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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

PARSHAS TOLDOS

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

Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by him - by Yitzchak Avinu. Lavan had given Rivkah Imeinu a blessing, Achoseinu, at hayi l'alfei revavah, "Our sister, may you come to be the thousands of myriads" (Bereishis 24:60). It seems like a "reasonable" blessing. The fact that Hashem allowed Himself to be entreated by Yitzchak is a clear indication that Lavan's blessing was unacceptable. Why? A blessing is a blessing - regardless of its source - or is this not true? The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlita, contends that a bircas rasha einah ela kelalah, "The blessing bestowed by a wicked person is nothing more than a curse." In order to explain this idea, he relates the following analogy, which I feel not only gives meaning to this issue, but opens up for us a new vista in understanding why the blessings/ efforts/deeds of some individuals lack efficacy.

A man, by vocation a silversmith, moved from a small hamlet to the capital city. In the hamlet, he was well known as an artist without peer, a reputation which resulted in his ability to earn a steady living. Expenses were nominal, as rent and utilities for his small shop did not make a great dent in his living expenses. In the big city, it was a totally different story. Storefronts went for a premium. He was, therefore, forced to rent a tiny shop in a small alleyway. He was not concerned, because he felt that his beautiful work spoke for itself. He would eventually attract customers through word of mouth.

The man was in his shop for only one day when a man appeared at his door. At first glance, he had an unsavory appearance. He was a sharp dresser, with pasted down hair, sporting a fedora on the tip of his head and wearing a white tie over a black shirt. He could have passed as a goon or a permanent fixture at a casino. He certainly was not the type of customer that frequented his shop in the hamlet. Perhaps the big city was a different scene.

"Good morning, my friend," the man began in a loud voice. "I see that you have recently moved to the big city. Well, I have come to help you, because you have selected a spot to do business that has not seen a customer in years. How do you expect people to become aware of your presence? You are stuck deep in a corner of a small alley hardly visited by anyone of substance. Who will purchase your crafts - if no one hears of you? This is why I am here. Today is your lucky day.

"First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sammy, and I am a financial advisor. I will help you to earn a good living. You just have to adhere to my advice. It does not come cheap, but, trust me, it is well worth the expense."

The silversmith at first demurred to Sammy's offer of "assistance." "You do not seem to understand," Sammy continued. "The big city is different from the hamlet in which you lived. The city is run by "movers and shakers," and, if one is not well-connected, he stands no chance of earning a living. Let me help you, and you will see how quickly your success shall be realized.

"Here is what you should do. Gather together various rings, necklaces and bracelets; take along armbands and brooches for good measure. All in all, you should have one hundred pieces of jewelry. Meet me on Monday at 9:00 a.m. by the palace gates and I will show you how to make your sale. The queen will be so impressed with your wares that she will purchase them all."

The simple silversmith took Sammy's advice and waited by the palace gates. Immediately, two burly guards approached and asked what he was doing there. He explained that he was working with Sammy, and he was waiting for the queen. Need we say more? "Sammy! He is a con man, a thief, a fraud. What are you doing with him? You are probably a lowlife like he is." They began to beat him within an inch of his life. Luckily, he was able to escape, all bloodied, beaten and torn, but alive. Surprise of surprises: Sammy never showed up.

Two weeks elapsed with no customers, no money and no food left in the cupboard. The silversmith was going through a severe bout of depression when, one day, a well-to-do man, very smartly dressed, entered the store. The man was clearly a distinguished person. He was dressed in a long black frock, top hat, white shirt and morning trousers. Regrettably, the silversmith had lost his patience with people. "Can I help you? Are you interested in purchasing jewelry, or are you going to waste my time by just looking around?" This was certainly not the way to greet a potential customer, but the silversmith was simply not in the mood to put up with anyone. He had taken a serious hit.

The man removed a one-hundred ruble note from his pocket, gave it to the silversmith and said, "Here, you look like you have gone through a bad situation. I imagine that you have had no business since you moved here. It is no wonder. No one comes here to shop. I see your jewelry and, indeed, it is fit for a king. Come with me, and I will see to it that you are given a chance to earn some money."

He took the silversmith to the king, who was so impressed with the jewelry that he purchased it all and even instructed the silversmith to return with more of the same. The man had done very well for himself.

As expected, when someone is the beneficiary of good fortune, the "Sammys" of the world climb out of their holes in the ground and expect to receive a cut of the profits. After all… when Sammy appeared the next day (after the man had made the sale to the king) to congratulate the silversmith and demand his cut of the take, the silversmith immediately chased him from the store.

The lesson is quite simple. Rivkah Imeinu is that simple silversmith. Lavan's blessing is the work of the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, whose advice is never in our favor. Rivkah did not have children, because this would have meant that Lavan's blessing had been fulfilled. That evil person would have shared in all of Rivka's success, her children's success and, indeed, that of all of her descendants. The true tzaddik need not piggy back his prayers on the prayers of Lavan; nor does the truly righteous person require assistance from the likes of Lavan. This is why Hashem listened to Yitzchak's prayer, so that he would give neither credit nor reward to Lavan.

Not everyone is suited to be Hashem's emissary - and not everyone is worthy of being the medium for conveying Hashem's blessing. One could be the greatest, most successful doctor, but, if he is not worthy of blessing, he will not be the conveyance for effecting blessing. Sometimes, we must maintain our patience - and continue to pray.

Yitzchak entreated Hashem opposite his wife, because she was barren. (25:21)

Rashi interprets the word va'yeetar to mean that Yitzchak Avinu prayed abundantly for Rivkah. He never felt "I prayed enough." He finished one prayer; he immediately began to pray again. The first prayer was not accepted; perhaps the next one would be accepted. The fact that, according to the laws of nature, it was biologically impossible for Rivkah Imeinu to conceive, he, nonetheless, understood that his function was to daven, the rest was up to Hashem to decide.

The ratzon HaBorei, will of the Almighty, is that we daven. If we care enough about an issue, then we cannot give up hope of seeing it achieve fruition. Indeed, Chazal teach that the cause and effect of Yitzchak's prayer can be different from what we might believe. Rivkah was barren, so that she and Yitzchak would pray! We never halt our prayers. We never stop praying, because we do not know which prayer will make the difference.

In his Shaarim b'Tefillah, Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, proves that pegia, which is a form of prayer, actually means rebui bakasho, in which one continually prays for something until he is answered. One does not give up; one does not throw in the towel. We finish one tefillah; we immediately begin to pray again. If we pray long and hard enough, Hashem will ultimately listen.

Moshe Rabbeinu prayed for Klal Yisrael, entreating Hashem to forgive them for perpetrating the sin of the Golden Calf. He prayed 515 times for Hashem to rescind the decree preventing him from entering Eretz Yisrael. Concerning the Golden Calf, Hashem made him stop. V'Atah hanichah Li, "And now leave Me (alone)." The Talmud in Berachos 32b explains that Moshe "took hold of Hashem and would not let go, as if to say, 'I will not let go until You forgive the nation.'"

The Talmud Yerushalmi Berachos 4:1 states, Kol ha'marbeh b'Tefillah ne'eneh, "Whoever is firm and offers abundant prayer (who simply does not stop, but continues praying and praying) will be answered. It is very similar to a child who keeps on pleading with his father. At some point, the father will give in. If we do not give up, Hashem will listen to us, despite our unworthiness.

In every generation, there have been Jews who have known this wonderful secret of prayer. They understood that the kunst, trick (so to speak), to prayer is to never stop praying. Rav Shimshon relates that he came to understand this avenue of efficacy in prayer from a woman's prayer on behalf of her husband. A young couple became inspired with a zeal for Jewish observance and decided to return, to embrace a life of Torah and mitzvos. They sent their young children to a Torah school, where they received an exemplary Torah-oriented education. The boys went on to yeshivah gedolah, where they were eminently successful, becoming talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, of note. Likewise, their daughters married fine young men who were yeshivah graduates, committed to continued growth in Kollel following their marriage.

Now that the children were doing well, it was time for the parents to join in and participate - rather than to lead and delegate. The father began to learn, and slowly he went from reading aleph-bais to learning Chumash, Rashi, followed by Mishnayos - and now he was involved in in-depth study of Gemorah. He gave up his job and devoted himself to full-time Torah study in a Kollel. Wonder of wonders! The man was fifty years old when he began to learn and, in the space of five years, he went from being a semi-literate novice to a budding Torah scholar. How did this transpire? Apparently, this man's wife was adamant in her resolve that her husband become a talmid chacham. Although she realized that this was an unrealistic dream, she began to pray day and night, reciting reams and reams of Tehillim every spare moment. She prayed that her husband become a talmid chacham. She kept it up - and Hashem listened.

Everyone has his own pekel, package of needs. For some it is simple, while for others the needs are life altering. They pray and pray - and, at one point, say, "Shoin genuk, it is enough. I tried. How much more can I pray?" We see from this pasuk that there is no end to prayer. It will be effective - at a point. When? Only Hashem knows. Regrettably, after a certain point, our passion diminishes and our entreaty loses some of its urgency, as we become almost complacent. This is why I cite the following story:

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, asked his father-in-law, Horav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zl, for some sort of eitzah, advice, on how to address the shidduch crisis. Many wonderful young men and women are encountering great difficulty in finding their bashert, predestined mate. Rav Eliyashiv replied, 'There is one (and only one) eitzah, piece of advice: Daven." "They have been davening for quite some time already; to the point that their lips are dried out," Rav Zilberstein countered. "Let them continue davening, and they will see yeshuos, salvation, from Hashem."

Rav Zilberstein took this question and answer to Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, and asked his same question: "They claim that they have not stopped davening - and, yet, they have not seen any sign of salvation." Rav Shteinman rose from his chair, went over to the bookcase and removed a Navi, Melachim II, and turned the pages to Perek 4, which relates the story of Ovadyah HaNavi's wife who cried out to Elisha HaNavi, "Your servant, my husband, died, and you know that he was a G-d-fearing man. The creditor (to whom we owe much money) seized my two sons to become his slaves (as reimbursement for the debt)."

The Radak writes that Ovadyah's wife offered up 265 entreaties, and only then (after she had prayed this amount of times) did Heaven answer her. This means that had she prayed only 264 times, she would not have received a Heavenly response. This teaches us that one can cry with fiery passion, entreating the Almighty 264 times, and still remain unsuccessful. Why? Because it is that next prayer, the 265th prayer, which would be the coupe de grace, the finishing touch, for which Hashem was waiting. The only recourse is to continue praying with the same level of feeling and emotion. At a certain point, it will happen.

Regrettably, we do not take davening seriously enough. While everybody davens, how many understand the uncompromising obligation to attend tefillah b'tzibur, daven with a minyan? It is not that one does not care, it is just that we have so many responsibilities which we have convinced ourselves take precedence over minyan. It could not be further from the truth. Rather than go into a long discourse on the overriding importance of tefillah b'tzibur, I share with the reading public an inspirational story related by Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, concerning Horav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg, zl, author of the Seridei Eish, Rosh Yeshivah of the Hildeshaimer Seminary in Berlin, and later Rav in Montreux, Switzerland.

Rav Weinberg was one of the preeminent students in Slabodka when the Yeshivah was home to the greatest and most brilliant scholars of the time, among them: Rav Reuven Grozovsky; Rav Aharon Kotler; and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky. Rav Weinberg related that he was very diligent in his studies, hardly leaving the bais hamedrash to catch a few hours of sleep, only to return immediately to his place and continue studying. One day, not realizing that the shkiah, sunset, had changed before he knew it, he had missed davening Minchah. He was distraught over this. How could he have missed Minchah? What should he do? He made an appointment to speak with the Rosh Yeshivah, the Alter of Slobodka, Horav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, zl.

"What is the problem?" the Alter asked his prize student. "Rebbe, I am very fortunate to learn in such a makom Torah, with such outstanding friends and colleagues. Hashem has blessed me with the ability to remain diligent in my studies and to grow exponentially in Torah." "So, what is the problem?" asked the Alter - once again. "It is specifically because of my diligence that I overlooked the time, and I did not pay attention to the sun setting at an earlier time. Suddenly, I found myself ready to daven Maariv, the evening service, while not yet having prayed the Minchah, afternoon service. I am terribly troubled by this. I do not know what to do."

The Alter listened to his story and responded, "Return to your shtender, lectern" (in other words, "Go back to your studies"). Rav Weinberg was troubled. He had a problem. He had missed Minchah, and he had related his problem to the Rosh HaYeshivah, whom, he was sure, would offer a solution. Instead, he just told him to return to his shtender. He was baffled, but one did not question the Rosh Yeshivah. He was one of the most perceptive people of that generation. Surely, he had a reason for his seemingly strange response.

Two weeks passed. Rav Weinberg was learning in the bais hamedrash when the Alter walked in and motioned to him with his finger. He quickly jumped up and approached his revered Rebbe. "Yes," he said. "Today, Horav Naftali Amsterdam (preeminent disciple of Horav Yisrael Salanter) is arriving in Slobodka. He will select you as his chavrusa, study partner. You will probably study with him in the shul that is near to the river. As you are walking together with him, present to him the question that you presented to me two weeks ago."

A few hours passed, and, indeed, Rav Naftali called for the student. Rav Weinberg was profuse in his gratitude to the venerable sage for choosing him as a study partner. This was an unparalleled z'chus, merit. As they walked to the shul where they would learn, Rav Weinberg asked if he could present a question to the sage. "I already shared this query with my Rosh Yeshivah; however, he suggested that I present it to the Rav and seek his counsel."

"What is the problem?" Rav Naftali asked. Rav Weinberg began with his litany: "I am a student in Slabodka where the learning is exhilarating. As a result, I spend my every waking moment engrossed in the study of Torah, mussar, ethics, and seeking ways to improve my yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven. Everything was going well, except that, one day, I became so involved in my learning that I missed davening Minchah." As soon as Rav Weinberg uttered these words, Rav Naftali repeated them, "Oy, you missed Minchah!"

The second these words left his mouth, Rav Naftali fell to the ground in a dead faint. Rav Weinberg concluded the story: "I went through many terrible ordeals in my life, years of misery and pain, but I never once missed Minchah - after I saw Rav Naftali's reaction."

Veritably, the Alter could have made the same statement, "Oy, you missed Minchah," but it would never have had the same impact as seeing Rav Naftali faint to the ground upon hearing that a yeshivah student had not davened Minchah. This was the Alter's greatness. He was acutely aware what made an impact and how to maximize the experience to achieve its ultimate potential.

The children agitated within her. (25:22)

Rashi cites Chazal who explain that the word Vayisrotzetzu, "And they (the children) agitated" is derived from the word rotz, to run. When Rivkah Imeinu passed the Yeshivah of Shem and Eivar, Yaakov "ran" and struggled to go forth; and when she passed a house of idol worship, Eisav "ran" to go out. Each child had a certain proclivity representative of the cosmic forces within Creation - forces that are not connected to normal personality development, but transcend it. Yaakov Avinu gravitated towards the bais hamedrash, while Eisav was more comfortable in the house of idol worship. As they grew into adulthood, their personal inclinations were developed; Eisav was attracted to the base and ignominious, while Yaakov was drawn to the spirit and good.

The various commentators wonder why Eisav did not just "leave." As the biological firstborn, he was first in line to emerge from the birth canal. Nothing stood in his way. Yaakov, however, could not leave, because Eisav blocked his exit. Horav Yechezkel, zl, m'Kozmir, explains that Eisav "parked" himself at the entrance to the birth canal in order to block Yaakov's exit. Why would he want to stay in the womb with the righteous Yaakov, when he could have left and begun a life of worshipping his idols? He explains that it was worth it for Eisav to forgo his pleasure as long as he had the satisfaction of preventing Yaakov from achieving greater spiritual perfection.

I think this is a powerful truth and a sad commentary concerning those who purport to adhere to other religions. Any rational person with a modicum of intelligence understands that the major world religions are confronted with serious questions concerning their validity. This is the not the forum for discussing comparative religions, but any scholar-- or even a knowledgeable layperson-- must have serious questions concerning how and when his religion began, and how to reconcile a religion of love with two thousand years of brutal murder, pogroms, holocausts and jihads. Apparently, they really have no idea or do not care. They just want to see to it that we, representing the only true religion of the world, are not able to exist. Yes, Eisav was willing to forgo his spiritual service, to even live the life of a lie, as long as he could prevent Yaakov from serving Hashem.

In an alternative exposition, the commentators state that Eisav's greatest source of satisfaction was to be in Yaakov's proximity and make his life miserable. It is not even an issue of preventing him from serving Hashem. Eisav simply derived his greatest enjoyment from seeing Yaakov suffer - and what greater source of misery was there to Yaakov than his inability to serve Hashem?

The Maggid, zl, m'Dubno was going through a difficult time financially. It reached the point that he was relegated to packing his bag to travel from city to city, delivering inspirational lectures for which he received a paltry recompense. It was hardly sufficient, and certainly unbecoming a man of his stature, but it paid the bills.

The Maggid's first stop was Berditchev, where he gathered his friends and asked them to put together a venue for him to deliver a lecture. Hopefully, he would draw a sizable audience that would appreciate his efforts and, in turn, express gratitude with some financial support. This was the way many of Europe's greatest rabbinic scholars earned their meager livelihood. No one became wealthy, but it definitely delayed the hunger. One of his close friends asked him, "You are well known for your brilliance. How is it that you left your home, your city where you surely had a multitude of supporters, to come here to 'knock on the door' of our wealthy citizens? Certainly, had you remained at home, your supporters would have put together a communal fund to assist you in your present financial challenge."

The Maggid replied, "Our Torah describes the agitation that took place within Rivkah Imeinu's womb. Every time she passed by a house of idol worship, Eisav "ran"; likewise, when she passed a bais hamedrash, Yaakov "ran." She could have solved her problem by staying at home! Who asked her to take a stroll? Obviously, she realized that at home the pain would be greatly exacerbated. Likewise, for me to remain at home and have people collect for me would increase my pain."

Yitzchak loved Eisav for game was in his mouth, but Rivkah loved Yaakov. (25:28)

People see what they want to see and are impressed by what they have never seen before. Someone growing up in an all American community, accustomed to the sports hype on Sunday, will be impressed upon walking into a yeshivah bais hamedrash and observing hundreds of students studying Torah, completely oblivious to the excitement and intrigue that grips the secular world. Likewise, one whose lifestyle begins with early morning davening, followed by a seder and then either participating in the workforce or in the bais hamedrash, will have difficulty contemplating the secular culture which encourages one to engage in as much leisure time as possible. When one lives life without a purpose, it is no wonder that he has so much free time.

The Chasam Sofer posits that their contrasting backgrounds catalyzed within Yitzchak Avinu and Rivkah Imeinu disparate perspectives, which led them to be impressed by the contrasting behaviors of their two sons. After all, how is it that Yitzchak was so enamored with Eisav, while Rivkah's fondness was directed at Yaakov? He explains that Yitzchak observed Yaakov learning all of the time. He learned; his father had learned. On the other hand, to see a son who spent the majority of his day in the field hunting game, yet remain committed and observant; this was something that impressed him. Rivkah grew up in a home where learning was an anathema, and wasting time was a way of life. Thus, Eisav hardly impressed her. Her son Yaakov's behavior gave her much nachas. This was something she had never before seen. So, what was there not to love?

Va'ani Tefillah

The Talmud Bava Metzia 61b explains the connection between the exodus from Egypt and the mitzvah of Tzitzis. In Egypt, Hashem discerned who was a true firstborn and who was not. He will likewise distinguish between one who wears techeilas (one thread of the Tzitzis dyed with the blood of the chilazon which is bluish in color), and one who wears Tzitzis dyed with kala ilan (a dye made commercially). In other words, Hashem will recognize the deceiver who puts on a display of religiosity, in an attempt to fool people.

The Rosh Yeshivah of Kfar Chassidim, Horav Eliyahu Mishkovsky, wonders what type of person would do this, and what is he gaining thereby. If he is righteous, why does he not simply put on techeiles? If he is a sinner, why does he bother with a cover-up? What does he care about punishment? He has long ignored the ramifications of his lack of observance. The Rosh Yeshivah explains that this person wants to fulfill the mitzvah of techeiles. He feels that he can do better by applying a kala ilan dye as opposed to the real thing. Why? The reason given for using techeiles is because the color reminds one of the sea, whose color is similar to the sky, which calls to mind Heaven, the Heavenly Throne and Hashem. These subtle reminders are effective in increasing one's observance. This person feels he can do better. The kala ilan has greater similarity in color to the sea than does techeiles, so, why not? He is looking for a way to beautify the mitzvah. To him our Sages respond: Follow what you are told, and do not look for self-purported ways to enhance the mitzvah. There is a time and place for innovation. This is neither.

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