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PARASHAS TOLDOSYitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him. (25:21)
Rashi explains that Hashem listened to Yitzchak's plea over that of Rivkah, because there is no comparison between the effect of the prayer offered by a tzaddik ben tzaddik, righteous person who is the son of a righteous person, to that of a tzaddik ben rasha, righteous person whose father was evil. Rashi's explanation is well-known, and it sets the standard for tefillah: A person's righteous lineage makes a difference. This obviously presents a question to the rational mind: Is the efficacy of the prayers of someone whose roots are murky intrinsically limited? One would assume that the tefillos of the person who has been able to overcome the spiritual adversity presented by his forebears, and aspire to a life of religious observance on the tzaddik level, would soar above and beyond, faster and with greater intensity than those of his counterpart who had forebears who taught him and positively influenced his thought process and way of life. Rashi, however, teaches us differently. Why?
The Alter, zl, m'Kelm, illuminates this quandary with a penetrating insight. Each of the Avos, Patriarchs, was a tzaddik in his own right. This means that he forged his own unique, individual path towards serving the Almighty. The avodah of Yitzchak Avinu was not exactly the same avodah as that of his father, Avraham Avinu. Likewise, the approach of Yaakov Avinu differed from the approach towards the same objective as his forbears; the means for achieving this goal was different. Avraham employed chesed, acts of loving kindness. Yitzchak established his own imprimatur.
Thus, being the son of Yitzchak made it much more difficult to institute a novel approach towards serving Hashem. In order to achieve such a groundbreaking feat, he had to dig deep, plumb the depths of the inner workings of avodas Hashem, so that he would be mechanech, innovate, a novel, yet untried, approach to serving Hashem.
The son of the rasha does not have it so hard. To supersede his forebears does not take very much effort. Hence, his achievements, although fraught with challenge every step of the way, are not as groundbreaking and do not require as much work as innovation. His prayer is laudable, but not to the extent of the tzaddik ben tzaddik.
Horav Mordechai Weinberg, zl, applies this thought to explain a difficulty presented by an earlier pasuk, which focuses on the relationship between Sheis and his father, Adam HaRishon. The Torah writes, "When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he begot [a son] in his likeness and in his image, and he named him Sheis" (Bereishis 5:3). The commentators explain that Hashem gave Adam the capacity for producing offspring who were also in his noble likeness. Sheis was not Adam's first child. What about Kayin and Hevel? Were they not created in Adam's likeness? Simply, their seed perished, leaving no remembrance of their creation. As a result, the Torah did not prolong their description.
Based on the Alter's chiddush, novel exposition, Horav Weinberg explains that only Sheis followed in the righteous path of his father, Adam. As Adam's profound knowledge of the esoteric workings of the world allowed him to grow spiritually, as he delved deeper and deeper in the profundities of Creation, so, too, did Sheis. As Adam was righteous, so was Sheis. Kayin and Hevel did not achieve such distinction. They followed in their father's footsteps, but, unlike Sheis, they did not build and dig deeper to set their own standard of avodas Hashem. Following is important, but, at some point, one must take the lead.
And Hashem said to her: Two nations are in your womb; two regimes from your insides shall be separated. (25:23)
Rashi explains that the two nations which would descend from the twins within Rivkah's womb would have two great leaders who were friends. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, known as Rebbi, was the redactor of the Mishnah. His contemporary was the Roman emperor, Antoninus, a descendant of Eisav. The Chasam Sofer explains that Rivkah was informed that the twins, Yaakov and Eisav, had the potential to complement one another's service to Hashem, much like Yissacher who studied Torah supported by his brother, Zevullun. We find that Antoninus was subservient to Rebbi to the point that he enabled him to redact the Mishnah. In the End of Days, the "good aspect" of the gentile nations will serve the Jewish People and help them to serve Hashem.
What was the origin of the relationship between Antoninus and Rebbi? After all, it is not as if they went to the same schools or lived in the same neighborhood. Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, quotes Tosfos in Meseches Avodah Zarah 10b, which is embellished by Menoras HaMaor 53. Apparently, the Roman government decreed that the Jews were not permitted to circumcise their sons. When Rebbi was born, his father, Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel, conjectured, "Hashem enjoined us to circumcise our sons. The Roman government prohibited us from doing this. To whom should I listen - Hashem or the Romans?" Rabbi Shimon circumcised his child. The Roman mayor questioned Rabbi Shimon concerning his insubordination against the Roman government. When Rabbi Shimon gave his rationale, the mayor insisted that Rabbi Shimon travel to the emperor and explain himself.
It was a day's travel to Rome. On the way, they stopped at an inn where the innkeeper's wife had just given birth to a son, Antoninus. When Rabbi Shimon's wife explained their predicament, Antoninus's mother took pity and suggested that they switch babies. One can imagine the rest of the story: The mayor accused Rabbi Shimon of circumcising his son. When they removed the blanket, they discovered that the infant was uncircumcised. The mayor was relieved of his position, as well as of his life, and everybody lived happily ever after. When they returned home, Rabbi Shimon's wife remarked to her new friend, the mother of Antoninus, "Since Hashem performed a miracle through your son, my son and yours will be friends for life." Chazal add that, because Antoninus nursed from Rebbi's mother, he merited learning Torah, supporting Rebbi, and eventually becoming a ger, converting to Judaism.
In his commentary to Sefer Devarim, Parashas Va'eschanan, the Megaleh Amukos teaches that Rebbi was a gilgul, transmigrative soul, of Yaakov Avinu, and Antoninus possessed the "good" nitzutz, spark, of Eisav. In other words, the twins - who were biologically formed from one seed which, in turn, created twins - set the stage for the relationship between Rebbi and Antoninus, to whom we are responsible for the Torah She' Baal Peh, redaction of the Oral Law. This is how Rivkah was assuaged concerning her troubled pregnancy. Although one of her twins "ran" toward the idols, he would produce a progeny that would support his brother's descendant in illuminating the hearts and minds of the Jewish People. All of this was the result of Antoninus nursing from Rivkah! After all, he was a descendant, a nitzutz of Eisav, who had nursed from Rivkah Imeinu. That act of nursing preserved and eventually brought out whatever good spark was embedded deep within Eisav, so that it would emerge through Antoninus.
Chazal (Pesikta Rabbasi 44:4) teach that when Sarah Imeinu gave birth to Yitzchak, some pagan skeptics claimed that Yitzchak was actually the son of the maidservant. Avraham Avinu said, "This is not a time for modesty." Sarah was instructed to nurse any child that was brought to her. The children of those who were sincere, and brought their children to be nursed out of a sense of respect for Sarah, eventually converted. The children of those who came out of a sense of skepticism became great and important leaders. In any event, every ger, convert, is somehow the descendant of a child nursed by Sarah Imeinu.
The Arizal writes that, embedded within Eisav's head (his mouth, for he was tzayid b'fiv, game was in his mouth; it was the part of his body which relegated some form of good, based upon the halachic queries he rendered with his mouth) were holy sparks which produced Shamya and Avtalyon, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva. Thus, Eisav's head was buried in the Meoras HaMachpeilah, where it belonged. Rav Friedman suggests that Eisav merited this as a result of nursing from Rivkah. Imbibing the milk of the righteous Rivkah imbued Eisav with a quality in his mouth that allowed his mouth to become the medium for harboring the holy sparks which produced these great Taanaim.
We now understand how Antoninus's life was changed because he nursed from the wife of Rabbi Shimon. What about the holy Rebbi, however? Why should his holy mouth have nursed from Antoninus's mother? Turning to the Chasam Sofer, Rav Friedman derives a principle upon which he builds a compelling explanation for the need for Rebbi to nurse from the gentile woman. The Torah relates that, prior to presenting himself to Yitzchak, Rivkah had Yaakov don Eisav's garments. Simply, this would give more validity to the ruse that Yaakov was Eisav. The Chasam Sofer explains that this move was necessary. The clothes of a person have an influence upon him. The clothes worn by a righteous person retain an element of kedushah, holiness. Likewise, the garments of a rasha, evil person, maintain an element of his impure essence.
Yaakov, as a paradigm of emes, truth, found it almost impossible to participate in the necessary ruse to save the blessings. It went against everything that he was. Thus, Rivkah determined that if Yaakov were to wear the clothes of the evil, lying Eisav, he might be sufficiently influenced to believe that the bending of the truth was necessary and should not bother him. Because Yaakov wore the clothes of Eisav, he was able to act for Heaven's sake in order to save the blessings in what might be viewed by some as an inappropriate manner.
Likewise, Rebbi redacted the Oral Law, despite the rule that what is oral may not be written. Rebbi figured that the situation warranted an immediate revolutionary response. Illiteracy was rampant. The Torah was being forgotten as people moved away from it, and the persecutors of the Roman government were becoming a greater deterrent to study Torah. In response, he decided to redact the Oral Law onto paper, in order that it become available to everyone. Was it right? It was necessary to save Torah, so it became right.
Rebbi had a spark of Yaakov within him, thus making it difficult to act in a manner not totally coincident with the truth. An aveirah lishmah, sin committed for the sake of Heaven, still maintains some vestige of sin. By imbibing milk from a gentile, to a certain extent, Rebbi became desensitized, thereby encouraging him to record the Oral Law in written form.
Once again, we realize how little we know and how much more we have to learn.
And Yitzchak trembled in very great perplexity. (27:33)
Chazal teach us that the words, gedolah ad meod, "very great perplexity," mean that the fear that Yitzchak Avinu experienced when Eisav walked in was even greater than when he lay at the Akeidah about to be slaughtered. Imagine, up until this moment, Yitzchak was under the impression that Eisav was fine, upstanding and observant. He would ask him halachic questions which, by their very nature, indicated that he was extremely stringent in his observance. Suddenly, the floor fell out from beneath him, and he saw Eisav in his true colors, for all that he was. The shock of discovery that all we have believed in has been in error - whether it was in a person, a way of life, an organization -is a devastating shock. To find out that the son in whom you placed so much hope and love is a fraud was a shock even greater than the Akeidah for Yitzchak.
Horav Chaim Zaitchik, zl, relates that the Alter, zl, m'Novarodok, Horav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, zl, would travel to a small village in an area which was known for its clean air. He hoped that the pristine climate would have a recuperative effect on his lungs. The Alter was meticulous in bringing along a mezuzah written specifically for him by a sofer, scribe, in whom he had the greatest faith. He demanded that every stringency be included in the writing of the mezuzah. The Alter was not willing to settle just because he was on "vacation." When he returned to the yeshivah, he would remove the mezuzah and take it with him.
One time, as he was removing the mezuzah from the doorpost, he noticed to his shock and chagrin that when he had attached the mezuzah to the doorpost, he had driven the nail through a letter, essentially invalidating the mezuzah. He was so palpably shocked, that his students, who were watching nearby, took notice. He said nothing, refusing to respond to their query at the time. Instead, he said that he would explain during Elul what had just taken place and the lesson that he derived therein.
During the month of Elul, the Alter spoke to the students of the Yeshivah one Motzei Shabbos. He began to weep uncontrollably, saying that man thinks everything in his life is in order, that he is observant, committed, dedicated towards helping his fellow-man, but he is wrong! True, it seems that everything is fine, that he goes through life meticulously adhering to everything that is demanded of him, but something is amiss. Sadly, many of us find out what we are missing, but alas, we are too late. Just like the mezuzah. Everything had been planned to perfection. Yet, one small error invalidated his entire vacation! He had been in an apartment without a mezuzah!
We now know why Yitzchak Avinu trembled. An entire life was just invalidated when he saw Eisav as his true self. We pray that Hashem will not have any surprises for us. To prevent this, we should go the extra mile to be certain that our actions and intentions are consistent with that which Hashem asks of us.
And Eisav raised his voice and wept. (27:38)
Yaakov Avinu received the blessings from his father, Yitzchak Avinu. He had barely left the room before Eisav returned with his father's meal. Eisav had been sent to prepare a special meal for his father, so that his father would bless him. Following his mother, Rivkah Imeinu's instructions, Yaakov entered the room first, giving the impression that he was Eisav, and preventing the blessings from falling into the hands of the evil Eisav. Understandably, Eisav did not react kindly to this scenario. Feeling that he was the victim of fraud, having been outsmarted by his brother, he let out a cry. (According to one Midrash, he emitted two tears; another source says it was three tears.) Eisav was quite upset at the loss of the blessings. He conveniently forgot that he had sold the right to the blessings to Yaakov, but that is to be expected of a rasha, evil person.
Eisav asked his father if he had any blessings left for him. Yitzchak intimated that his brother, Yaakov, had taken them all. When Eisav began to weep, Yitzchak suddenly began to bless him with the "fat of the land and dew of the heavens." He "gave" him Yaakov and his descendants if they were to wane from their relationship with the Torah (if they slacken in their mitzvah observance). What happened from one minute to another? At first, Yitzchak indicated that he had no remaining blessings, and suddenly he blessed Eisav.
The Chezkuni explains that originally Yitzchak had told Eisav, "All of the blessings that I received from my father, Avraham Avinu, I transferred to your brother, Yaakov. However, once you began to weep, I saw b'Ruach Ha'Kodesh, through Divine Inspiration, that Hashem had created for you (sort of) a new world of blessing in which you will be endowed with material wealth and reign over Yaakov if his descendants falter in their spiritual dimension."
It was all about Eisav's tears. We see how a sincere expression of emotion overturned a negative decree and engendered blessing - even after it had been sealed against him. We also cry. Indeed, throughout the millennia, the Jewish People have wept away an ocean of tears, but have we cried for the same reason that Eisav cried? Have we wept because we did not receive more of Hashem's blessing, or was it because we were in pain, in need? When was the last time we wept as a result of not understanding a blatt Gemorah? Have we ever cried because we are bothered that kavod Shomayim, the honor of Heaven, is being impugned? Do we weep when Orthodoxy is disparaged by those who are either secular in practice or in theory? No - we only cry when we are in need. Eisav has one over us; he cried for spirituality. Sadly, we do not.
Horav Yaakov David, zl, of Slutzk was famous for his fiery talks. He had an uncanny ability to melt the hearts of his listeners and bring the most hardened heart to tears. He was once invited to speak in a community which was not well-known for its passionate observance of mitzvos. The people were observant, but barely and, at best, dispassionate. The Rav ascended to the lectern and spoke incredibly well. His eloquence was only surpassed by his content. There should not have been a dry eye from the assembled. Regrettably, the stone-cold hearts of the members of this community proved him wrong. They listened - respectfully, but were unmoved. Afterwards, he was asked how it was possible for such a derashah, speech, to fail to penetrate their hearts. He replied, "Let me explain. My goal is to locate the faucet and open it up. I release the pressure and the water/tears flow freely. If the well is empty, however, no water will flow. That is not my fault."
Some people do not express themselves emotionally - for whatever reason. Others, however, are oisgevent, "cried out." They have wept so much that they literally have become numb, hopeless, spent. The water in the "well" seems to have dried up. Both are to be pitied. The ability to weep is a gift. The ability to express oneself emotionally, to release pent up emotions, is a necessary function of the human psyche. One who keeps it in, one who has lost his ability to express himself, has lost part of his humanness.
There is no dearth of stories which underscore the tremendous effect of tears. I came across a simple, but compelling, story in "A Touch of Warmth," by Rabbi Yechiel Spero. I have chosen this story because of the lessons to be derived from it. Incidentally, I have derived lessons which do not necessarily coincide with those intended by the author. Every incident touches different people in various ways. Much of this is based upon their focus and what they want to learn from the incident.
The story takes place concerning the venerable Chozeh, zl, m'Lublin. One point of consideration: Chassidic stories often have different versions, based upon the source of the tale. Also, Chassidic stories, over time, have taken on a life all of their own. A story is meant to be a lesson, to convey a message. It may not always stand the test of scientific scrutiny. If one acknowledges and believes in the saintliness and Heavenly - endowed miraculous powers of these holy people, the story is then true. For the skeptic who looks for an opportunity to scoff and degrade, he will always take issue.
The story begins with the Chozeh being a passenger on a horse-drawn carriage that was supposed to take him and its other passengers to a nearby town for Shabbos. Apparently, the horses had a mind of their own, and, galloping at great speed, they passed their intended destination. The weather outside was foul, with a strong wind blowing. The travelers who were accompanying their holy Rebbe were clueless concerning their destination. The Chozeh, however, recognized the town where the horses halted as the village where he grew up as a youth. The Rebbe did not know why he was here, but he did not ask questions. If Hashem wanted him to arrive in this town shortly before Shabbos, He had a good reason. In due time, he would discover the reason.
Not clothed in his Rebbishe garb, the Rebbe appeared to be a Jewish traveler who happened to be in this village for Shabbos. Therefore, as was the custom in all Jewish communities, when davening was concluded, various members of the community would approach the guests and invite them for Shabbos dinner. The Rebbe remained in the background, waiting for Hashem's plan to unfold. He still did not know why he had ended up in the city of his youth.
The davening in the shul was quick and simple, quite unlike the davening in Lublin. The Rebbe was hosted by an elderly gentleman, a fine, sweet man, for whom talking was not his greatest strength. The meal went by quickly, in silence. When the Rebbe inquired as to the man's vocation, the response that he received was woodcutter and then shoemaker, neither position demanding great cognitive acumen. Still not knowing why he was here, the Chozeh began to suspect that perhaps his host was one of the lamed vov tzaddikim, thirty-six righteous individuals, in whose merit Hashem maintains the world. All the while, the man was silent. Perhaps he was hiding something. Finally, after Maariv Motzei Shabbos, the man broke down in bitter weeping. It took some time, but the elderly Jew finally calmed down, and he shared the reason for his emotional breakdown. When the Rebbe heard the man's story, he understood why Hashem had brought him to this home. The man began his tale. He had been an accomplished melamed, effectively teaching youngsters for years. He enjoyed an enviable reputation until, one day; he had decided to give it all up. This was due to one student whom he had wrongly punished.
He had a student who was always coming to class late. It was not as if he did not have a good excuse, but how many excuses can a rebbe tolerate? The rebbe insisted that the boy come to school in a timely fashion, just like everybody else. The boy said that he would try. The next day, the boy once again came late. When asked by the rebbe for a reason, the boy replied that he had overslept. Truthfully, the reason for all of his lateness issues was not a lack of caring or disrespect (which is often the case). He was late because his mother had been seriously ill for some time. He helped her, often staying up until the wee hours of the morning. This was why he had overslept. Regrettably, the rebbe did not wait for another round of excuses, whose validity he questioned anyway, and, fed up with the boy's tardiness, he slapped him across the face!
The rebbe had lost it. He was not one to slap a child and certainly not out of anger. Although corporeal punishment was not uncommon in those days, this rebbe had never before resorted to it. He did, however, and now, years later, the elderly man whose life and career were ruined because of this error looked the Chozeh in the eyes and said, "Nary a day goes by that I do not wish that I could see that boy once more and beg him mechilah, forgiveness, for the terrible wrong that I committed. I would do anything to know what became of him. I want to be absolutely certain that I was not the cause of his leaving Yiddishkeit."
When the Chozeh heard the story, he immediately asked the man for the name of the child. "His name was Yankel," the man said. Hearing this, the Rebbe gave a big smile. He put his arm around the elderly rebbe and assured him that he had nothing about which to worry. He knew Yankel quite well. Indeed, he was a devout Jew, a yarei Shomayim.
"Are you sure that he is a fine upstanding Jew?" the man asked. "I am certain," the Chozeh, Horav Yaakov "Yankel" Yitzchak, replied. Hearing this wonderful news brought a large smile across the man's face, as he now felt a heavy stone being lifted off his heart. He cried again, only this time the tears were tears of joy. The Rebbe now understood why he was "brought" here for Shabbos.
Now, for the lessons: A: One never strikes a child. It could have grave ramifications, causing the child ultimately to turn his back on Yiddishkeit. B: One who suspects that, by his actions, he has adversely affected a child should do everything in his power to beg that child's forgiveness. He should leave no stone unturned until he locates that child. Regardless of the humiliation, he must seek his forgiveness. This rebbe went through life bitter, broken, and sick because he had hurt a child, and he now no longer knew how to locate him. C: We see the bond of love that exists between rebbe and talmid. The mere thought that he had caused him irreparable damage devastated this man for years. D: We see that if a person cares enough, Hashem will somehow manipulate events so that the two can come together and make peace.
Goaleinu Hashem, Shemo, Kedosh Yisrael. Our Redeemer, Whose Name is G-d of Hosts, Who is the Holy One of Yisrael.
There is a debate concerning the insertion of this tefillah into the Tzur Yisrael conclusion of Shacharis prior to Shemoneh Esrai. It has been the accepted custom in most communities outside of Frankfurt, which omits it. The omission is supported by the Sefer Rokeach and Maharitz Geius. The Rokeach explains that, in this tefillah, the name Yisrael is mentioned four times, corresponding to the four lashonos shel geulah, expressions of freedom which are mentioned in Sefer Shemos (6:6,7). By adding this extra verse, we are adding a fifth lashon shel geulah, which will inevitably interfere with the accepted symbolism. The Rokeach adds a Kabbalistic concept to buttress his point. Without this pasuk, the tefillah contains fourteen words and sixty letters which correspond to shishim ribo, sixty times ten thousand, or the 600,000 Jews over the age of twenty who were redeemed from Egypt on that first Erev Pesach. Nonetheless, the majority of kehillos, Jewish congregations, have followed the Kabbalah of the Arizal that this verse be included in the tefillah.
Rebbetzin Esther Bluma bas Harav Shraga Moshe Davis a"h
niftara 4 Kislev 5773
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Rabbi Avrohom and Devorah Shoshana
Yosef and Edie Davis
and their families
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