Parshat Toldot Vol.10 No.11

Date of issue: 5 Kislev 5761 -- December 2, 2000

This week's issue has been sponsored
by the Last Family
in honor of Rebecca's Bat Mitzvah.

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This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Mark Smilowitz
David Gertler
Yehuda Turetsky
Zev Feigenbaum
Rabbi Howard Jachter
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*Hachazara and Hatmana*
Halacha of the Week

Why Me?
by Rabbi Mark Smilowitz

Times of struggle and hardship often cause people to reflect on who they are and what their purpose in life is. Our Matriarch Rivka goes through such a questioning period during her difficult pregnancy with the tumultuous twins. The fighting in her womb leads Rivka to ask, in the language of the Chumash, Im Cain Lama Ze Anochi, "If so, why is this me?" What precisely is Rivka asking?

According to Rabbi Dovid Zvi Kanatopsky, in his book Night of Watching, Rivka is troubled by her role in the drama of Jewish history. Clearly, her descendants will be involved in a life and death struggle, symbolized by the struggle between Esav and Yaakov in the womb. Rivka asks, "Why, then, have I, Rivka, been chosen to mother these children? What is unique about me that I have been snatched away from a serene life and thrust into a life of conflict and trouble?"

Hashem's response to Rivka seems at first to avoid the question. "There are two nations in your belly, and two peoples shall separate themselves from your womb...." Is there any information in Hashem's response that answers Rivka's question, "Why me?" It seems not.

Rabbi Kanatopsky explains that Hashem is telling Rivka that she is the ideal choice to mother the Jewish People precisely because the Jewish People will be involved in a struggle with Esav. We must remember who Rivka is: she is the sister of Lavan, the infamous trickster and con man. Rivka grew up in a house where she was confronted with evil every day, yet she remained honest and pure. Because she knows what it means to struggle against evil and to emerge victorious, Rivka is a perfect choice to be the mother of Yaakov and Esav. Rivka is capable of teaching Yaakov how to avoid the pitfalls set by his brother and remain true and pure in the process.

We all should remember that Hashem gives people challenges that they and only they are suited to meet. Any hardship Hashem may deal to us is calculated and molded to our own strengths so that we may fulfill our own individual destinies.

Jacob the Liar (and other irregularities)
by David Gertler

Truthfulness is Yaakov's Midah, as the Pasuk says Titain Emet Leyaakov. This idea, though, is in conflict with the story of Yaakov's taking the Beracha and with several other incidents in Yaakov's life.

Yaakov tells Rivka that perhaps his father will touch him and "I will be in his eyes as a trickster." It appears from this Pasuk that Yaakov is not afraid of being a trickster, but of being discovered. Furthermore, when Yaakov comes to Yitzchak, he says Anochi Esav Bechorecha Asiti Caasher Dibarta Ailai, "I am Esav your firstborn, I have done what you told me." Even if one accepts Rashi's translation, "I am who I am (Anochi), and Esav is your firstborn (Esav Bechorecha)," this Pasuk is still difficult. First, Yaakov is still being a trickster by saying something that is intended to be misinterpreted. Second, he should have stopped speaking after the word Bechorecha, but instead he continued to say that Yitzchak had told him to do what he did.

There are many other perplexing questions that arise from this incident. The letter Kuf in the word Katzti is small in the context of Rivka's telling Yitzchak, "Woe unto my life if Yaakov take a wife from Bnot Chait" (27:46). Also, when Yitzchak tells Esav to go hunt for his meal, the word Tzayid, game, is spelled with an extra Hey* (27:3). I think that these can be tied together with the knowledge of two things: the prophecy of Rav Yaavot Tzair, that the elder will serve the younger, and the favoritism that Rivka and Yitzchak each show to one of their sons.

In last week's Parsha, the word Naara in reference to Rivka is spelled without the feminine particle, the Hey*. I think that the reason for this could be as follows: the Torah often relates the practices of society at that time that the Torah was written. It was very common in Rivka's society that women would be obsequious to men. However, by connecting Rivka's favoritism of Yaakov with the prophecy that Yaakov will rule over Esav, it is possible that the reason for the extra Hey* in Tzayid[a] and the missing Hey* in Naara is that Rivka was very active in her life, more so than Yitzchak. Most of what we know about their marriage is about and through Rivka. The most we know about Yitzchak is that he loved Esav, which does not seem to endear him to us.

Yaakov is afraid of appearing as a trickster only because he knows his quest is righteous. I think that this explains the small Kuf in Katzti. The letter Tzadi is very closely related to righteousness, the letter Taf is the final letter in the word Emet, truth, and the letter Yud represents Hashem. Kuf, on the other hand, is the middle letter of the word Sheker. The Gemara explains that the letters of the word Sheker all come to a single point at the bottom because falsehood cannot stand. However, in this case it was necessary for Yaakov to be a trickster and tell a small lie so that everything would work out for the best. This lie eventually led to righteousness (Tzadi), truth (Taf), and knowledge of Hashem (Yud).

*In this article, Hey refers to the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, not an interjection.

The Two Tefilot
by Yehuda Turetsky

In the opening Pesukim of this week's Parsha, there are two comments of Rashi that appear to contradict each other. When the Torah states that Rivka's brother was Lavan and her father was Betuel, Rashi explains that this is written to praise Rivka for growing up in a house full of wicked people yet not learning from their evil ways. On the phrase Vayeater Lo, however, Rashi quotes the Gemara in Yevamot (64a), which says that the reason the Pasuk says Lo (Hashem answered Yitzchak) and not Lah (Hashem answered Rivka) is to teach that Aino Domeh Tefilat Tzadik Ben Tzadik Letefilat Tzadik Ben Rasha, "The prayer of a Tzaddik who descends from a Tzaddik is not comparible to the prayer of a Tzaddik who descends from a Rasha." While Rashi initially praises Rivka who, after having an upbringing not conducive to holiness, becomes righteous, he then minimizes her holiness by implying that one who grows up among holy people is better than one who grows up among wicked people.

Chazal records this tension as well. The Gemara in Berachot (34b) records the following debate: Rav Yochanan makes a comment that implies that one who has always been righteous is greater that a Ba'al Teshuva. Rav Avahu argues, "In the place where a Ba'al Teshuva stands, even a complete Tzaddik cannot stand." Some suggest that this argument is the basis for the tension in Rashi.

Another approach to Rashi may come from the following Chassidic teaching. Rabbi Menachem Mendel MiKotzk asks a question on Rashi's second comment. How can the Gemara learn anything from this episode? Were not both Rivka and Yitzchak answered in their plea for children? The Kotzker answers that their prayers were not just for children, but for specific types of children as well. They both knew that they would have two children: one righteous and one wicked. Whereas Yitzchak prayed that the righteous son should be completely righteous and thereby leave only the negative traits for the wicked son, Rivka prayed that the wicked son receive some positive characteristics and not be completely evil. This would, however, make it impossible for the Tzaddik to be completely righteous. We may now revisit the teaching of Yevamot: Aino Domeh Tefilat Tzadik [Al] Ben Tzadik Letefilat Tzadik [Al] Ben Rasha, "The prayer of a Tzaddik [for] a son who is a Tzaddik is not comparable to the prayer of a Tzaddik [for] a son who is wicked.

This explains why Rashi's comments are not contradictory: the second comment is not about who is greater; rather, it compares Rivka's and Yitzchak's respective prayers for different types of children. If Yitzchak's prayer was answered, Esav should have been completely wicked, but we know he was very careful to honor his father. This inconsistency may be based on an idea developed by Rav Aharon Kotler, zt"l. He explained that the reason Esav's head was buried in Me'arat Hmachpela was because the Torah that Esav learned remained in his head. Esav failed to internalize his Torah, and whatever Torah he did internalize was inherently problematic. Therefore, the Kotzker's idea that Esav was a Rasha Bisheliboto remains intact. We should all be Zocheh to have Torah permeate our entire body and not remain in our heads.

The Missing Grandson
by Zev Feigenbaum

Vayomer Yaakov Michra Cayom Et Bechoratecha Li, "And Yaakov said, 'sell me your birthright today'" (25:31). The word Cayom, today, seems extra. Why couldn't a simple "sell me your birthright" suffice?

The answer is Yaakov negotiated the purchase of the birthright on the day of their grandfather Avraham's passing. The whole world mourned over this loss. Statesmen and dignitaries cried out in public, "Woe to the world that has lost its leader, woe to the ship that has lost its captain!" (Bava Batra 91b). Many different types of people came to pay their last respects to Avraham, one of the greatest people in the world. The only one who was not present at his funeral was his own grandson Esav.

After the funeral, Yaakov returned home to prepare a meal for the mourners. Esav returned to the house as his brother was preparing the meal. Esav had come from the field where he was hunting, and he came in crying over the great loss of his grandfather. Yaakov was upset and ashamed at his brother for being so inconsiderate as not to show up at his own grandfather's funeral, so he said to Esav at that moment to sell his birthright because of what happened "today." The firstborn, Yaakov knew, was to work in the Bait Hamikdash, but an insensitive and callous firstborn like Esav was not worthy of working in such a holy place.

Halacha of the Week

One may not speak Lashon Hara even if the Lashon Hara is already well known. The Chafetz Chaim discusses this matter at length in Chafetz Chaim 2:2-8.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editors: Moshe Glasser, Zevi Goldberg
Publication Editor: Daniel Wenger
Business Manager: Ilan Tokayer
Staff: Josh Dubin, Zev Feigenbaum, Shuky Gross, Michael Humphrey, Binyamin Kagedan, Yair Manas, Uriel Schechter, Yechiel Shaffer, Gil Stein
Consultant: David Gertler
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

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