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Parashat Toldot


The Torah is eternal, as are its messages. Therefore, there is much to be learned from the episode of Yaakov and Esav. Each individual must ask himself, to whose camp do I belong? To the camp of Yaakov or the that of Esav, Heaven forbid? Before every action a person takes, he must ask the critical question, is this an action of Yaakov or of Esav?

But how does one make this distinction? Wherein specifically lies the difference between Yaakov and Esav? Their names allude to the essence of these two distinct personalities. "Yaakov" is related to the word "eikev," the heel, which represents the end, the culmination. "Esav," according to the Midrash, is related to the Aramaic expression which means emptiness, a vacuum. Before embarking on any activity, a person should ask, does this activity have a purpose, does it bring me closer to a given destination? If it does, that it belongs to the world of Yaakov. But if does not yield any purpose, but it is just for its own sake, to waste time, to pass the hours, then it is an activity suitable only for Esav and his followers.

We must realize that the culture of Esav surrounds us on all sides. This culture is characterized by activities to pass time, leisurely pursuits of little value. The overwhelming majority of the content in the newspapers is pure vanity, not to mention that element which is corrupt. The same applies to the material of the mass media. All the entertainment, sporting activities and the like - it is all but a waste of time. Contrast all this with an hour of prayer, of Torah study, the recitation of Tehillim. These activities elevate the soul, revive one's spirit, purify the mind, enlighten one's day and leads one to the World to Come. These activities are those of Yaakov, those which direct one along a path, to a definite goal and purpose, to an abundance of reward.

"We thank You that You made our place among those who sit in the Bet Midrash, and You did not make our place among those who sit on the street-corners!"


This week we confront a particularly difficult section of the Humash, the incident of Yisshak's blessings to his sons. Yisshak had two sons. The first was a man of the field, a hunter, a person with no restraint and whose desires knew no bounds. The second was a wholesome, innocent individual, a dweller of the tents of Torah, sacred and pure, the choicest of the patriarchs.

Yisshak, a prophet, a man of divine intuition, in whose home dwelled the Shechinah, commits a grave error, as it were. He believes that Esav was proper and upright, righteous and pious, and thereby worthy of his father's blessing. How is this possible?

Some would answer that Yisshak was blind, he simply could not properly observe what was transpiring. But do our sacred patriarchs need eyes to see? Was not everything clear to them as a result of their divine spirit and intuition? Rabbenu Behaye zs"l writes in Hovot Halevavot (Sha'ar Heshbon Hanefesh, 3) that when an individual reaches the "most sublime level of the levels of the ssadikim and the highest point in the levels of the pious - he will see without eyes, he will hear without ears and will feel without his senses."

A yeshivah student once expressed before Rabbi Mosheh Tikuchinski zs"l, the "mashgiah" of the Slobodkah Yeshivah, the possibility that Yisshak simply erred in his assessment of Esav, that he did not understand his son's true essence.

The mashgiah peered at the student and asked, "Do you believe in the writings of the Ar"i?"

"Of course!" exclaimed the student.

"Among these writings is the 'Sefer Hagilgulim' which discusses the roots of the souls of the prophets and the kings, the Tannaim and the Amoraim. Do you believe all this?"

"Of course!" came the reply.

"But the Ar"i never met them; they lived many generations before him," the mashgiah reminded the student.

"Correct," continued the student, "but all which was concealed was revealed to him."

"And do you think," challenged the mashgiah, "that Yisshak did not approach the level of the Ar"i, that he was unable to see even that which lay right in front of him..."

This answer is of eternal significance. The Alshich zs"l writes explicitly that Yisshak knew full well who Yaakov was and who Esav was. If so, then our original question remains - how was he prepared to give the blessing the Esav, his wicked son, and overlook his righteous, saintly son?

The answer can be understood through the following story. A man once decided to devote his life to helping others by providing medical help for the ill. He diligently studied the pertinent sciences, paying particular attention to the cures provided by various herbs. He studied until he finally went out and ground herbs. Patients poured to his home to purchase his medicines, and they paid him generously. The pharmacist acquired for himself widespread recognition, as well as wealth and self-satisfaction. He had seven sons. Six of them took advantage of their father's wealth and spent their time involved in trivial and wasteful pursuits. They paid no attention to his rebuke and ignored his pleas that they straighten their paths. They caused their parents anguish and despair.

Just one son followed his father's lead. He would penetrate deep into the woods in search of new species of herbs, researching their effects and arriving at new medications which benefited more patients.

One day, the father took ill. He quickly called his confident and instructed him to carry out his will - all his wealth would be evenly distributed among his six sons.

"Six?" cried the friend. "You have seven sons!"

"The seventh son will not receive anything," ordered the father.

"Why?" asked the friend. "He is the most deserving of all your sons. Why would you withhold your wealth from him?"

"Don't yell," begged the elderly patient. "He has already received more than any of them. His brothers waste their time, and they are incapable of making a single penny. I will distribute my wealth among them so at least they have on what to live for a short period of time. But the seventh is familiar with all the secrets which led me to my fortune in the first place. His livelihood is secure for the rest of his life!"

The story's relevance to our topic is clear. Hashem blessed Avraham with an enormous fortune. Yisshak was similarly blessed with wealth and prestige. Yaakov followed in their path. He was righteous and upright, and he was therefore guaranteed the divine blessing. He was guaranteed that his prayers would be answered and he would be provided with an abundance of good throughout his life. But his wicked brother, unrestrained and undisciplined, how would he receive a berachah? From his Torah, missvot, his good deeds? For this reason, Yisshak wanted to bestow the blessing on Esav.

But Rivkah was told through prophecy that Yaakov should receive the blessings. Why? After all, he was a ssadik, and he was guaranteed blessings in any event? The answer is that the blessing was bestowed on behalf of future generations, as well, and, undoubtedly, among his descendants would be people undeserving of blessing in their own merit. They would be "clothed in the clothing of Esav," and for them - for us! - he received the berachah, as an eternal blessing for all time!


"Elokim will give you"

Why does the blessing begin specifically with the letter "vav," which implies something additional (as this letter means "and" in Hebrew)? The Midrash comments that the "vav" alludes to the three additional blessings - that Hashem will provide even more, that the blessing will take effect not only in the son's own merit, but in the merit of his forefathers, as well, and, finally, that the blessing will surface both in this world as well as in the World to Come.

"Elokim will give you"

The Midrash comments that this blessing was to be given to Yisshak's son specifically in the son's own merit. The divine blessing descends upon the world only on account of the missvot performed by Benei Yisrael, and, conversely, it is withheld, Heaven forbid, on account of their neglect of the missvot. As Hazal say, "This nation, every goodness which comes to the world comes only in its merit, as it states, 'Elokim will give you from the dew of the heaven' - to you, in your merit, for it is dependent solely upon you."

"Elokim will give you"

"Elokim" is the Divine Name which relates to Hashem's quality of power and strength ("gevurah"). Why, then, is this name employed here, in the context of the blessing which emerges from the divine quality of kindness ("hesed")? The Midrash explains that this, too, constitutes part of Yisshak's berachah, that when Benei Yisrael need special divine power, it is granted to them. For example, Shimshon lost all his strength and pleaded with the Almighty, "Strengthen me and empower me just this once." He was given remarkable physical strength with which he took down a stadium filled with Pelishtim. The Midrash writes, "Elokim will give you - meaning, He will give you His divine power. When? When you will need it, as it states [regarding Shimshon], 'He said, Hashem Elokim, please remember me and strengthen me just this one time, Elokim.' Shimshon said before the Almighty, Master of the World, remember for me that blessing which my forefather blessed me, 'Elokim will give you'!"

"Elokim will give you"

The Midrash continues to comment that with good reason Yisshak opened his blessing with the Divine Name of "Elokim," which alludes to the Attribute of Justice. An abundance of good with no restraint or limitation cannot be considered a blessing. To the contrary, it can yield terrible results. For example, the proper quantity of rain is a wonderful blessing, but too much rain causes disastrous flooding. Too much good has the capacity to destroy on both the individual and communal levels, young and old. Therefore, the berachah opens with the Attribute of Justice, thus ensuring that the berachah produces just the right amount.

"Elokim will give you"

The Midrash notes that the pasuk refers to the Almighty as "HA-Elokim," with the extra letter "hei" in the beginning (as if to say, "THE Elokim"). It explains that in this way Yisshak alluded to the fact that the blessings will be fulfilled to their utmost only when the Divine Kingdom is revealed openly and entirely to the world, with the advent of the ultimate redemption, may it come speedily and in our days. Only then will the banner of Yisrael be raised high, and the blessings will overflow in abundance.


Rabbi Shelomoh Iliyon zs"l

Three hundred years ago, there were two communities in Amsterdam, Holland. Leading the Sephardic, Portuguese community was Rabbi Shelomoh Iliyon zs"l, while the Hacham Ssevi zs"l (who was given the title "Hacham" after having studied under leading Sephardic scholars in Italy) sat at the head of the Ashkenazic community.

One day, the Hacham Ssevi went to the Sephardic rabbi's house to discuss issues relating to the community and was shocked at the glorious sight which his eyes beheld. A festive tablecloth was spread over the table, an elaborate array of flowers adorned the room, filling the air with a magnificent fragrance, and the house was enveloped with the holiday spirit. This was his first visit to his counterpart's home, and he asked, "Is this the way of the Torah?"

Rabbi Shelomoh answered quietly, "We are privileged by the visit of the king!" Well, then, things now become clear. If, indeed, the house is being prepared for a royal visit, then it must be decorated appropriately. "When is the king expected?" asked the Hacham Ssevi.

"I hope he has already arrived," answered Rabbi Shelomoh.

"Where is he?" shuddered the Hacham Ssevi. The visit of a king is no small matter!

"His Majesty fills the world," answered the rabbi. "Hazal say that if a man and his wife are meritorious - the Shechinah resides among them. If peace and tranquillity govern the home, then the Almighty Himself lives with them. So, if I have merited such a blessing, and my home has thus become an abode for the Shechinah, is it not appropriate to decorate my house? Hazal further comment that when a Jew studies Torah the Shechinah stands opposite him, as the pasuk states, 'In every place where I mention My name, I will come to you and bless you.' Is it therefore not wholly appropriate that I greet the presence of the Almighty with honor and dignity?"

"Indeed, it is most appropriate!" answered the Hacham Ssevi, startled and awed. "If these are the intentions of the rabbi - fortunate is the community which has him as their leader!"


A Collection of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

The Laws Relating to Putting on Clothes

1) A person must conduct himself in a humble manner when he dresses himself. He should not think to himself, since I am in the privacy of my own room, nobody sees me, so what difference does it make how I get dressed? The Glory of the Almighty fills the entire world, and even the darkest places are visible to Him as in broad daylight. Therefore, one must be careful not to reveal those parts of the body which are normally covered, even the slightest bit, except when necessary.

Therefore, if one sleeps with no clothing, when he wakes up he should not put on the clothing which goes directly on his body while sitting up, in order that his private parts not be revealed. He should put on his clothing while still lying down under his covers, so that by the time he gets up he will already be covered.

However, these rules are not according to the strict letter of the law, but rather constitute an added measure of piety, as one should always conduct himself in a humble manner, remembering that the Glory of Hashem fills the entire universe. If he does not follow these rules he has not violated a specific prohibition. Therefore, one who finds it difficult to dress himself while lying under his covers may be lenient in this regard.

It is permissible, even "lechatehilah" (optimally), to reveal the parts of the body which people generally leave uncovered, such as the neck until the chest and the arms. It is also permissible to expose oneself when taking a bath or shower, and there is no reason whatsoever to be stringent in this regard.

2) One should not take his clothing which will be worn that day from someone who has not yet washed his hands. He should rather take the clothing himself and wear them. He himself may take the clothing and wear it even before he has washed his hands; only from others who have not washed should he not take his clothing.

3) As a person gets dressed, he should be careful not to put on two articles of clothing at the same time, for this will lead him to forget his Torah learning. Some extend this halachah to include wearing two hats at the same time, one under the other. Therefore, one should not wear his "kippah" under a hat, and should rather wear his hat directly on his head. One who is stringent not to take off two articles of clothing at the same time when he gets undressed is deserving of blessing.

One may wear two shoes of leather or thread at the same time. Therefore, one may put on shoes and boots at the same time.

4) One should also be careful not to place his clothing under his head as he sleeps, for this, too, leads one to forget his Torah learning. However, there is no need to be concerned about leaving them under his pillow during sleeping hours.

5) One should be careful to put on his clothing properly, not inside out. Even when putting on clothing directly on his body, and they will thus not be seen by others, one should ensure that they are not worn inside out. One should be careful in this regard even regarding clothing which does not have so many stitches on the inside which will be seen when worn inside out. One who inadvertently put on an article of clothing inside out should take it off and put it on again properly.

6) One who wears socks or other articles of clothing which need to be tied, they are to be put on in the same manner as shoes. Meaning, the right one should be put on first, without being tied. Then the left one should be put on and tied, and only thereafter should the right one be tied.


Rabbi Yossef Hayyim of Baghdad zs"l, the Ben Ish Hai, tells the story of two friends who walked together in a field and came across a bush. One asked the other, "How high is this bush?" The second took a glance at the bush and thought to himself that the bush was his height. "One meter, seventy centimeters," he said. His friend responded, "I think it is two-and-a-half meters tall!" The other laughed, knowing that this was impossible. But his friend insisted, "Two-and-a-half, at least. I will bet you a hundred dollars!" The other agreed enthusiastically, confident that he would win the bet. He rushed home to get a ladder and a tape measure. In the meantime, his friend quickly got himself a hoe and dug a meter deep into the ground around the bush. The roots were still deep beneath the surface, so when the other returned he had no choice but to confess his error and pay the money to his friend. He consoled himself with the knowledge that he had just learned a new trick, and, if he uses it well, he could make back double the money which he lost in the bet.

And so, some time later, this friend, who lost, was walking with another and decided to make him his first subject. They passed by a field filled with tall stalks of wheat. "Tell me, how tall are these stalks?" he asked. His friend looked at the stalks and saw that they came up to his waist. "About a meter high," he answered. The other chuckled, "No, they are no lower than a meter and a half." The other laughed at him, and, pretending to be insulted, his friend responded, "I will bet you two hundred dollars!" Once again, the unsuspecting friend agreed to what he felt was a sure bet.

While the friend ran to get a tape measure, the other went to get a hoe, self-assured that he will now receive double the money he lost on the first bet. He labored to dig beneath the stalk but, unfortunately for him, just when he dug a little bit the stalk collapsed. The roots lay near the surface, so once he dug beneath the surface, the entire stalk came crashing down.

The other soon returned with the tape measure, measured the stalks which had fallen, and soon added two hundred dollars to his wallet. The other friend, meanwhile, was tearing out his hair. He lost the first time, worked laboriously, and then lost twice as much money.

Similarly, continued the Ben Ish Hai zs"l, a ssadik is likened to a tree planted by springs of water, whereas the wicked is compared to withering branches which are blown away by the wind. The critical difference between them, however, lies in their roots. The ssadik is like a large, fruit-bearing tree because his roots are deep and strong. The rasha, by contrast, stands as fragile as straw, for his roots are shallow and flimsy.

The basis of this idea is found in our parashah. Yaakov was "wholesome, a dweller of tents." When he was forced to run for his life and flee to Haran, he first spent fourteen years studying at the yeshivah of Shem and Ever. Why? In order to solidify his roots, to strengthen himself so that he would survive in a spiritually hostile environment.

It is therefore self-understood how much must be invested in the education of the younger generation, in leading them along a path of Torah and proper midot, entrenching within them firm faith and commitment. They will soon be adults, dealing with the corrupt, hostile society, standing against such a morally suffocated environment. The dangers are real and present, and our children must be given adequate protection in advance. They must be equipped with strong dedication before they are sent on such a difficult challenge.

But this is not all. The Torah itself saw to it that specific times would be allocated for this purpose, times which, by their nature, provide us with firm roots to ensure our survival in the proverbial "home of Lavan."

This is a central component of Shabbat, the day of sanctity which precedes the six workdays. It is a day of prayer and Torah study, a day of purity and spiritual elevation, a day which provides us with the strength of character and spiritual force which we need with us as we embark on our day-to-day activities throughout the work-week. This also comprises a major element of the institution of daily prayer. Before we set out for the exhaustion of the workplace, we engage in some moments of closeness to our Creator, we stand before Him with sanctity and a commitment to strengthening ourselves.

This was fine and good during some periods in our history. But in our day and age, when darkness covers the land and we must confront ever so difficult challenges, when the forces of the mundane and the impure are so overpowering - this is not enough. One must strengthen himself through Torah classes, just as Yaakov strengthened himself through Torah study before going to the corrupt environment of Lavan's home. Only Torah classes can deepen and fortify our roots. "I am a wall - this refers to Torah." Torah is our fortress, our greatest source of protection.


The Moments of Dimness in the Coral Reefs

The moments of dimness in the coral reefs are particularly active and exciting times. Each reef contains a wide variety of creatures, creatures which have different living-patterns and lifestyles. It is no wonder, then, that the transition from light to dark turns the place into a most intriguing scene. Over the course of this period, the reef becomes like a traffic jam in major city with no police officers, traffic lights or protocol. Dozens of groups of creatures change their modes of activity drastically during these moments. Creatures of prey take advantage of the traffic and confusion to catch some food. During this short time-frame between light and dark, the sense of vision does not operate normally. Moreover, during these moments it seems as though the fish are smitten with a type of temporary blindness, similar to when a person goes inside from the sun to a darker room. During this time most of the creatures swim frantically, stop eating, and their colors begin to fade until the rays of the sun return. With daybreak the process begins once again, so that fifteen minutes after sunrise the surface of the reef has changed once again, and life gradually returns to normal.

These moments of dimness is a time of total blur and confusion and it exists in our world, as well. This is a unsettled period, a period when a person feels the weight of the brazenness and cruelty which permeates throughout the world. The person is left dumbfounded by things with which he was heretofore unfamiliar. It is a situation bereft of truth, where the peculiar slogan of "Everyone and his own truth" follows him everywhere. This is a time when a person stands before two choices, either to remain passive and get caught by the various forces and missionaries around him or, if you will, run away, or, his second option, to take the initiative and decide upon the one, singular truth and attach himself to it unconditionally - the truth of Torah and missvot. As Jews, we know that these characteristics signal the coming of the Moshiah, days when soon the sun shines again and scatters the clouds of confusion. Then will the light of Moshiah shine, and the preoccupation of the entire world will be nothing other than the knowledge of Hashem.


Measure for Measure (16)

Flashback: A wealthy man, in his lack of concern for others, invited a poor scholar into his home without offering him anything to eat, and, eventually, the poor man died. The poor scholar was denied entry into Gan Eden because the wealthy man was to be punished on his account. The soul was granted permission to appear to the rich man to instruct him along a path of repentance. He told the wealthy man to dress up as an impoverished peasant and sit in the Bet Midrash and learn. He was not to ask anything from anybody except his own family. The wealthy man followed the instructions, and only when his hunger overtook him did he slowly drag himself to his home and knock on the door.

His knocks were quite weak and delicate, due both to his feeble physical condition as well as to his emotional turmoil from the reversal of his fortune. He was also frightened from the greeting he will receive in his home. From opposite the door he heard the cries and shrieks of anguish. "Father, Father," muttered his children. "Where is father, when will he return?" He heard the voice of their mother, his wife, responding, "Quiet, my children, quiet, he will certainly return, they will definitely find him." His heart went out to them and he wanted to shout, "Here! Here I am!" But the orders of the poor scholar were strict, and he was warned that if he did not follow them he would die. He girded himself with emotional strength and courage and knocked harder, so that his knocking would be heard over the sounds of wailing and eulogy. Finally, the door opened and the maid appeared in the doorway. "Is there any news?" she inquired. She thought that he was bringing some news or information regarding the whereabouts of her missing master.

"Have mercy," he said with a trembling, shattered voice. "Please give me something to eat to restore my soul. I have not eaten for days!"

"Such nerve!" shouted the maid. "Here people are crying and mourning, and you have the audacity to come here to collect donations. Everyone here fears for the life of the master, and you come here with your rags stretching out your hand for food. Go to work - this is what the master would have said to you. Go earn some money with your own work. Here we don't support those who want to eat for free."

The door slammed shut in his face.

He stood there in shock, processing that which had just transpired. What, in truth, would he have answered an impoverished pauper who knocked on the door begging for food? The maid was correct. That is exactly how he would have responded, this is, in fact, how he scolded more than one beggar who appeared on his doorstep. What did he answer the rabbi when he came to collect funds for the poor before Pesah? He answered that he does not support beggars, for he would never ask help from anyone...

To be continued...

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