Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Toldos


 Vayisrotz’tzu habanim b’kirbah vatomer im kein lamah zeh anochi vateleich lidrosh es Hashem vayomer Hashem lah shnei goyim b’vitneich u’shnei l’umim mimeiayich yipariedu ul’om mil’om ye’ematz v’rav ya’avod tzair (25:22-23)

After being barren for 20 years, Yitzchok and Rivkah beseeched Hashem to bless them with a child, and Rivkah indeed became pregnant. However, her pregnancy was particularly painful and difficult. Rashi writes that when she passed by the yeshiva of Shem and Ever, the righteous Yaakov struggled to run out, and when she passed a temple of idolatry, the wicked Eisav attempted to come out.

Rivkah, troubled by the complications of her pregnancy, went to seek an explanation from Shem. Shem comforted her by explaining that she was pregnant with twins who would eventually develop into two separate nations that would always be jockeying against one another for supremacy. Although Shem certainly enlightened Rivkah about what was going on inside of her, the reason that she approached him was due to her frustration over her painful pregnancy. How did his explanation about the future help comfort her very real and immediate pain?

Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld suggests that Shem’s words weren’t merely a prophetic clarification of her perplexing situation, as they also allayed Rivkah’s difficult pregnancy in a very real and tangible way. He explains that Shem concluded his message to her by saying that the descendants of the older son will serve those of the younger son.

The Medrash HaGadol teaches that one of the reasons that Rivkah’s body had been enduring such constant turmoil during her pregnancy was that Yaakov and Eisav were fighting and jockeying for position in order to come out first and enjoy the benefits associated with being the first-born. However, now that they heard Shem’s prophecy that the older son would actually be subordinate to the younger, they ceased fighting with one another, and the pains of Rivkah’s pregnancy were alleviated as a result.

Vayigd’lu ha’nearim vayehi Eisav ish yodeia tzayid ish Sadeh v’Yaakov ish tam yosheiv ohalim (25:27)

            Although Yaakov and Eisav were twins, the Torah records that they were polar opposites. Yaakov spent his days dwelling in the study hall to learn Torah, while Eisav focused his energies on hunting animals in the field. Although Rashi writes that these differences weren’t apparent until they matured and reached the age of 13, Chazal tell us that their different values and priorities were already established even before they were born.

The Medrash relates (Yalkut Shimoni 111) that when they were still fetuses in their mother’s womb, Yaakov told Eisav that Hashem created two worlds: the physical world in which we live and the spiritual World to Come. The physical world is full of eating, drinking, doing business, getting married, and having children, none of which may be enjoyed in the World to Come. Yaakov offered to divide the two worlds, with Eisav taking the physical world and Yaakov receiving the spiritual world, an offer to which Eisav was only too happy to agree.

            In “Mah Yedidus,” one of the songs traditionally sung on Friday night, we eloquently describe the wonderful delicacies and pleasures of this world, such as fattened chickens and sweet wines, which we enjoy at the Shabbos meal. Curiously, after relating the mouth-watering treats associated with Shabbos, we proudly declare that “Nachalas Yaakov yirash” – a person who properly honors Shabbos in this fashion will inherit the portion of Yaakov. This seems difficult to understand. The Medrash teaches that Yaakov’s share that of the spiritual World to Come. Although Shabbos indeed offers delectable enjoyments, isn’t it dishonest to associate these physical pleasures with Yaakov?

Rav Moshe Wolfson suggests that this song resolves this question just a few stanzas later, when we proclaim that “Me’ein Olam HaBa yom Shabbos menucha” – the restful day of Shabbos is itself so spiritual that it represents a microcosm of the World to Come. As we enjoy the Shabbos delicacies at our meals, we should appreciate and give thanks for this weekly opportunity to enjoy a small taste of the tremendous reward waiting for us – Yaakov’s descendants – in the World to Come.

Ulai y’musheini avi v’hayisi b’einav k’misateia v’heiveisa alai k’lala v’lo beracha (27:12)

Rashi writes (24:39) that Eliezer related to Rivkah’s family that he had a daughter whom he wished to marry to Yitzchok. He attempted to find an excuse to suggest the match, such as the possibility that the woman he would find for Yitzchok would be unwilling to return with him, but Avrohom dismissed the suggestion, explaining that Eliezer was descended from the cursed Canaan and was unsuitable to be joined together with the blessed descendants of Shem. How did Rashi know that this was Eliezer’s intention? Perhaps Eliezer was merely asking a very real and practical question, namely what should he do if the woman refuses to return with him?

The Vilna Gaon answers that there are two words in Hebrew to express doubt about something occurring: “pen” and “ulai.” The difference between them is that when the speaker hopes that the issue in doubt will occur, the proper term is “ulai,” whereas if he hopes it will not come to fruition, the appropriate word is “pen.” When Eliezer said that “ulai” the woman won’t come back with me, it reveals that he secretly hoped that she would refuse to do so. This could only be the case if he personally stood to gain something from a refusal, namely the possibility of a match for his daughter.

When Rivkah told Yaakov to pretend to be Eisav to receive his father’s blessings, Yaakov expressed his concern to his mother that “ulai y’musheini avi” – perhaps my father will feel me when I go in to receive the blessings, and when he feels my smooth arms, he will know it is me and not my hairy brother Eisav. As this is surely a scenario he didn’t want to happen, why didn’t Yaakov say “pen y’musheini avi” according to the Vilna Gaon’s grammatical rule?

A beautiful answer given by the Maharatz Chayos (Makkos 24a) is that Yaakov’s dedication to truth was so strong that he actually hoped that Yitzchok would feel him and catch him in this trickery which was so anathema to his very essence, even if it would mean losing his father’s blessings for him and all of his offspring.

            In Genuzos HaGra, it is related that the Vilna Gaon himself answered this question based on a comment of the Seforno in Parshas Vayechi (48:10). The Torah relates that Yaakov hugged Ephraim and Menashe before blessing them. The Seforno explains that in order for a blessing to take effect, the person giving it must somehow connect himself to the one he is blessing. Although the most powerful way to connect is through seeing the other person, Yaakov was blind at the end of his life and was unable to do so. He therefore connected himself to his grandchildren through the next best alternative: touch. Based on this explanation, we may now explain that Yaakov used the expression “ulai” because he wanted his father to feel him in order that the blessings should take effect and be more potent.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     When Eisav returned from hunting in the field, he asked Yaakov to give him some of the red lentil stew that he was cooking (25:30). Why did Yaakov give him bread and stew to eat (25:34) when Eisav had requested only the stew? (Maharam Schiff end of Bava Kamma, Maharil Diskin)

2)     Rashi writes (25:27) that Eisav tricked his father Yitzchok into thinking that he was righteous by asking him legal questions which seemed to demonstrate tremendous piety and stringent observance of mitzvos. Even so, didn’t Yitzchok realize that Yaakov was even greater than Eisav, and if he did, why did he plan to give his blessing to Eisav before he died (27:1-4) instead of to the more pious Yaakov? (Darkei Mussar, Darash Moshe Vol. 2)

3)     What merit did Yitzchok have for which his name remained intact, in contrast to his father Avrohom and his son Yaakov whose names were changed? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 26:15)

4)     Rashi writes (27:33) that when Eisav entered the room to receive his father’s blessings, Yitzchok began to tremble in fear because he saw Gehinnom open beneath Eisav, and this stood in sharp contrast to the fragrant aroma of Gan Eden which accompanied Yaakov when he entered the room (Rashi 27:27). As Eisav’s wickedness had been concealed from his father until now, what suddenly changed which caused Yitzchok to recognize the truth and see Gehinnom open underneath him? (Imrei Daas)

  © 2010 by Oizer Alport.