 7:4, emor lachochmah achosi at, "Say to wisdom, you are my sister." This demonstrates the close relationship one must develop with Torah wisdom. He should be as comfortable with it - as he is with family. Horav Yehudah Leib Fine, zl, Rav of Slonim, questions the use of a "sister" to describe the filial relationship, rather than a "brother."

He offers the following explanation. In the Talmud Bava Basra 139b, Chazal state the following law of inheritance. If the deceased was poor and left over a few material possessions, his daughters are supported from whatever is left over by the father, while the sons are relegated to live off the dole or to go begging from door to door. The bottom line is that the daughters are provided for, while the sons must provide for themselves.

Let us apply this halachah to contemporary society, during which the economic toll has weighed heavily on many of us. One might think, "I do not have the time to pursue Torah studies. I devote every available minute to eking out a living. I surely do not have anything extra with which to support others." To him we reply, "Shlomo Hamelech has already established that the wisdom of Torah is compared to one's sister. Thus, the Torah is to be sustained by the material possessions that one has. The Torah is not to be sent begging from door to door." We make time for Torah study; and we provide for Torah scholars. They are first and foremost.

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