A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County

Parshat Toldot          4 Kislev 5764              November 29, 2003              Vol.13 No.12

In This Issue:

Dr. Joel M. Berman
Ely Winkler
Josh Rossman
Uri Carl
Rabbi Chaim Jachter
Food For Thought

This week’s issue of Kol Torah has been sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Krinsky,
in loving memory of Mrs. Krinsky’s mother
Sarah Gitel Bat Moshe Dovid.


You Don't Have To Be Annoying To Get God's Attention
by Dr. Joel M. Berman - Science Department

In opposite corners of the same room, Yitzchak and Rivkah both pray to Hashem because Rivkah is barren.  Hashem only listens to Yitzchak, and then Rivkah conceives (25:21).  Why did Hashem only listen to Yitzchak?  What could possibly be lacking in Rivkah’s Tefillah?  Rashi explains that the prayers of a Tzaddik Ben Tzaddik (Yitzchak) are of greater value than that of a Tzaddik Ben Rasha (Rivkah).  This is puzzling in light of the famous Gemara that states that the status of a Baal Teshuvah is much more elevated than that of a Tzaddik Gamur.
I often learn in the Ohr Somayach Beit Midrash in Monsey, Yeshiva primarily for Baalei Teshuvah. It is interesting to watch the boys there Daven and learn.  Their excitement and enthusiasm is inspiring.
Contrast this with some of the Brachot I hear from our own “Frum from birth” (FFB) students:  “Boru Chata Anoy Heynu…”
Let’s translate this interesting Nusach (the author thanks Rabbi Shlomo Cohen for help in the “translation”):

“Boru”: This means “They created.”  Briah, creation, can only be attributed to Hashem.  Therefore, the Brachah has begun with heresy!

“Chata”: I’m not sure what this means… “You sinned” or “They sinned”.

“Anoy”: If you want God’s attention, I guess you have to annoy Him!  And how do you annoy Him?

“Hey, Nu!”

Between Davening, Bentching, and various Brachot, we spend nearly two hours each day in direct communication with Hashem.  Why not do it right?  Why is this so difficult for many “Frum from birth” people and relatively easy for Baalei Teshuvah?
It is more difficult for the “Frum from birth.” The successful FFB must constantly work on himself in order to prevent himself from becoming a bored, stale, comfortable, “Frum from habit” (FFH) Jew. He must seek to rise even beyond the levels he was raised with in order to achieve the level of Tzaddik Ben Tzaddik. On the other hand, as a newcomer to Judaism, it is relatively easy for a Baal Teshuvah to remain excited and fresh. Since Yitzchak was able to keep his connection with Hashem exciting and fresh, his prayers were more efficacious than his wife’s.

Shirat Hayam includes the words, “Elokei Avi Vaaromimenhu,” “I will exalt the God of my father.” Rav Hirsch teaches us that even though a person has learned to recognize Hashem from his parents, he himself must raise (i.e. exalt) this level in his own lifetime.  This was the path of Yitzchak Avinu.  We must make it our constant effort to make this most rewarding path our path as well.

A Family Divided
by Ely WInkler

This week’s Parsha contains the famous story of Yaakov tricking his father into thinking that he was Esav in order to receive the Brachot of the firstborn.  This story has led many people to numerous conclusions, including that the Jew is always dishonest.  However, a careful study of the Pesukim sheds a different light on this topic.  The story begins with Yitzchak asking Esav to go hunt for game to serve to him before he gives the Brachah.  Rivkah overhears this conversation and begs Yaakov to go to Yitzchak as an imposter and receive the blessings first.  Yaakov reluctantly agrees and allows his mother to prepare foods and to dress him up to go to his father posing as Esav. After verifying that this person bringing his food is indeed “Esav,” Yitzchak does bestow the sacred blessing on Yaakov right before the real Esav comes home from the hunt.
To understand Rivkah’s reasoning, we must first look at the original fight between Rivkah and Yitzchak.  This fight was over two elements that were represented by Yaakov and Esav.  Yitzchak saw the material power in Esav, while Rivkah saw the spiritual power in Yaakov.  Both factors were necessary for the future of Bnai Yisrael.  Yitzchak might have believed that the promise of Hashem was supposed to be carried on by both Esav and Yaakov as brotherly nations complementing each other.  Therefore, he planned on giving Esav a blessing of material content, and one of spiritual content to Yaakov.  Rivkah, on the other hand, knew from her brother and her own upbringing that such a division would fail.  She recognized the curse that arises out of materialism without spirituality.  Rivkah, unlike Yitzchak, saw Yaakov with both of these forces in his hands.
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that we must accept the words of our Talmudic sages to understand this story. We also must not try to overlook anything about the events recorded here.  Rav Hirsch examines what Rivkah thought she would gain by sending Yaakov in as an imposter.  She knew from the beginning that Yaakov would not be able to hide what he did for long.  Esav was scheduled to return, and there was no way to keep Yaakov’s actions a secret.  Accordingly, if this was a blessing that Hashem was to give through Yitzchak, how could Rivkah expect Hashem to bless someone receiving it by trickery?  How could the blessing of Avraham, which was then passed to Yitzchak, move on to the next generation through an imposter?  Also, if this blessing also had some kind of legal status to it, how could Rivkah expect the status to be binding?  The Brachah would have been given under false pretences, and could be repealed!
Rav Hirsch explains that Rivkah had very different intentions.  She really wanted to prove to Yitzchak that he was mistaken about who should be receiving this blessing.  If Yaakov, a person unlearned in the ways of the world, could so easily trick Yitzchak to believe he was the material son Esav, than how easily could Esav, a cunning hunter, trick Yitzchak into thinking that he was the learned one!  This explanation is proven by the words that Yitzchak himself says in his conversation with Esav, “...he shall even be blessed!”  Yitzchak does not take away Yaakov’s blessing here; in fact, he validates it.
When Yitzchak was forced to come to terms with how short Esav fell in terms of spiritual insight, and when he found out that Esav had rejected his destiny by selling his birthright, he was convinced that Rivkah was right.  He therefore validated Yaakov’s blessings, and recognized Yaakov as the sole spiritual inheritor of the blessings.
It is true that it is forbidden to disobey the Torah even at the request of a parent, but Yaakov saw in his mother’s demand an aspect of prophetic wisdom that made him listen to her.  There are times when the rules, if prophetically stated, can be pushed aside for a greater purpose.  Yaakov’s actions were directly in conflict with his true essence that opposed all falsehood, cheating, and dishonesty.

As Jews, we need to be closely in touch with our heritage of honesty.  We need to constantly be aware that we are the ones who make or break our forefather Yaakov’s image in the world.  Our actions directly affect people’s acceptance or rejection of the lies that have been perpetuated about Yaakov. We must take this responsibility seriously, and we should be proud and overjoyed that we are fortunate enough to have it.  Most of all, we should be sure never to cause a Chilul Hashem, a disgrace to Hashem’s name.

Clowning Around
by Josh Rossman

In the beginning of this week’s Parsha, the Torah states “Vieileh Toldot Yitzchak Ben Avraham, Avraham Holid Et Yitzchak” (25:19).  Rashi states that the reason for this Lashon Kaful (double language) is to show us that Yitzchak looks very similar to his father Avraham.  Why would the Torah waste words on something as insignificant as this?  Rashi states further that Hashem made sure that Yitzchak looked similar to Avraham so that the Leitzanei Hador (clowns of the generation) would not say that Yitzchak was in fact Avimelech’s son and not Avraham’s.  This brings about a more intriguing question as to why Hashem would care that the fools of the generation had to say, especially since no one would take notice to them. This can be answered in two ways. Firstly it shows us the Koach Hadibur.  It teaches that we much watch our mouths because Hashem even pays attention to the words of fools.  We must realize that even if we think that our words do not matter that Hashem pays attention to everything we say.  Rabbi Adler recently addressed the student body and quoted a Gemara which states that each person only has a certain amount of words which he his granted to use in his lifetime.  We must make sure to use these words to learn Torah and do Mitzvot, and not Chas Vishalom to do Aveirot.   A second thing we learn from this Rashi is the severity of a Chilul Hashem. We see that we should try to prevent a Chilul Hashem even if it is only in front of the Leitzanai Hador.  We should be careful to always treat people with respect and act properly especially in the presence non-Jews. Dr. Berman once told us a story of a Rabbi who made sure that he always presented himself in a clean and neat way.  One day he was walking in the street and a filthy homeless man who was sitting on the side of the road yelled out “dirty Jew.”  Even the lowest people want to put us down and make fun of us, but we must strive to make sure to put all of our effort into making a Kiddush Hashem rather than a Chilul Hashem.

Hungry? Grab Lentils
by Uri Carl

The Midrash on Parshat Toldot states that the day that Esav gave away his Bechorah was the day that Avraham died.  We know this because Yaakov cooked lentils, and eating lentils is a sign of mourning.  One can ask a question regarding Esav’s request to Yaakov:  In Perek 25, Pasuk 30, the Torah says, “Vayomer Esav El Yaakov, Hal’iteini Na Min Haadom Haadom Hazeh,” “Esav said to Yaakov, ‘Please give me from this red, red substance.’”  Why doesn’t Esav mention the lentils by name, instead of saying “Haadom Haadom Hazeh”?
The Beit Halevi answers that Esav ate the lentils because he was hungry, not because he was a mourner. Once people would see he that was eating the lentils, they would think he was a mourner.  Since it would be uncomfortable for him not to be mourning when everyone else was, he had to cover up that he was eating lentils. For this reason he pretended to not know that he was eating lentils, so he called it “Haadom Haadom Hazeh.” This is also the reason he said  “Haliteini” – he wanted Yaakov to put the lentils directly into his mouth, so that no one would see that he was eating lentils.  As proof of this, Esav said “Ki Ayef Anochi,” expressing that he was tired and therefore did not want to pick up the spoon and eat it himself.  Rather, he wanted to have Yaakov pour it directly into his mouth.  Thus, Esav was not only showing greed, but was also trying to save his self-image.

A New Perspective on Yaakov’s Purchase of the Birthright
by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook (Orot HaKodesh 3:11) writes that it is forbidden for one to develop his Yirat Shamayim (fear of Heaven) at the expense one’s natural sense of morality.  Rav Kook insists that one must strive to integrate Yirat Shamayim and his natural sense of morality.  One may extrapolate from Rav Kook that the Torah fundamentally never conflicts with natural morality, an idea that Rav Walter Wurzberger develops at length in his work Ethics of Responsibility.  Indeed, Rav Wurzburger develops the idea that one’s natural morality should serve as a hermeneutical tool to interpret the Torah.  For instance, Halachic decisors strive to resolve problems of Mamzeirut and Igun in light of this principle.  For example, Rav Avraham Shapira writes, “It is the accepted practice amongst our rabbinical sages to expend extraordinary effort to find a Halachic solution to relieve someone from the status of Mamzer” (Techumin 9:27).
Commentaries to the Chumash vigorously apply this principle to the narrative sections of the Torah.  They will often interpret texts in a manner that satisfies our natural sense of morality.  An example is the manner in which commentaries of all generations seek to harmonize the story of Yaakov’s purchase of the birthright from Esav with our sense of natural morality (for a summary of many of these approaches see Rav Yehuda Nachshoni’s Hegut BiParshiot HaShavua 1:96-100).  The reader of the story recoils from what appears at first glance to be Yaakov’s exploiting Esav’s hunger and impulsivity in order to secure the birthright.  Yet none if any of the classical commentaries assert that Yaakov sinned by engaging in this activity.  Let us examine two major and representative approaches to this issue and subsequently suggest a somewhat novel approach to resolve this problem.

Rashi’s Approach
Rashi (Bereshit 25:31, based on Bereshit Rabbah 63:13) interprets that Yaakov was seeking the Bechorah to attain the privilege of serving God (presumably in the Tabernacle and Temple service), as the service of God is performed by the first-born.  According to Rashi, Esav did not deserve the privilege of this honor, as Esav was wicked.  Indeed, Rashi seizes every opportunity to highlight the wicked character of Esav.  It appears that Rashi concedes that Yaakov’s actions were immoral per se.  The actions are justified, though, because the Torah sanctions acting immorally with immoral individuals (see Samuel II 22:26-27, Psalms 18:26-27, Daat Mikra commentary to Bereshit 2:297, and Rav Elchanan Samet, Iyunim Biparshat Hashavua pp.178-191).
A potential weakness, though, in Rashi’s approach lies in its seeming anachronistic approach to this story.  A Pshat (straightforward reading of the Biblical text) approach might have difficulty with Rashi’s assertion that Yaakov was seeking to secure the right to serve God in the Tabernacle or Temple.  A Pshat approach would have difficulty sustaining Rashi’s introduction of a concept from the books of Exodus and Numbers to the book of Bereshit.  In fact, in the book of Bereshit we find that Hevel as well as Kayin offered sacrifices even though Hevel was not a first-born (although Kayin offered first presumably because of his first-born status, see Rav Elchanan Samet, Iyunim Biparshat Hashavua 1:11).  Perhaps it is for this reason that the Rashbam and Ibn Ezra do not interpret the right of the first-born in this context as the right to serve in the offering of sacrifices.

Rashbam’s Approach
The Rashbam presents a more Pshat oriented approach to this problem.  He asserts (as does Ibn Ezra) that Yaakov merely sought to purchase from Esav the first-born’s customary double share in Yitzchak’s future estate.  Daat Mikra, Bereshit 2:231 notes that it was customary in the Near East during the time of book of Bereshit for the first-born to receive a double share in the father’s estate.  Rashbam asserts that Yaakov paid full value for this purchase of the right of primogeniture.  The Rashbam insists (as does the Seforno) that the soup was merely a technical means to seal the deal similar to the Kinyan Suddar (formal act of transaction) that is described in the book of Ruth (4:7).  According to this approach, Yaakov did not exploit Esav’s hunger to attain the right of the first-born for a mere bowl of soup.  Rather, he paid full price for this monetary purchase.  Rashbam thus resolves moral conflict surrounding this story by diminishing the significance of Yaakov’s purchase and “increasing” the amount Yaakov paid.
One might, however, raise two problems with this approach.  First, Esav certainly perceives in hindsight that he was manipulated into selling the right of the first-born, as Esav later expresses to Yitzchak (Bereshit 27:36).  Second, is that if Yaakov merely purchased the right to the double share of the first born it is difficult to understand why the Torah presents this story.  Why must the Torah inform us of details surrounding the division of Yitzchak’s estate?

A New Approach
Both Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (commentary to Bereshit 25:34) and Daat Mikra Bereshit 2:235) assert that Yaakov’s purchase of the birthright from Esav was an invalid sale.  Rav Hirsch notes that Bereshit Rabbah (63:14) records Bar Kappara referring to this transaction as “Mischakim,” games.  Daat Mikra notes that in the ancient Near East such a sale would not be valid unless the father consented.  Accordingly, why did Yaakov engage in this false and seemingly meaningless sale and why does the Torah dignify this story by recording it for posterity?  One might answer that Yaakov was engaging in a character test to objectively determine whether Esav was worthy of his first-born rights and obligations (Rav Mordechai Breuer, Pirkei Bereshit pp.494-496, presents a similar idea but takes it in a different direction than we do).  Someone who would relinquish his birthright in exchange for soup, even if he were ravenously hungry, is not a worthy successor to the legacy of Avraham.  Indeed, the Jewish People have survived through the millennia only because of the willingness and readiness of Jews to preserve the Torah even in the most severe circumstances.Moreover, Esav’s impulsivity and lack of emotional self-control also constitute sufficient reason for him to lose the birthright.  Indeed, it is for this reason that Reuven is later to lose his rights as the first-born (see Bereshit 49:4 and Divrei Hayamim 1:5:1).  Indeed, Yehuda demonstrates that his leadership skills are superior to Reuven by their respective responses to a crisis artificially created by Yosef.  Reuven seeks to convince his father to immediately permit Binyamin to travel to Egypt by offering to kill two of his children if he does not return with Binyamin to Canaan.  Yehuda, on the other hand, does not immediately seek to convince Yaakov to permit Binyamin to travel to Egypt.  Rather, he patiently waits until the food supply has run out and Yaakov is left with no other viable choice other than to permit Binyamin to travel.  Reuven’s impulsive and irrational solution to the problem as opposed to Yehuda’s patient and effective resolution of the problem, prove Yehuda to be the true leader and Reuven lacking the temperament to lead.  In the case of the “sale” of the birthright Esav exhibits impulsivity and lack of emotional self-control, as he expresses, “I am about to die, why do I need the birthright?” (Bereshit 25:32), thereby demonstrating his inadequacy as a leader (the Seforno 25:31 articulates a similar approach).
The right of the first-born that Esav is ready to relinquish in exchange for a bowl of soup seems to refer to the privilege to serve as the leader of a family that will preserve and cultivate the legacy of Avraham and Sarah (as indicated by the Ramban and Chizkuni).  We recall that character tests to determine if one is worthy of membership in good standing of Avraham’s immediate family abound in the book of Bereshit.  Avraham servant’s character test of Rebecca (as explained by commentaries collected and expanded upon by Nechama Leibowitz, Iyunim Bisefer Bereshit 157-161) and Yosef’s testing his brothers (as explained by Abravanel to Bereshit 42) to see if they would acquiesce to Binyamin’s enslavement are two examples of such character tests.  The three angels’ visit to the tent of Avraham and Sarah disguised as travelers may be construed as a test to determine the worthiness of Avraham and Sarah to merit having a child at a very advanced age (see Yonatan Grossman, Megadim 29:24).  Rashi (Bereshit 22:1) in one explanation suggests that the episode of the binding of Yitzchak was designed to test and demonstrate Yitzchak’s worthiness to serve as the successor to Avraham (as opposed to Yishmael).
The reason why Yaakov felt a need to engage in such a character test was the imbalance in Yitzchak’s family.  The Torah (Bereshit 25:28) notes, in what might constitute an introduction to our story, that Yitzchak loves Esav because of the meat from the hunt that the latter serves the former.  Yaakov may have wished for Yitzchak to be told of this incident and subsequently realize that Esav is unworthy the right of the first-born.
Indeed, Esav reveals this incident to Yitzchak in the immediate aftermath of Yaakov’s dressing as Esav to receive the blessing from his father.  A major question posed by the commentaries such as Ibn Ezra (Bereshit 27:40) is why Yitzchak did not revoke the blessing he mistakenly conferred upon Yaakov based on deception.  An answer might be that when Yitzchak discovered that Esav sold the right of the first-born under pressure, Yitzchak realized that Esav was unworthy to continue the legacy of Avraham and Sarah and thereupon suggested to Esav that he abandon the land of Israel in favor of life in Seir east of the Jordan River (see Daat Mikra commentary to Bereshit 27:40).
Another reason for Yaakov to subject Esav to this character test is to determine the propriety of engaging in extraordinary means to secure the right of the first-born.  Rav Elchanan Samet (Iyunim Biparshat Hashavua 1:71) wonders what constituted the moral license for Yaakov to engage in deception to secure the right of the first-born.  According to our interpretation, Yaakov engaged in this character test in order to verify his assumption that Esav was unworthy of the right of the first-born.  The result of Yaakov’s experiment was that Yitzchak was blinded to Esav’s spiritual inadequacies to be the leader of or even a member of the future house of Avraham.  Thus drastic action was justified in order to correct Yitzchak’s misperception that threatened the future of the legacy of Avraham and Sarah.
Moreover, Rav Samet (Iyunim B’Parshot HaShavua p. 63 notes Yaakov’s determination and steadfastness when he presents himself to Yitzchak as Esav.  Yaakov does not break under the pressure of Yitzchak’s repeated questioning and investigating his identity.  This reflects Yaakov’s full confidence that he acting entirely appropriately.  What gave Yaakov such confidence?  One might answer that since Yaakov had empirical evidence that Esav was unworthy of the birthright, he had no doubt that he was correct to take the birthright from Esav.
Finally, the last words of this incident “and Esav denigrated the birthright” (Bereshit 25:34) may support our interpretation.  Unlike Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni who interpret that after he ate the soup Esav denigrated the worth of the birthright, Rashi interprets that this is the voice of the Torah noting that Esav has denigrated the birthright.  This might be interpreted as the Torah’s summary of this incident, that Esav thereby denigrated the birthright.  Note that the text does not summarize the incident by stating that Esav has sold the birthright, for indeed, he has not!  Rather, in this character test, Esav has denigrated the birthright and has proven himself unworthy of its privileges and obligations.  We should note that our novel approach to this issue might be implied by Rashi’s comments to this story, if we understand Rashi in a non-literal manner.
Although Yaakov’s actions were both correct and necessary, he had to pay a price for engaging in such drastic activities (as Rav Elchanan Samet develops at length in Iyunim BiParshat HaShavua pp.68-71 in the context of Yaakov posing as Esav).  Just as he subjected Esav to a character test, so too Yaakov suffered from the character test that was necessary for Yosef to impose upon his brothers.  In certain circumstances it is necessary to choose between the lesser evil of two bad choices.  The choice to subject Esav to a character test was a less offensive choice than to permit Yitzchak to elevate Esav to a position of leadership or even membership in the house of Avraham.  Nevertheless, a price had to be paid for engaging in an activity that per se is offensive, but necessary due to the circumstances involved, as demonstrated at length by Rav Samet in the context of Yaakov dressing as Esav. 

Accordingly, Yaakov did not exploit Esav in this incident.  Rather, he laid the groundwork to preserve the future of the legacy of Avraham and facilitated the creation of the Jewish People.  Extraordinary circumstances demand extraordinary actions.

Food For Thought
by Jerry M. Karp

1) The Torah reveals to us in Bereshit 25:23 (and explicitly in 25:24) that Rivkah was carrying twins.  However, in 25:22, the Torah seems to assume that we know that Rivkah will be giving birth to more than one child.  In fact, Rivkah seems to know this herself – therefore, she asks God to explain what is happening.  Why does the Torah not explicitly inform us that Rivkah is carrying twins before Rivkah asks God for an explanation?
Why is 26:6 (“Vayeshev Yitzchak Bigrar”) not part of the next Pasuk?

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