Parashat Toldot Print Version
2nd of Kislev, 5782 | November 2, 2021
Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik
Mr. Harry Rothenberg Stay Thirsty
As the father of twin boys who are inseparable, it’s difficult for me to read this week’s Parsha. It begins with twin boys, Yaakov and Eisav. When they were young, we’d imagine that they too are inseparable, but as they get older, their paths don’t just diverge; their worlds collide. In a feud that spans the centuries to this day, Eisav’s descendants have made countless attempts to wipe out the Jewish people.
The sibling rivalry reaches a fever pitch, a crescendo, at the end of the Parsha when Rivkah, their mother, overhears her husband, Yitzchak, telling Eisav to go out and hunt for some animals and to prepare the tasty dish that he likes so that “his soul can bless Eisav.” Rivkah realizes that her husband is about to bless the wrong son, so she quickly summons Yaakov and tells him that he will need to impersonate his twin brother. She herself then prepares a delectable dish that she knows her husband likes and gives it to Yaakov to bring to him. Yaakov arrives, and Yitzchak, who is blind, is uncertain who stands before him. Yaakov convinces him that he is his brother Eisav, and then gives his father the tasty food to eat.
But then, as the Torah tells us, Yaakov does something extra, beyond his father’s request. He gives Yitzchak some wine, and Yitzchak drinks it. And then Yitzchak gives Yaakov a beautiful, expansive blessing. Eisav immediately appears, and at that moment, Eisav and Yitzchak realize the apparent subterfuge Yaakov has committed. Eisav begs his father to give him a compensatory blessing, and eventually Yitzchak agrees.
Eisav had also arrived with food for his father in hand. However, if you look carefully at the text, you will notice a discrepancy between what Yaakov brought to his father and what Eisav did. Yaakov brought Yitzchak food and wine, whereas Eisav only brought food, but no wine. Why the difference?
One commentator observes that the subtle difference means everything. To Yitzchak, wine was important. He knew that wine is what we use to greet the Sabbath with Kiddush and to bid fond farewell to it with Havdalah. Wine is used for Birkat Hamazon, Grace after Meals, in addition to being the libation which was poured on the Mizbeach when the Beit Hamikdash stood. Wine when drunk properly, in moderation, can assist a person to come in touch with their deepest essence, the part that cleaves to G-d. It brings us into contact with our inner spirituality. Yaakov therefore brought wine, because he knew that if his father would drink it, it would expand his father’s soul and lead him to provide a generous blessing.
But Eisav had a totally different vision of wine. Wine to Eisav was something that left you waking up not knowing where you are, where you’ve been or what you did. Wine drunk to excess, Eisav-style, brings someone down to the lowest level. Therefore, that wasn’t something Eisav was going to bring to his father when he was attempting to receive a blessing from him.
It’s the same item and yet worlds apart in perspective. Used properly, wine can bring us to the highest of spiritual levels; used improperly, to the lowest depths.
Many years ago when I was single, I was invited to the home of a well-known rabbi for a Shabbos meal. Seated at one end of the long table was the rabbi and on the other end, his wife. At the end of the meal, the rabbi lifted a glass of wine and proposed a toast to his wife. “Our mission here in this world is to take the physical and raise it to the level of the spiritual. And clearly, my wife has done that tonight with the meal that she has cooked.” I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, what a beautiful compliment, and what great words to live by. What a mission statement.”
Stay thirsty, my friends.
Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair A Birthright Experience
There's a family that lives nearby me in Jerusalem, whose Shabbat hospitality is amazing on any particular Shabbat. You can find upwards of one hundred guests crammed into their regulation sized Jerusalem apartment. Now, for many of these guests, this is their first taste of a Shabbat meal with an Orthodox family.
It happened at one Shabbat that the host had to deal with a very confrontational guest, a university student, and whenever the host would try to say a dvar Torah, a Torah thought based on the weekly portion the student would shout out, “Prove it! Blind fundamentalism! Racism!” After the meal on his way out, the student passed by the eleven-year-old son of the House, one of thirteen children. Now, the student had a ring in his nose, and seeing this, the son quite innocently inquired, Why do you wear that thing in your nose? The student shot back, “Why do you wear that thing on your head?” Without batting an eyelid, the son replied, “Because I have to know that at all times and in all places, there's something higher and greater above me.” Now why do you wear that thing in your nose? The student didn't answer.
He went back to his dorm room and he wrote in his journal, “This little kid knows exactly why he's wearing a kippa, and I've absolutely no idea why I'm wearing this ring in my nose.”
In this week's Torah portion, Eisav returns home so ravenous after work that he sells his birthright to Yaakov for a bowl of lentils. In fact, he's so consumed by his desire for food that he doesn't even describe the lentils by name. He just says, “Pour into me now some of that red red.” In English translations, they usually add the word stuff as in, “That red stuff” But in Hebrew, there's no noun, just two adjectives, one after the other – “Adom Adom – Red, red.”
In Hebrew, a noun is called a shem etzem, meaning the name of the essence, the thing itself. An adjective is a shem to’ar, a name of description. When style dominates meaning, when we mistake appearance for essence, when we exchange a world of nouns for a world of adjectives, then we've truly lost our birthright.
Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin True Gift
Yitzchok entreated HaShem opposite his wife, because she was barren” (Bereishis 25:21). Rashi comments that Yitzchok stood in one corner, and Rivkah in another corner, each one praying for the blessing of a child. Midrash Rabbah (63:5) states they prayed at the same time, to increase the possibility that both of their tefillos would be accepted.
The Midrash shares with us the words of their tefillos. Yitzchok prayed, “Creator of the World, may all the children that You will give me, come from this righteous woman”. Rivkah, from her corner, cried out, “May all the children that You are destined to give me, please let them be from this righteous man”. Each one praying on the other’s behalf.
The Talmud teaches: Anyone who are prays on behalf of a friend, and is in need of that very same thing, he is answered first. It was Yitzchok’s praying for Rivkah, and Rivkah’s praying for Yitzchok, that together pierced the Heavens.
We are beginning the new month of Kislev – and Chanukah is not far behind. The many gift catalogs will soon be arriving in the mail. The “It’s almost Chanukah sale” emails will fill up our inbox. Stores will be advertising that they have the perfect gift. The gift that brings magic to whomever receives it; the gift that will surely put the biggest smile on its lucky recipient. The gift that shows you really care.
Yes, gifts are nice to give, and fun to receive. But, Yitzchok and Rivkah teach us what genuine gifting is all about. The gift of prayer.
Prayer, davening is called “avodas haleiv”, a labor of the heart. To daven for someone with all your heart and soul. What a beautiful gift. When we daven for someone, we are giving from our heart. It is a gift that is everlasting. It will never go out of style, it will never be dated. It’s the most meaningful gift a husband or wife can give each other, a parent or grandparent can give a child, or one friend to another.
Yitzchok and Rivkah never tired or grew weary of davening. For twenty years, Rivkah waited for a child. For twenty years, they refused to give up, but continued going to their separate corners, pouring out their hearts to HaShem. It was true avodas haleiv, labor of the heart.
To describe Yitzchok’s tefillos, the Torah uses the term “va’yetar”, instead of the more common word for prayer, “va’yispallel”. Rashi comments that va’yetar connotes praying in abundance. Praying with urgency. Powerful prayers.
The Talmud explains that the term “va’yetar” has the same root as the term “asrah”, a pitchfork. Just as a pitchfork turns over grain, moving it from place to place, so too, sincere prayer has the power to overturn a Heavenly decree to one of mercy.
The passage continues, “Ki akarah hee”, because she was barren. Akarah, barren, is very similar to the Hebrew word for precious, yakar, as well as the Hebrew word ikar, meaning important. Yitzchak davened on behalf of Rivkah, because she was yakar, precious and ikar, important to him. She was his life.
The parshah is teaching us what true gift-giving is all about – tefillah, prayer, a gift from the heart.
In our fast-paced society, our minds are always racing, making it difficult to focus, to have proper kavannah, concentration, particularly during prayer. With all of the distractions of modern technology –smartphones, computers, IPads, etc., we need to work harder on really connecting to HaShem while praying. Prayer is not merely lip-service. It is an avodas haleiv, a labor of the heart. We should try to emulate Rivkah and Yitzchok, and find a quiet corner, away from all of the diversions. Make it your go-to place to daven and concentrate, with both action and feeling.
I close my eyes and visualize my mother a”h as she lit the Shabbos candles. Ima would make a point of saying each of our names, along with a silent prayer. She would also mention the names of people who needed refuah, healing, shidduchim, and berachos for a myriad of other personal needs.
There is nothing like a parent’s prayers. Parents’ prayers give strength and reassurance. I knew my parents’ prayers were always with me. From my mother saying each morning as I was about to board the school bus, “Have hatzlacha, success, in school”, to a special berachah before leaving to sleep-away camp, to her good wishes before my first teaching job.
It doesn’t matter what age one is, we always need our parents’ prayers. I knew their prayers were with me as they escorted me down the aisle to the chuppah.
They were with me when I went to the hospital to give birth to each child. How reassuring and calming it was to hear my mother say, “Chaya Sarale, I’m getting my Tehillim (Psalms) right now. I’m stopping everything and I’m going to daven”.
This year, as we begin to think about that “perfect” Chanukah gift, let’s take a lesson from Yitzchok and Rivkah. Together with our usual Chanukah presents, let’s add a special gift card. A card that says “I care about you. I love you. You are always in my prayers.” No matter what, everyone needs a prayer. It’s a gift of love.
It is an avodas haleiv – a labor of the heart.
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